Panning

Posted: September 14, 2008 in Bicycle Racing, motorsports, photography

I’m not talking about panning for gold either.

Often I see people on photography forums ask about how to shoot fast moving cars or bicycles. Their initial notion is to use a very fast shutter speed to capture the action. Unfortunately, there are few times when this is the best way to capture a racing car or bicycle. A fast shutter speed freezes everything in the photo and it looks like the subject is standing still — not a great way to convey a sense of speed.

The technique called panning is a method for keeping the subject (car or cyclist) sharp while blurring the background and the wheels. In my opinion, it’s the blurring of the wheels that creates as much of a sense of motion as having the background blurred.


Copyright 2008 © Cleaveran O. Law

Since I am such a great believer in re-use (not re-inventing the wheel), I’ll refer you to a couple of web sites that have a good explanation of panning:

Panning In Motorsport Photography

Mastering Panning – Photographing Moving Subjects

The technique in the first link is closest to my own. A couple of points to emphasize from that article are Rotation and Release Point and Shutter Speed. It is very important to position your body so that you are facing where you want the subject when you release the shutter and you want to make sure that you follow through after you release the shutter. If your body is “twisted” at the shutter release point you run the risk of having vertical movement and camera blur on your photo. Also, when you start learning the technique, use a slightly higher shutter speed and work your way down. It can be very frustrating to get a lot of blurred shots your first time out when shooting too low a shutter speed.

One last point on shutter speed. I have seen numerous articles on panning that suggest shutter speeds as low as 1/15 sec with many suggesting 1/30 sec. Most of the photos that I see with those shutter speeds have great blurring of the background but I also see too much blurring of the subject. The might be a great way to create a speed effect but it’s not a great way to capture the cyclist or car.

I’ll leave you with one last panning shot with a slightly different perspective.


Copyright 2008 © Cleaveran O. Law

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