Panning technique in photography refers to the usage of a slow shutter speed and swinging motion of the camera to follow or track the motion of a moving object. Because the camera is moved to track at the same speed as the moving subject, the subject appears sharp while the background and its details appear in motion in the photo, although it’s essentially stationary.
Panning is one of the most invaluable techniques that a photographer can have , especially those doing sports photography, in capturing pictures that convey the sense of speed and motion. For the casual photographer, this technique will make certain pictures like kids on a swing at the playground stand out when well panned, as a picture all frozen with high speed shutterspeed would otherwise be a normal picture.
The emphasis here is on the shutter speed used during shooting. It depends on the subject speed you are shooting. A general “sweet” spot would be between 1/100s – 1/125s for moving vehicles like cyclists, motorists and even F1 cars. Any lower speed may result in subject blur, apart from background streaks. But this is dependent on the “feel” you want to impart, as an acceptably sharp subject may not be everyone’s ideal of a perfect panning shot with some prefer to shoot with a streaking look. But generally, a sharp subject with streaked background is more easily enjoyed and understood. For other sports event like dragon boat rowing, 1/20-1/30s would be ideal.
Successful panning photography requires practise so that the photographer is able to achieve consistent keeper shots and reduced wastage. The trick to great panning shots is do test shots and consistent practise. And with experience, progress to fill-flash technique and daylight balancing technique.
Aircraft – 1/100 to 1/750. Lower shutter speed will create propeller blur 1/100 to 1/125 will get best prop blur . Will need to pan the camera with the aircraft
Vehicles – 1/60 (normal) 1/1000 (racing speeds) Lower speeds – older slower vehicles. For racing cars you will need to pan with it as it passes. 1/500 will freeze a car at 100km/h. 1/1000 will freeze (with wheel motion) a racing car at 250km/h. Use the lower shutter speed for that vehicle speed to show wheels blurred. Frozen wheels make car look stationary. Sports activities 1/250- 750. Freezes action 1/15 – 1/100 for movement blur.
Walking speed 1/60 – 200. 1/100 freezes medium walk , 1/200 freezes slow jogging speed. Use slower than 1/60 to show motion while panning (difficult – requires practice) Slow panning speeds are more difficult to keep sharp than fast panning.
Working hands 1/5s to 1/30s. Freeze from about 1/60 to 1/200. Low speed looks like hands are working when rest of body stationary.
Small birds flying 1/100 to 1/400s. Slower speed gets blurred wings. Higher speed freezes 1/160 ends of wings blur. Panning complicates the wing blur – practice with specific species Birds of prey 1/160 to 1/500. Lower speed gets wing blur; higher speed gets fast swoop in frozen action. If panning work at the mid-range to give background blur and slight wing blur. Larger birds tend to fly at slower speeds. Use lower speeds if B.of.P is soaring.
Water blur 1/30 to 1 second will give a misty ‘milky’ look. Watch for burn out in bright light. Use longer exposures for flat waters (1 or 3 seconds) Try longer exposures for lakes with wind-blown surfaces and swell/waves to flatten the water. ND filters will be necessary in bright daylight.
Light trails (cars at night) ½ sec to 8 seconds will provide a good trail but may be too intense if lots of ambient light. Vary aperture (F5.6 to F11) to lower ambient light and use shutter speed to capture the trail (work at ISO 100). Local street lights and numbers of other vehicles affect the ambient light levels – try test shots first.
Light painting. 15secs to 15mins. Light is shown only for a few seconds but a sequence of lights can be painted over longer periods Exposure length depends on how many light painting sequences your scene requires to finish. If you wear black you can move around in front of the camera without being seen on a long exposure.
Star trails 30s frames to several hours (bulb). Better to use 30s shots and combine them later rather than excessively long exposures to prevent ‘hot pixels’. Exposure length depends on how dark the environment is. Avoid bright lights from streetlights lighting the sky as much as possible. Full moon period will complicate star trails photography.