How to use panning to capture moving objectsMay 2, 2017
If you have ever wanted to capture a moving object, only to end up with a disappointing photograph, then you need to master panning. This is the art of moving the camera at such a speed that you manage to capture an image that tells of the speed of the object itself. Common subjects for panning include sports such as horse racing or motor racing, planes in flight, and so on.
Set up your camera
The first thing that you will need to do is to set up your camera. You need to arrange your settings in the optimal way. You will want to be able to capture the object without freezing it, so that the sense of motion is still there. How slow you go will depend on what you are capturing and how you want it to look. 1/200 of a second is a good upper limit, and you won’t want to go slower than 1/15. If the subject is closer to you, you may require a faster shutter speed than if they were further away.
Put your camera into manual for the best results. If the conditions are changing rapidly, you may want to use shutter priority so that the f number changes accordingly and your shot is not ruined.
You will also want to ensure that your focus is working correctly. There are two options. If you know where the object will be as it approaches you, you can set your focus manually. If you need to have it on auto, then something like AF-C focus mode or AI SERVO will work best as you can track the subject while it moves.
Practice your shot
The best way to practice is with the real thing. For example, at a race, the moving objects may pass you several times, and you can practice once or twice to get it right. On the other hand, you may be in a situation where you only get one shot, in which case you should practice the motion alone. You should hold your camera with a strong posture and move from one side to the other, keeping the subject in your frame. You must move at the same speed as your subject for the image to work – otherwise you will end up with nothing but a blur.
If you have never tried the technique before, it might be a good idea to try it at home before your event or the subject that you want to capture. You can practice with something as simple as cars moving on a road near you. Try them at different roads to explore different speeds.
Frame your shot
When choosing your position, make sure that you will have enough room to pan. You ideally would like the subject to be moving in a straight line from your left to your right, or vice versa, but this won’t always be possible. Always try to stand in a position where you can see more of the subject before it passes you than afterwards – otherwise you may only be able to get a photograph of it from behind! If the object is moving directly towards you or almost directly, you probably won’t be able to get a good angle for your pan.
You can also try more unusual viewpoints – how about finding a high vantage and shooting from above? A pan can be very effective from this angle. You could also stand below your subject – for example, a plane would be a great subject for this.
Once you know more about panning, you can experiment to your heart’s content. You can raise or drop the shutter speed, try taking multiple shots during the pan, and so on. It’s a fun way to shoot and you can master it very quickly if you apply yourself!