Panning technique made easy

Introduction to Panning Technique

There are two most common ways of capturing moving subjects like cars, cyclists or athletes. One way is to freeze movement completely with very fast shutter speed (like eg. 1/640 or even faster) to have everything tack sharp – both the subject and the background. The other way is somewhat opposite, i.e. to have sharp subject but blurred background in the direction of the movement. In this short post I will focus on the latter technique which is known as panning technique.

Probably you’ve seen some photos where person or vehicle is in focus while the rest of the image is blurred horizontally making the image very dynamic. If not, take a look at my attempt above. I took this photo in Havana and the vintage car was moving from right hand-side to the left.

The idea is to focus on the object using focus-tracking feature of your camera (AI Servo on Canons; Continuous/AF-C on Nikons) and move the camera horizontally as the subjects goes past you. Using slow shutter speed blurs the rest of the image.


Here are details:

  1. Set your camera to AI Servo mode on Canon, Continuous/AF-C on Nikon.
  2. Set your camera to Shutter-priority mode (referred to as Tv or T on your camera) or Manual mode and set your shutter speed to slow value like 1/30 or 1/15 of a second (you can even try slower but this is usually good starting point).
  3. Focus on the object in a distance by pressing your shutter half-way down.
  4. Follow the object as it’s approaching (continuous focus will focus automatically as the subject is moving towards you).
  5. When it’s going past you, press the shutter to take a photo. While pressing the shutter still follow the object. You can stop movement only when you hear shutter click. This will ensure nice and smooth blur of the background.

Though it’s easy in theory, the practice makes it pretty difficult and it requires many attempts before success so don’t be frustrated when you fail at the beginning.

What about Image Stabilization?

One question remains. What about Image Stabilization? Well it would indeed ruin the photo as it would try to reduce shake which in this case is done on purpose. So it is better to disable it when using this technique. Also many modern lenses have two Image Stabilization modes:

  • regular one – which tries to reduce all camera movement,
  • panning mode – which tries to reduce only shake in vertical axis thus allowing using this mode when panning (as the name implies).

Hope this helps!

2017-01-17T19:43:06+00:00 April 13th, 2012|Posted in: action, tutorial|
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