Panning is a photography technique that “freezes” a moving subject while adding motion blur to the background, giving the viewer a distinct sense of movement in the image. Here are some tips on creating great panning shots:
1. Use a slow shutter speed. It sometimes takes experimentation to get the correct shutter speed for your photo, depending on how fast the subject is moving. You want something slow enough to create blur in the background but not so slow that you can’t keep up with the subject. When I take panning photos I prefer to preset my exposure and shoot in manual, but shutter priority with a slow shutter speed or aperture priority with a very small aperture can also work well.
2. Use a flash or strobe to freeze your subject. For the photograph in this post I had an off-camera strobe set to my right (about a 45-degree angle to the subject) and used that as a fill-light to freeze the subject. In most cases an on- or off-camera speed-light will also work extremely well.
3. Pre-focus and use manual focusing. Figure out approximately where the subject will be at the time of exposure, focus your lens, then make sure your focusing is set to “manual”. You will most-likely be using a small aperture for this setup, so you will have some wiggle-room for your focusing which will help you to get a sharper image.
4. Shoot in the shade. If possible try to find a spot where there is very little or no direct sunlight. An area that has too much light will make it difficult to slow your shutter speed down enough for a panning shot. If you are unable to find an area with low enough light, you can always try using an ND (neutral density) filter to cut out some of the light coming into your lens.
5. Track the subject through the entire motion. When your subject comes into view, fix your lens on them and follow them from left-to-right (or vice-versa), click your shutter as they land on the spot you want to capture them, and then continue to follow the subject until they are out of range. This will ensure that you get their full range of motion and shutter speed, and won’t stop short of your exposure.