Panning For Fun

Author Joann Shipman

I watched eagerly as each contestant advanced towards the start line, confidently put on their helmets (safety first!) and sat down on their vehicles with hands firmly grasping the handle bars. As the green flag waved frantically, the contestants hunched into position and pedaled in a fury while the crowd cheered each one towards the finish line. Go, team, go! When I was asked if I wouldn’t mind photographing a team-building tricycle race within my company’s department recently, I jumped at the opportunity. What a great way to have some fun and practice a technique known as panning.

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In photography, panning involves following an object in motion. As an example, when I’m moving my camera simultaneously with the moving tricycle on the raceway, the tricycle remains in focus while the background is blurred. In order to achieve the effect of panning, the camera should be set to adjust shutter speed (Tv in Canon and S in Nikon). Start with 1/30 second as a guideline and adjust either faster or slower with each practice shot. However, be careful when choosing too slow of a slow shutter speed, or the photo may be blurry due to camera shake. For each of the photos in this blog, my settings varied slightly. The tricycle shot was taken at a 50mm focal length at f13 aperture and 1/60 second, and the state fair swing ride was taken at a 24mm focal length at f22 aperture and 1/30 second.

In addition to the shutter speed, there are other considerations. Depending on your subject and time of day, you may need to adjust the shutter speed as well as aperture and ISO for proper exposure. Also, setting the camera for continuous shoot will give you a selection of multiple panning photos and increase the chances for that one perfect shot. Last, think about a panning angle that would be best for the subject. Using the tricycle example again, I chose to remain very low to the ground in order to be at eye level with my subject to make the biggest impact.

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Panning can be a fun and creative way to give a feeling of motion to your subject in a photograph. Start with slow shutter speeds and continuous shoot mode and practice as many times as you can with different subjects like your dog running in the backyard or a friend snowboarding on the slopes. Before long, you will be the one crossing the finish line with a perfected new technique.

Joanne is a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

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