Update: We have created an updated video for this concept. Please visit this workshop page for an Updated Panning Tutorial from our Photography 101 Workshop.

Panning is a photography technique that plays on the in-camera motion blur. We all know what happens when you let your shutters drop too low while shooting moving objects. You get a blurry, less-than-sharp image capturing the movement in a still frame.

Now imagine shooting the same moving subject at a low shutter, but instead of holding the camera still in one place, you move the camera along with the subject, following the moving subject so that the subject remains in the exact same part of the frame the entire time that the shutter is open. You get a relatively crisp subject, with a dynamic, moving, blurry background. This is what photographers call panning photography.

This past week, we thought we would create a nice little video tutorial on how to shoot panning photography. Of course, we felt like we needed to do it SLR Lounge style. As always, you will have to watch the video to find out exactly what that means.

Panning gives your shot a feeling of movement and speed. If you see pictures of motor races, such as NASCAR, you’ll often see images of a crisp subject with dynamic, motion blurred surroundings. In these images, the photographers are using the appropriate shutter speed to capture blur in the track while following, or panning, with the subject, in essence, tricking the camera into thinking that the moving subject is actually still.

Original Tutorial on How to Execute Panning Photography:

1) Be in the Right Position – Panning will work best when your subject is going a predictable rate in a straight line, perpendicular to the photographer. Also, make sure you have an unobstructed view from the point where you wish to start the pan to the point where your shutter closes. Any back and forth movement or unpredictable movement will cause subjects that are less-than-sharp. However, this may actually be your desired effect and can actually lead to some great artistic shots.

For example, in this image taken in New York, the lack of a crisp subject adds to the feelings of movement and speed.

Panning NYC

2) Use the Appropriate Shutter Speed – The appropriate shutter speed will depend on the speed of the moving object, the amount of light in the scene, as well as your desired amount of blur. As a general guide, a shutter around 1/60th works well for motor vehicles, 1/30th for slower moving vehicles like bicyclists and joggers, and lower for people walking. Note that you’ll likely add camera shake at anything below shutter speeds under those dictated by the reciprocal rule.

3) Consider using a Tripod or Monopod – The smoother, less-shaky your movement, the crisper your subject will be. In addition, any up and down movement will cause the blurred lines and lights in the background to be inconsistent and not straight.

4) Choose the Right Background – Once you play around with panning a few times, you’ll start to see how the colors and lines blend together. By blending the right colors in your background, you can enhance the artistry in the image. Play with the colors and the lights as well as the patterns in the backgrounds to achieve your desired results.

5) Use the Right Compositions

Use the same basic compositional rule that you would with any other photograph. As with shooting any moving object, the subject of your image should be moving toward negative space. Basically, your object shouldn’t be traveling right into the end of the frame, as leaving open space gives your subject room to travel and gives the viewer natural beginning and end points for the eyes to follow. Of course, this isn’t a strict rule, but it’s one to keep in mind and follow loosely.

6)Consider Panning Still Objects – You can also pan still objects, creating motion blur where there is no motion. This can create a beautiful abstract image with a dreamy, watercolor effect.

In this image is by Juha Haataja, notice how the circular panning gives the colors and textures a water-color feel, as the colors blend together.


For more photography basics, be sure to check out the many free tutorials we have in the Workshop Section of SLR Lounge.