Panning: how the pros capture motion (and the best shutter speeds to use)

Panning: how the pros capture motion blur (and the best shutter speeds to use)

Panning is a great way to capture a sense of movement in your action photography, by blurring the background, but keeping the subject sharp. Panning is often thought to be quite difficult, but in reality, with sound technique and some practice you can capture motion blur quite easily. Below we’ll show you how it is done and reveal the best shutter speeds to use for different common subjects.

Panning: how the pros capture motion blur (and the best shutter speeds to use)

1 Get set for panning
Use the Tv or S mode to set a slower shutter speed than you would normally need to freeze the action. What speed depends on how fast your subject is moving and your position in relation to them: are you on a fast or slow corner?

Are they coming at you three-quarters on, or hammering past you down the straight?

For most motorsports on a mid-speed corner, try shooting at around 1/125sec and see how sharp your subject is and how much motion blur is in your background. Increase your shutter speed if your subject is too blurred, decrease your shutter speed if the background is too sharp.

Experiment with different shutter speeds for different events and different locations on the track – see the table, right, for suggested speeds.

Panning: how the pros capture motion blur (and the best shutter speeds to use)

2 Pan and focus
There are two ways to focus when panning; autofocus (AF) or manual focus (MF). Autofocus can produce mixed results if you’re not at the right speed to follow the focus on your moving target.

On the other hand, manual focus can produce more consistent results, but it takes practice and patience. If you are using autofocus, focus on a part of the track that you know the car or bike is going to go over, then switch to manual focus mode to lock the focus.

Frame widely, so that you have plenty of space to fit in the fast-moving vehicle. Use motordrive, then track your subject, pressing the shutter just before they hit your spot on the track.

3 Move your body
The trick to panning is get a good spot trackside, with room to swing your big lens from left to right without anybody being in your line of vision.

Take a wide stance and, moving in a 90-degree arc with your upper body, smoothly track the car/bike throughout and shoot continuously.

Always remember to follow through the arc – avoid starting or stopping abruptly, otherwise the motion blur will be messy.


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