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How to Shoot Motion Panning

Check out all of our other how-to guides here. A way to improve your photography is by mastering panning, a form of art which distinguishes itself in more ways than you could imagine. If done correctly you can produce awe-inspiring and grandiose images which will bring up your skill level significantly. Pictures taken with this technique […]

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Check out all of our other how-to guides here.

A way to improve your photography is by mastering panning, a form of art which distinguishes itself in more ways than you could imagine. If done correctly you can produce awe-inspiring and grandiose images which will bring up your skill level significantly. Pictures taken with this technique embody speed and motion and helps to put emphasis on the main subject in your frame.

First of all, if you have a tripod or a monopod or anything that helps you stabilize the shot, use it and make sure that you can rotate your camera on the vertical axis, in other words, from left to right and and inversely. If you do not have that kind of equipment on you for whatever reason, such as lack of budget or simply the weight, you will need to have the good posture whether your are standing, sitting, kneeling, etc. because you don’t want unintentional motion blur in your pictures to ruin your panning. You want to produce intended, quality motion blur with the background while the foreground and main subject remains clear. In order to have a steady panning shot, it is best to have to most contact point possible between the camera and you and only move with your body, and not with your hands or arms.

For example, if you are right-handed and left-eye, you can use your left hand, the supporting hand, to support the barrel of the lens under it. Your left elbow should then be digging in your ribs for extra stability. As for your right hand it should be resting on your palm-rest on the right of the camera and your index finger on the shutter (obviously) as for your right elbow you can slightly lift it up to permit more lateral movement in your panning motion. You want to press the eyepiece of your camera onto your eyebrow area for yet another point of contact between you and the camera. In this position the camera will be very close to you and it will follow any movement you make with your body very fluidly.

For the focus, if you are able to pre-focus on a area with the same distance, please do so, because if the autofocus on your camera is slow, you might miss several precious shots when panning. If pre-focusing is not an option then the second best option is the have your camera on single autofocus which allows the camera to keep the same focus in a burst. If you put it on continuous servo, the the you may again lose multiple pictures while the camera tries to autofocus before each shot.

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Without the right settings on a camera, you will never be able to shoot panning pictures. Your mode dial should be kept on shutter speed priority to make sure that the shutter speed will remain the same for all your pictures, but do take note that manual works too if you are experienced with it. The ideal shutter should last between 1/10th of a second to 1/100 of a second, depending on the speed at which the subject is moving. A good indicator of the shutter speed required is to take 1 and divide it by the estimated relative speed in km/h of the subject compared to its background. This will generally give you a good idea at which speed approximately you should be shooting. The slower the subject the harder it is to balance between the amount of intended and the amount of camera shake.

When framing the shot, you should not worry too much about composition for the moment being and focus in the middle of the frame, the reason being that the focus point in the center of cameras is always a crosstype focus point which makes it much more precise and faster than regular focus points. I am not saying that composition is not important, I am only stating that in this situation having pictures with missed focus is more of an issue than having images with sub-optimal composition, especially that you can always crop out later on in post-processing.

Between each series, if you have the time, you may want to review the pictures you have taken previously to instantly delete those that you consider unusable whether it is because of camera shake, missed focus, wrong exposure or bad framing. Consequently, you will have to learn from your mistakes and adjust the settings on your camera so that the upcoming shots will be better than before.

”Haa, now that I’m home and I have taken a whole day of awesome panning pictures, I surely deserve a good rest don’t I?” Well… Not yet. You still have more to do to finalize the pictures you have shot. For image post-processing software, I suggest using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, as it has a complete set of tools that gives you, the photographer, a complete arsenal of tools to make your pictures even better. I will not discuss in length the numerous steps of post-processing an image with you simply because there is dedicated articles for that and it is not my primary goal today.

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While panning seems a very good option up to now, it has its own downsides such a unwanted camera shake which is inevitable even to the best photographers out there. However, there are methods and techniques that can be used by the artist to improve the stability of his hands. As a result of this weakness, you need to be careful when using such methods to take pictures and I personally do not recommend you to do an entire photoshoot only with panning. For example, if you are attending to a horse race and you decide to use panning to give the feeling of speed to the horses, I suggest you take half of the pictures by panning and the other half with a high shutter speed, giving crystal sharp images.

I hope that this article was useful for your panning photography needs, or got you interested in trying motion panning photography. This is my second article and it has been going well so far. Once again, thank you for reading this as you patiently wait for the next post.

Over & Out, Peter Chen


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2 replies on “How to Shoot Motion Panning”

[…] After you have experimented with the correct exposure for your picture, now is the time to shoot your actual subjects. One good approach is to use motion panning (picture above) : instead of trying to stabilize your camera as much as possible as in regular photography, you try to track your subject instead, leaving a trail of motion in the background. If you wish to learn more about motion panning, a detailed guide on the subject is available here. […]

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