Playing with Cameras --- Panning

If you're bored with your photography or feel like you're stuck in a rut, try breaking some of the photographic rules you usually follow. You will certainly get different results and might discover a whole new way to approach your favorite subjects.

Let's start with one of the most basic rules: keeping the camera steady during the exposure for a sharp shot. What if you did the opposite? Intentionally moving the camera during a long exposure can create all sorts of interesting effects.

Panning is a traditional way to play with motion. Using a slow shutter speed in your camera, follow a moving subject while looking through the viewfinder (or at the LCD). Doing so has two effects. First, the background, which is not moving, is transformed into streaks of color. Second, if your timing is good, your main subject appears sharp, or nearly so. The result is a more pronounced impression of the speed your subject is moving.

Panning 1/30 second, f/22, ISO 100

Follow these tips for panning:
  • Select the lowest ISO setting (100 or 200)
  • Use Shutter Priority and pick a slow shutter speed (1/8 second, 1/15 second, 1/30 second)
  • Or use Aperture Priority and choose the biggest aperture number (f/22 or f/32)
  • Turn on continuous shooting (burst) mode 
  • Follow the subject while looking through the viewfinder
  • Keep moving after pressing the shutter button for the picture 
After you try a few shots, review the results on the LCD screen. You may want to try a faster or slow shutter speed to see what happens.

Panning 1/40 second, f/14, ISO 100
Image Copyright Ursula Carpenter

If your camera doesn't have Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority mode, try the Landscape scene setting or Portrait scene mode and turn off the flash. Some compact cameras have a "slow shutter" setting that would work for this technique.

Super slow shutter speeds can create interesting blur in your subject, too.

Panning 1/15 second, f/22, ISO 125

Working in dim lighting conditions makes using slow shutter speeds easier. Indoors, at night, under overcast light, in the shade or when the sun is below the horizon all have reduced amounts of light, helping you produce this effect. If you are shooting in bright sun, block light by using a polarizing or neutral density filter over your lens.

Panning 1/8 second, f/5.6, ISO 100
Panning 1/10 second, f/3.5, ISO 800
Image Copyright Noel Lindquist Photography

Panning 1/25 second, f/10, ISO 200
Image Copyright Karrie Montgomery

If you'd like to learn more about panning and other creative ways to break the rules, join me for my Playing with Cameras workshop at the Kanuga Photo Retreat in North Carolina April 21-26.