(Editor’s Note: We welcome Sara Kempner to Photofocus. Sara is an outdoor photographer specializing in fine art landscapes, lifestyle and sport and recreation imagery. She is based out of the Comox Valley, BC, Canada. When not taking photos you can find her on her mountain bike or snowboard while out enjoying all that Vancouver Island has to offer.)
Panning in photography is usually associated with moving objects like cars, bikes or even animals. But panning can also be applied in the landscape genre, as a way to create abstract and dreamy images with an almost painterly feel to them.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is panning?
Panning is a technique that combines a slower shutter speed with camera motion during the exposure to create a sense of movement in the image. In landscape photography, we’re adding movement to an otherwise still image to create a unique, artistic visual of the scene.
Haven’t tried panning before? Below are six steps to help you create your first panned image.
1. Find your scene
Find a scene that isn’t too cluttered, and has some sort of vertical or horizontal lines. For example, you can use a body of water with a horizon and sky above, or a stand of nicely spaced trees. Panning can be done either vertically or horizontally depending on your subject.
2. Slow your shutter speed
To start, set your shutter speed somewhere around 1/30s and adjust your aperture accordingly to properly expose for your scene. With longer shutter speeds it’s easy to blow out your highlights, so don’t be afraid to push your aperture to f/8.0 or higher in order to let in less light. If you are shooting in bright conditions and can’t get your shutter speed low enough, you may need to use an ND filter to allow for a longer exposure. If you don’t have a filter, try panning early in the morning or later in the evening when light levels are lower.
3. Hold steady
When you’ve got your exposure and focus set, you’re ready to pan. Hold your camera tight to your body and move your body in a steady, continuous motion either horizontally or vertically. For vertical panning, try starting with your knees bent in a partial squat, and initiate movement upward while keeping your torso straight so that the camera moves up in a straight line. For horizontal panning, initiate movement at the waist and move your upper body from one side to the other in a fluid, even plane. Try to keep the camera as level as possible while you’re moving.
4. Fire away
Once you’ve initiated movement, depress the shutter button and continue to pan until after the exposure has finished. Make sure to follow through with the panning motion until after the shutter has closed, as this is key to creating a smooth, consistent image.
5. Make adjustments
Use your viewfinder to assess your image and make adjustments as desired. You’ll find that each panned shot is going to come out slightly different, even when taken in the exact same spot. Try gradually decreasing your shutter speed to see how your subject changes frame to frame. Alternatively, you can speed up or slow down your panning movement to change how the image is recorded.
6. Keep practicing
Keep practicing until you get a photo that you love! These types of images are subjective and artsy by nature so don’t be frustrated if you don’t like your first attempts. The beauty of living in the digital world is that we can afford to experiment and fail with techniques like this, so have some fun and see what you can come up with!
Adding panning into your repertoire of photography techniques can be a great way to get creative and explore unique perspectives in the landscape genre. With no right or wrong outcome, panning allows you to experiment until you get a result that fires up your creative juices and inspires you to push your photography into new directions.