Movement photography: camera panning techniques to convey a sense of speed

Movement photography: camera panning techniques to convey a sense of speed

Camera panning techniques look and sound complicated. In reality, though, anyone with a manual mode and the patience to practice can learn how to pan a camera. In this tutorial we’ll show you how you can use slower shutter speeds to add a greater sense of drama to your movement photography.

Movement photography: camera panning techniques to convey a sense of speed

All images by Chris Rutter

Camera panning is a skill that takes practice to get right. Following fast-moving subjects accurately, and choosing the best shutter speed to balance getting the subject sharp and sufficiently blurring the background isn’t something that you pick up immediately in your movement photography. But it’s incredibly rewarding when everything comes together.

If you’re new to movement photography, start your experiments using camera panning with subjects that travel in a straight line, perpendicular to the direction you’re shooting in, such as racing cars moving along a straight part of the track.

In this situation you should set the camera to shutter priority mode, select a speed of 1/250 sec and make sure that the drive mode is on continuous shooting.

You should then manually focus the lens on the point where you’ll shoot your subjects. This will avoid problems with the autofocus changing the focus point during your pan.

Next, position yourself so that you’re facing the point you’ve focused on, and turn your body so that you can pick up the subject as early as possible as it travels towards you.

Swivel smoothly, keeping the subject in the same position in the frame, for as long as possible as it travels past you.

To get the smoothest pan you should try to swivel from your hips, rather than just your shoulders, and fire the camera in the middle of this movement.

Remember to continue panning well after you’ve finished shooting, because stopping too early can create a jerky movement, which will spoil your movement photography.

Once you’ve perfected this camera panning technique, and you can smoothly follow the action, you can start to reduce the shutter speed to give more blur and a greater impression of speed in your movement photography.

Start by dropping it to 1/125 sec and then 1/60 sec or even slower, but make sure that you’re keeping the main subject sharp.

With the basic panning action mastered, you can use this technique in more difficult situations such as when subjects are moving diagonally towards you, or on even more unpredictable subjects such as moving animals or footballers.

This random movement makes it trickier to get as much background blur, because you need to use a faster shutter speed than if you’re shooting something more predictable.

Unlike with subjects moving perpendicular to you, it’s also better to select predictive autofocus mode, because the distance between you and the target will vary..

PAGE 1: What is panning?
PAGE 2: 3 simple steps to panning like a pro
PAGE 3: How to choose the best shutter speed for movement photography
PAGE 4: Final tips for taking successful panning photos


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