Panning is a great way to spruce up your travel photos with some movement and creative looking motion blur. Developing the technique correctly may take a bit of practice, but once you have it down pat it can be a lot of fun. And the great thing about the advent of digital photography is that you don’t waste lots of film trying to get a good panned shot. Sadly though, the hit rate with panning isn’t always that high. You often have to take many shots just to get a good one. But shooting digital is great because you can know right away if you actually got a good shot or not. You can also shoot all you want and simply delete the bad shots with no cost. What I really like about panning when traveling in other countries too is the variety of interesting vehicles you come across on the streets that you can shoot for subject matter.

So what is it you are trying to achieve by panning?

The basic purpose of panning is to follow a moving object with your camera and snap the shot while the camera is in a synchronized motion with the subject by using a slow shutter speed. If done correctly, this gives you a partially in focus moving object with a beautifully blurred background that has the feeling of motion and movement.

One of the key elements to a good panned shot is to slow the shutter speed down to correctly match the speed of the moving subject you are shooting. Digital SLR cameras are great though because you can quickly take a test shot of a moving object, check your speed on the image preview screen to see if your shutter speed is correct, and then adjust it accordingly if necessary. The ability to check the suitability of your shutter speed on the screen is something that would have never been possible back in the days of film.

So how do we set up our camera for panning?

Panning is all about shutter speed and matching the speed of the moving objects you plan to shoot. If your shutter speed is too slow then it will be difficult to get a shot that is in focus at all and if your shutter speed is too fast then the background wont look very blurred.

The first thing I do is put my camera into the fully manual mode. Then I normally start with a shutter speed setting of about 1/10 to 1/15 of a second. This speed seems to be just right for most moving vehicles on city streets.

The next thing I do is to set the aperture accordingly. Look through your viewfinder at your light meter and move the aperture setting either up or down until the light meter indicates that your exposure is just right and either too much or not enough. Then take a test shot. If the exposure looks OK based on your settings then you can start shooting your panned shots or moving subjects. Also, if you find that the aperture setting is too wide for your liking, at say F/4 if you are in a low light situation, then you can always increase your ISO from 100 to ISO 400 and this will allow you to adjust your aperture setting to F/8 to get sharper detail in your shots. A narrow aperture setting is best when shooting panned shots because there will be a lot of blurring to begin with. So some decent sharpness on the areas of the shot that are in focus will help make your images look more appealing and outstanding.

So how do we start shooting panned shots now that we have our camera setup?

The whole key to the technique of panning is to move your camera on a horizontal plane at the same speed of the moving object you are shooting. This means pick a moving object, start to follow the moving object from a distance while keeping your camera level and moving it only from left to right or vice versa. As the object gets closer to your camera then quickly press down the shutter to focus and shoot and keep moving and following the subject with your camera until the shutter has closed.

If the image comes out with a good area in sharp focus then you’ve done it all correctly. If your picture is all blurred with nothing in focus it could mean one of two things. Either your shutter speed is too slow, your movement of the camera was either not level, or you were not following the moving object at the same speed that the object was moving. So take a few more shots first and see if you now get a sharp shot. If you still don’t have any sharp shots then it may be that your shutter speed is just too slow. Try increasing your shutter speed by 1/3 to 1/2 a stop and try again.

The thing to note about panning is that a lot of comes down to the steadiness of your movement of the camera to follow and match the speed of the moving object on a level plane and without tilting the camera up or down while the shutter is open. So just have fun with it. Keep trying until you get a good shot. Adjust speed and aperture as you go to compensate for objects that may be moving slower or faster than others and you are sure to get a great shot.