Since posting some motion panning shots on the Jeff Cable Photography Facebook page, I have had a lot of questions on how I took these photos. So...even though I have yet to blog the photos from the Indy Grand Prix (which is coming soon), I thought I would write a quick blog to answer many questions about this technique.
So...let's start with the basics...
What is motion panning?
Panning is a technique where the photographer purposely slows the shutter speed of their camera to an abnormally low speed in order two pan along with a subject but create motion blur around the subject. The key to this process is the panning speed. It is imperative that the photographer follow the subject at the EXACT same speed at it is traveling. Sound difficult? It is. It is not uncommon to have many more rejects, than you have keepers. But, hey, memory is cheap and it is very rewarding when you capture a clean photo like this.
Why would we want to purposely blur a photo?
Panning at a slow shutter speed blurs everything in the foreground and background. Having only the subject sharp, with all the blur surrounding it, gives the viewer a implication of the speed. In the case of the photo below, if I had shot this at 1/1250 of a sec, I would have frozen the car on the race track. But this would be boring, with the tires showing no motion and everything in focus.
This first photo was taken at 1/40th of a second, using the Canon 1DX and Canon 100-400mm lens, with me panning along with the Indy car. I wish I could tell you that every one of the photos was this sharp, but that would be a lie. But, even with the poor percentage of keepers, all I wanted was one of these!
This second photo was taken at 1/1600 sec and lacks the excitement of the first shot. Honestly, you could park a race car on a track and take a photo without it looking much different.
What is the best technique?
Many people have asked me if I use a tripod or monopod when panning. I don't. As much as I love my Gitzo monopod, and use it whenever I am shooting with a large lens, I prefer to pan handheld. I hold the camera firmly and pan with my hips. I find that, like a good golf swing, you should start shooting early and follow through, shooting all the way until the object has past by. If you want to practice this technique, go outside and practice on cars, bikes and people that are going by on your street.
What is the proper shutter speed to use for panning?
It really depends on how fast your subject is moving. If you are photographing a horse and buggy in New York's Central Park, they move very slowly, so you may need to be at 1/2 a second. Trying to pan with a race car at 1/2 second would be darned near impossible. For the Indy Car shot, I started shooting at 1/200 of a second, easily got the shot, and then moved to 1/100 second. After looking at the back of the camera, I saw that I got that one too. Slow I moved to 1/80, then 1/60 and finally to 1/40. Each time challenging myself to get as much blur as possible.
This photo of a speedboat was taken at 1/15 of a second using the Canon 1DX and the Canon 28-300mm lens. This photo was made even more difficult because I was another boat, which was moving all over the place. Notice how the water, the wake, and the background are all blurry, with the boat tack sharp.
What is the best way to know if I have a good panning shot?
I usually zoom into the photo and look at the details of my subject. In the case of the car, I will look to see if the logos and text are perfectly sharp. With the boat photo, I zoomed into the writing on the side of the boat, and the writing on the engine. Of course, you also want to make sure that you have a slow enough shutter speed to show the motion blur. You may have a sharp subject, but since the shutter speed was not slow enough, you don't have enough blur.
How do I slow the shutter speed on my camera?
There are numerous ways to slow the shutter speed on your camera. If you are shooting in Aperture Priority mode, you can roll your aperture to the highest number possible. Because aperture and shutter speed are inverse to each other, this will give you a slow shutter speed. You can shoot in Shutter Priority (which is probably your best bet), since this will let you determine the exact shutter speed that you desire. Keep in mind that if you are trying to shoot at 1/2 second in the middle of a bright day, there will likely be too much light for this to happen. The only way to achieve very slow shutter speeds in a brightly lit environment is to use a neutral density filter, like the Tiffen Varible ND filter. These filters are dark and basically block the light coming into your lens. I really like the variable ND filter since it lets me dial in how much light I am blocking.
What equipment should I use?
The first photo was taken with my Canon 1DX, which is the top of line camera from Canon. But, it is not necessary to have a super fast camera for panning. I have taken many panning photos with my Canon 5D Mark III and older models. As for lenses, it really depends on how close you are to the subject and how much foreground and background you want to include in your frame. Since you are rarely ever shooting a panning shot at a high aperture (like f/2.8), even a consumer grade lens will work. I often use my Canon 24-105mm lens for walking around a new city, and will pan with this f/4 lens. And, of course, I am always using Lexar memory cards in my cameras.
So...next time you are out with your camera and you see an opportunity to try panning, give it a try. With a little bit of practice, you will come up with some really nice photos!
If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.