Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Fun With Panning

Panning photography can be fun and frustrating.  Fun because you can make some fantastic photos that really grab a viewers attention.  Frustrating because it is not easy and takes some practice.  The good news is you can do this with most any camera that allows you to set the shutter speed.

A panning example. 1/15 sec, f/13 at 27mm (full frame equivalent)

Panning is a technique where the photographer pans the camera along with the moving subject keeping the subject close to the same position in the frame.  When done correctly, and with a bit of luck, you end up getting a relatively sharp subject but a blurred background, like the photo of the red Mustang.

Recently June and I were exploring downtown Knoxville, Tennessee around the Market Square.  It's a fun place to practice street photography, which is candid unposed photography of people, typically in an urban setting.  There are plenty of interesting people in downtown Knoxville on a Friday night, doing many different things.  One thing we saw lots of were people zipping around on e-scooters.  People on scooters make great subjects for panning because:

  • They are slow moving
  • They are on predictable paths
  • The main subject is people

You can do panning with other subjects but faster subjects moving erratically are more difficult to photograph.
Too slow.  1/10 sec, f/14 at 53mm
Setting up the camera - You will want to be in Shutter Priority or Manual Mode.  For a slower moving subject, such as scooters and bicyclists, you will want a shutter speed between 1/15 and 1/30 of a second.  Using a  shutter speed slower than 1/15 will make it difficult to avoid motion blur in the subject, as in the motorcyclist above. You may need a faster shutter speed when photographing a faster moving subject.

Set the camera to continuous focus tracking so that it will adjust focus as the distance to the subject changes.  Using burst mode or continuous shooting mode will allow you to take many shots as the subject moves by you. 

1/18 sec, f/11 at 53mm
Setting up the shot -  you want to position yourself so your view of the subject is perpendicular to the direction of motion, as seen in these example photos. This will minimize the change in camera to subject distance and improve the odds that the camera will be able to keep the subject in focus.

Be aware of the background.  Just like any photograph, you don't want a bright colorful background to distract from the subject.  Also, watch out for objects in front of the subject as you pan.

I like to zoom out a bit and crop later to get a better composition.  As the subject approaches center them in the photo and press the shutter.  In burst mode, the camera will keep taking photos as long as you keep your finger on the shutter or the memory buffer fills up.  The key is to keep the subject in the same position within the frame.  It's not as easy as it sounds and this is the part that takes practice and a bit of luck.  Keep shooting while the subject moves past you.

1/15 sec, f/11 at 53mm
Go out and give this a try.  It will take a lot of practice so be patient. You can practice by heading to most any downtown area where there are cars or people passing by.  Add your comments to this post to let me know how you're doing.

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