Photo Tip- Creating Movement in a Still Photo with Panning

Posted Feb. 16th, 2011 by Daniel J. Cox

1/20th of a second at F/11, 28mm lens, ISO 200

As still photographers we are constantly trying to give our images life. It can come in many forms but one of the most exciting ways to make your images dynamic is to add the technique known as panning when photographing something on the move. This technique works wonders to help create the feeling of movement in a still photograph. It can be used with animals, people and just about anything that passes in front of your lens. In the two examples below I’ve used the Panning technique while photographing people on the streets in Hanoi, Vietnam. The trick to creating a good pan is to make sure you are as steady as possible as you follow the subject with your camera. when I say moving I’m not talking abut running down the road chasing your subject. Rather moving means to follow through, pivoting your body as you hold the camera solidly in place. Typically you will be pivoting either left to right or right to left. Good follow through is essential as well. You want to still be moving when the shutter opens and closes. Additionally, it’s essential that you be shooting a shutter speed that is fairly long. What is considered long you ask? Well for those who have accompanied us on our photo tours you will recall that to eliminate soft images it is always a good idea to use a shutter speed equal to or greater than the length of your lens. In other words if you are shooting a 200mm lens, you will want to make sure the shutter speed of your camera is at least 1/200th. of a second. This will help eliminate the movement almost everybody creates while pushing the shutter button of their camera. However, when you are panning you actually want movement in your image. The difference with a quality pan is controlled movement.

1/13th of a second at F/14, 18mm/ ISO 200

When a camera records an image onto the sensor you are basically etching that image with light. Think of it like a laser beam that draws a perfect outline, details etc. onto the sensor to create a beautifully sharp rendition of the scene you’re capturing. The faster the shutter speed, the quicker that light is etched onto the chip. If a slow shutter speed is used and the camera moves during the exposure, the light etching onto the sensor will be smeared. Smearing creates what is seen by the human eye as soft, out of focus images. Now lets apply this to panning. If you have a subject that is going past you parallel to your body, this is a good time to try panning. To create a good pan you want to follow that subject as it goes from left to right or right to left. Ideally you will want a fairly slow shutter speed so the shutter stays open longer. The trick is to keep the subject, the motor cyclist in this example, perfectly aligned with the camera sensor as it whiz’s by. By doing so the subject is rendered perfectly sharp but the background is nicely blurred since it is not moving with the subject. That my friends panning!

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There are 2 comments on this post…
  1. Bonnie WOn Feb. 16th, 2011

    Hi Dan,
    This is very helpful as I am considering purchasing the iPad for the trip to Costa Rica. Now, once the images are uploaded to the iPad can they then be loaded onto a USB stick as well? I like to save the images in a couple of places before I delete them from the cards.

    Keep the information coming – I will learn from your good works or mistakes!


    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Feb. 17th, 2011

      Bonnie, I’ll investigate saving to a USB device. I’m not too sure about that option. We’ll see. Thanks for writing.

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