Panning is a technique in photography where you track or follow a moving subject – could be an animal running, a bird in flight, a car driving past or maybe a person running.
The key though is to have the subject (animal, bird, car, plane etc.) as sharp as possible whilst conveying movement with a blurred background, or as with the above shot, blurred wheels conveying a sense of speed.
Factors that you need to consider, include:
- Shutter speed
- Image stabilisation
- Focus mode
- Room to move
As with any shot, depth of field still applies – do you want the entire subject to be in sharp focus, or can you afford for focus to fall off? Choose an aperture that suits the subject and your distance from the subject – don’t forget your focal length will also have an effect of depth of field.
Getting the right shutter speed depends on how far away you are from the subject, and most critically, how fast the subject is moving – add in how much you want to blur the background and it all comes down to either trial and error or knowledge of your subject. For example, I know what sort of shutter speed I need at various motorsport circuits, at different parts of the track and for different types of car! Yes, sad I know – but true. Too fast a shutter, and your subject just looks like it’s sat there and not moving, too slow and the subject will not have sufficient sharpness and will itself become blurred.
If you’re lucky enough to have image stabilisation on your camera or your lens, check out whether it has a panning mode, i.e. will only try to correct camera shake in the vertical plane. If it doesn’t, best to turn it off altogether as the camera will be moving whilst panning and this confuses stabilisation.
Many cameras have multiple focussing modes from single shot through to modes that automatically track moving objects and refocus continuously until the shot is taken. This is usually the best mode for panning shots as the distance between you and your subject constantly changes – and it can be a very quick change too. There are occasions when I use manual focussing – I’ll pre-focus on a given spot and wait for the subject to pass through that point.
Room to Move
Find yourself some space – make sure you’re standing with your feet facing the subject and a little apart for stability and check you’ve got some elbow room (and lens room) around you. As you first pick up the moving subject, half depress the shutter button and follow the subject, fully depressing the shutter when you have the subject framed as you want – but don’t stop following – just like golf (so I’m told), follow through – especially useful if you’re taking a burst of shots.
Above all, practice, practice, practice – you will improve the more shots you take. I spent hours, days even at motorsport tracks improving my ability to pan, but can now apply that skill to any moving subject.