Fun Technique: Panning
By Jack Berglund
Thinking back to school, I can remember some of the more entertaining parts of chemistry lessons. The teacher could have just told us that sodium in water bursts into flames and that the elements of group one get more reactive as you go down the periodic table but its more fun to watch. Having seen the equivalent cesium demonstration destroy the apparatus, we were all more likely to stick at it and learn something really useful. And so it is with panning…
Soon after I bought my first digital SLR, I was shown the technique of panning to add a sense of motion to a photograph. Panning involves following a moving subject with the camera whilst taking a shot giving the background a motion blur but keeping the subject sharp. My girlfriend introduced it only as a useful technique that I would find fun. She has since revealed it was part of a plan to get me off automatic mode and really thinking about what I was doing.
Its a technique that you can learn in a couple of hours and get great results. Many photography concepts are built up by experience over a long period of time, so having some specific techniques to learn and master is a great way to stay involved and get some interesting shots. Needless to say, in my case the plan worked. This and a series of other fun techniques got me hooked for long enough to start learning some of the more heavyweight fundamentals.
a) Pick a subject to pan. This could be almost anything that moves such as a car or a person running. Its best to find something that you can practice many times on such as cars on a road so that you can play around with the different affects you can create.
b) Set your camera to shutter priority. On a Nikon set the mode to ‘S’, on a Canon its ‘Tv’ (not sure why). Helpful readers can confirm what this is called on a Sony, Pentax or Olympus. This will allow you to decide what shutter speed you want and have the camera automatically adjust the aperture to make sure the right amount of light reaches the camera.
c) Put your camera into continuous focus mode. This allows the camera to maintain focus on a target that might be moving towards or away from you
d) Select and appropriate shutter speed. (On a Nikon, roll the wheel by your thumb to set the shutter speed). This is where the fun and experimentation come it as it depends on the affect you want to create and the speed a subject is moving at. Set a slow shutter speed and you’ll get a lot of blurring in the background especially if the target is moving quickly but it will also be hard to keep the subject from becoming blurry. Faster shutter speeds will have a more subtle sense of motion but in some cases this is what you’re looking for. With a slow moving subject such as a runner, try 1/10. For faster moving target such as a car, try 1/30. After a couple of attempts you’ll get a sense of what works best for the situation you’re in.
One tip that will help: try taking a photo of a moving subject without panning. The moving item will be blurred and the amount its blurred by is about the same amount as the background will blur when you pan. This will get you in the right ball park of shutter spead
e) Focus on the subject and follow it by turning the camera. Take the shot when the subject is in the right place and keep panning after you release the shutter. This can take some attempts to get right particularly with a slow shutter speed. If your subject is sharp and your background blurry then you’ve done things right
Tip: use the focus markers in your viewfinder. I find it helpful to use the markers in the viewfinder. I move the marker so that the subject is in the right place when I take the photo. For example, if I want the subject to be left of centre, then I will move the focus point to the left. I can keep it over the subject as I pan to help me pan at the right speed.
Now get out there and try it!
Not only will you learn a valuable technique but you’ll also learn what shutter priority mode does on your camera without having to read a long and boring post on the subject (which I’m sure I’ll get round to writing sometime soon).