5 Key Steps to Master Panning a Moving Subject

Author: Matthew Paxton   Date Posted:23 September 2016 

Panning is a photography technique that every photographer hopes to master someday. Panning can be a difficult technique to master and as such takes plenty of patience and persistence to get the hang of.

However, don’t be disheartened, you will land the shot eventually! To help you master the art of capturing a moving subject, there are some key steps to take.

1. Choose your subject carefully

Remember, not every subject is ideal for panning. You need to choose a subject that will be moving in a straight line so that you can accurately predict their path. Subjects that are swerving, moving intermittently or erratically are not a good candidate as the motion blur will overpower the shot.

2. Adjust your shutter speed

You’ll need to choose a slower shutter speed that you would typically use for other shots to get a more dramatic result. Try starting with a 1/30 second shutter speed and reduce the shutter speed from there to find the one that best suits the shot you are trying to achieve. Your ideal shutter speed could be anything between 1/60 and 1/8 so play around with it. However, if you are trying to shoot very fast moving subjects like a race car or jet, it’s best not to adopt a shutter speed of less than 1/125. Be careful to avoid a camera shake though as you reduce the shutter speed. At the lower end of the scale, camera shake can become prominent in the shot.

3. Position yourself away from any obstruction

You’ll need to ensure that your view of the subject is not obstructed by anything and that there are no obstructions in the background of the shot which could disturb the final image. Take a good look around you and assess the probability of something or indeed someone – a person in a hi-vis vest perhaps – potentially obstructing your shot.

Position yourself in the path of the subject and ensure to capture the moving object against a single or plain coloured background. Many photographers have difficulties with panning by not aptly considering the background of the shot. A busy background can create streaks and colours that overwhelm the shot and distract from your subject.

4. Track the subject

To execute this technique, you will need to track the subject, so it will be wise to use a monopod or tripod. If your camera has automatic focus tracking functionality, use this to do the tracking for you. If not, pre-focus your camera on the spot you want to release the shutter. If you need to pre-focus, do so well in advance of the arrival of your subject.

5. Smoothly release the shutter

Release the camera shutter as gently as possible to avoid any camera shake ruining your shot. Even after the shot has been taken, continue to pan the subject as this will ensure the motion blur is as smooth as possible. If you often experience shutter lag, you will need to continue to pan well after the shot has been taken. Try to keep looking through the viewfinder throughout the entire shot.

Don’t expect your shots to be perfect

Know that your subject will likely never be completely in focus or completely sharp. What you need to achieve is to capture a shot where your subject is relatively sharp in comparison to the background. A little blurring of the subject can actually add to the shot. Don’t discard a shot just because the focus isn’t perfect.

Panning takes continuous practice

If you are new to panning or yet to land a successful shot using this technique, it might not be wise to dive straight in and try to pan objects moving at high speeds. Instead, initially practice the technique on passing traffic, people running or animals in motion. This will help you to get to grips with the basics panning. Even after you’ve landed some good shots, continue to practice, practice, practice. This is a technique that you need to be putting in action frequently in order to truly master it. When you start to land those incredible shots, even though it’s take lots of practice and maybe hundreds of attempts, it will be completely worth it.

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