Ever wonder how photographers create motion blur in their photographs, such as the image on the left? It is pretty simply but it take lots of practice to get perfect, and sometimes less-than perfect is perfectly okay!
Move your camera at the same speed as the moving object and when you feel you are fully synchronized with the moving object push the shutter release, while still following the object.
Kinda simple, huh?
- Set your shutter speed at a relative slow shutter speed. In the example above the selected shutter speed was 1/50th second
- See your depth-of-field as deep as the light will permit. The light was fading in the late evening in the sample shot and the f-stop was set at f/4.5 at ISO 250 – sometimes you just have for to compromise
- You can pretty much use any lens, I prefer using my 70mm-200mm f/2.8 for no other reason than the weight feels balanced, for me.
- Posture: stand with your legs apart and front of your body parallel to the direction of your moving subject. Then bend your knees a few inches to soften and isolate your upper body from your legs (like a shock absorber)
- Focus, you have two options for focus:
- Manual: in the old days and it still stands true, today, if you can predict the path of your moving subject, pre-focus on that spot directly in front of you. You will shoot when the subject passes over that spot.
- Auto: if you have fast glass and a great camera body you can allow your auto-focus to pick up the subject. Make sure you are set to ‘servo’ and ‘high-speed continuous shooting’
- Shooting: as the subject approaches, while standing parallel to where you want to shoot twist your upper body to turn towards the incoming subject. You will find that when you begin you will favor ‘left-to-right’ or ‘right-to-left’ an many assignments I don’t have choice so eventually you will get good shooting in both directions…eventually!
- Then follow the subject by rotating your body while keeping the camera very still
- If you chose ‘manual focus’: track the subject, through the lens, as it comes towards you moving the camera very smoothly and just as it it arrives at the spot where your prefocused press the shutter release while still tracking the subject. DO NOT stop…keep following the subject until it is well passed the point where you released the shutter. The motion must be very smooth from start to finish. If you stop moving your camera too early you will ruin the shot. Note the runner on the right was shot using the manual focus technique at 1/50th second and f/7.1
- If you chose ‘auto-focus’ (and you do not mind burning a few frames): Per above, twist your body to begin tracking the subject through the lens and press your shutter release button 50% to to activate auto-focus on the subject. Begin tracking the subject smoothly with the shutter still 50% depressed and just before the subject arrives at the target shoot point full depress the shutter release, holder the button down and shooting 3 or for frames as you continute to track the subject, smoothly, with the camera. Do not stop moving the camera until the subject is out of your panning zone. Note, if you fire several frames only one will have the subject in focus, if you are lucky 2.Both cyclist images on this pages were shot using this technique.
And that is how you pan. easy, huh? :)
I have been panning for 38 years and I have taken an awful lot of bad shots. This is a technique that you have to practice, practice and practice; and take a lot of bad shots. When you nail it you will be absolutely overjoyed.
The faster the subject the easier it is to shoot so my recommendation would be, as I did, learn your craft on motorsports before you migrate to slower subjects such as runners, cyclists etc. What makes motorsports so much easier is that the entire subject is moving in one direction – horizontal. In other sports, there is a vertical component to the movement. Running subjects move their arms and legs in a different direction from the panned camera and will add a level of motion blur to the subject and the same happens with cyclists due to the peddling motion.
One final tip, when you begin panning use a faster shutter speed (which will have less blur) and then, as you improve, slow the shutter speed down. (The slower the shutter speed the greater the motion blur.)
Have fun shooting!