Photography Tips for Panning {tracking a moving subject}

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Have you ever heard of the photography term, panning? It’s all about tracking a moving subject, often in sports photography! It’s tricky, I still struggle with it, but I’ve got tips on how to get started.  You can even “pin for later”, and help me spread the word!

photo tips for blurry subjects

For this to work, you need a slow shutter speed, and best used with a tripod.

In the image below, I was standing still as my model rode by me on a bicycle. I shot it with a shutter speed of 1/40. With an ISO of 100, and full sun, my aperture was at f/13


Panning by
Do you see how the background is almost moving? I’ve still got some work in this area, as her face isn’t as crisp as I’d like.  The shutter speed is very slow, yet you are moving the camera to keep up with the action. It takes a lot of practice!
Here is one of my many not-so-great shots:
Bad Panning Shot
(similar  settings as above)
Here are some tips to think about when giving your first experience with Panning a try.

Panning tips

  • Have you cameras shutter speed slow at 1/15th/sec or 1/30th/sec, slow enough to cause movement when swinging or panning the camera. The aperture isn’t as much of a concern, as the background will be blurred.
  • Set camera to AI servo so you can “track” the moving subject
  • Set the dial to continuous mode so you can take a bunch of images in a row
  • Follow your subject and “pan” from left to right (or vice versa) and just stand in one spot
  • Keep your shutter speed slow, about 1/30 second
  • A tripod is very helpful to keep your camera level while panning. Just move the camera left or right to pan with a tripod. 

In observing the images above, the sharpest image was when she was right in front of me. It was more difficult to set the focus when she was off to the side.  She is only about 10 feet away from me. When she was further away, the outcome of the background wasn’t as dramatic of an effect.

Panning too Far

In the image below, my subject is closer, but just a little of the panning blur is shown.  This is the most clear image, but not quite the same panning blur as my first shot above.

Tips on Panning

Another way to try panning is to be in a moving car, riding beside someone on a bike as they move. That will allow a bit more flexibility, but quite tough to set up that scene! It’s a tricky task because it takes 3 people:  subject, driver, shooter.  This was a bit of a different panning technique because I moved along with the subject instead of standing still.  There is less of a need for a tripod because I wasn’t moving from left to right, but stabilized by the car under my elbow.

Go out and try something new, have fun with Panning!

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