Cycling photography isn’t always about using a fast shutter speed to freeze the bike sharply. Go for something slower and you’ll introduce blur, giving your cycling photos a sense of speed. Panning the camera to follow the bike will let you can capture it in focus, while the background becomes a rush of movement.
Getting this right is a combination of choosing the correct shutter speed and practising getting your panning smooth. When choosing the shutter speed, you need to take into account how fast a bike is moving and how far away it is. Cyclists who are a few metres away can be shot using a slower shutter speed – such as 1/15sec – than you’d use for, say, fast-moving cars when shooting other forms of action photography.
When it comes to the actual panning technique, smoothness is vital. That means you need to start to pan the camera as early as possible, so you’re following the bike’s movement smoothly when you fire the shutter. Then continue the panning action for as long as possible after taking your shots.
How to achieve perfect panning in your cycling photography
01 Set Shutter Priority
For consistent results, you need to use the same shutter speed throughout the pan. Set your camera to Shutter Priority and then use the input dial to select an appropriate shutter speed for your subject (we used 1/40sec). Now set the drive mode to continuous shooting.
02 Set your focus
For bikes that you can predict the position of, such as those riding along a track, you’ll get the best results by using manual focus. This is because you can just pre-focus on the point on the track where you’ll be shooting the cyclist.
03 Get in position
Before you start panning, you need to make sure you’re positioned correctly. You should be facing in the direction you want to take your shots. Now swivel your body, without moving your feet, and you’ll be in the right position to rotate smoothly as you pan.
04 Start your pan
Try to position your cyclist in the frame as early as possible, ideally before they reach the point where you want to take your shot. Remember to keep them in the same position in the frame by using the focus point in your camera’s viewfinder.
05 Take your photos
Once you’re panning smoothly, you should take a few frames as the subject reaches the area you identified in the second step. Make sure you press the shutter release as smoothly as you can, and take a maximum of three or four frames at a time.
06 Keep panning
Resist the urge to take a look at your images straight away, and remember to keep panning with the cyclist in the same position in the frame for as long as possible after you’ve taken your shots. This will help keep your panning action as smooth as possible.
Additional Panning Tip
Even though you’re using manual focus, you can still make use of the focus points in the viewfinder. Choose one of the points where you want to position the subject in the frame, then keep this area positioned over the subject as you pan the camera.
Suggested shutter speeds for panning
For cycling photography, the best shutter speeds to use when panning are generally in the range of 1/15sec to 1/60secc. It’s a fine balance of finding the shutter speed that is neither too fast nor too slow. For other forms of action photography, the best shutter speeds for panning with runners tends to be 1/8sec to 1/15sec and around 1/60sec to 1/250sec for panning photos of cars.