Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Panning: How I Roll!

Panning: How I Roll

I don’t know about your children, but mine seem to be in a constant state of motion! They are either running somewhere or riding some sort of ‘vehicle’ (bikes, scooters, carnival rides, wagons, etc.). One of the beautiful things about photography is that we can literally freeze these moments so we can see their smiles and feel their excitement.

Part of family photojournalism is capturing the moment as it happened. We capture the scene how WE see it most of the time. But often times we should attempt to photograph the scene as our subject experiences it. With this said, we have the ability to capture the motion so we can feel the energy of the moment as our children experience those moments.

To do so, we will focus on a photographic technique called ‘panning’. Panning is a technique where your subject is ‘frozen’ but appears as if it were moving. For example:

This is a shot for a client. This was particularly challenging because of the path of the motion. Shutter speed was 1/20th.


How to ‘Pan’:

1. Select a shutter speed around 1/20th. The amount of ‘blur’ in a scene depends on how fast/slow your shutter is. Slower shutter speeds will create more motion blur, but will be more difficult to maintain a sharp subject. Faster shutter speeds will make getting a sharp subject easier, but will have less blur. Also keep in mind that if you are panning a race car doing 200mph a shutter speed of 1/100th will suffice. Conversely, if you are panning someone walking, ½ might not be enough!

2. Select AI Servo focus mode on your camera. This is one of the few times when I am shooting that I use AI SERVO. It allows me to track my subject before I take the shot.

3. Select a subject that is moving. Subjects that are moving in a predictable path (child riding a bike down a hill) make panning easier. Also, straight paths make it a bit easier yet.

4. Stand perpendicular to where your subject will pass you. For example, if you are photographing a child on a scooter in the street, you should be on the sidewalk. You want to photograph the ‘broad side’ of your subject as they pass you.

5. Practice good camera holding techniques. Left hand under the lens for support. Left elbow firmly against your body. Right hand on grip. Right elbow firmly against body. Feet shoulder width apart. Bend knees. Jeez, I sound like my old football coach!

6. IT’S ALL IN THE HIPS! Begin to focus on your subject as it appoaches. Keep focus. ROTATE YOUR HIPS as the subject passes. Do not try to follow with your head/camera. LET YOUR HIPS CONTROL THE DIRECTION OF THE CAMERA. Did I mention HIPS?

7. Press the shutter. Wait for your subject to pass by and GENTLY press the shutter. Do not ‘stab’ at it.

8. FOLLOW THROUGH. Even after you press the shutter, continue to track the subject by ROTATING YOUR HIPS.


Remember, you are dealing with slow shutter speeds AND you are moving your body. So if you didn’t track your subject perfectly, the subject will not be sharp.

This technique takes PRACTICE. So just allow your children to play as they were and be a silent observer as you continue to hone your panning skills!

Here are a few of my favorite panning shots:





As always, thank you all for checking in!

Best Regards!



  1. Your swing pic is awsome.

    Thanks for the FPJ. I started FPJ after reading about it over at FM forums.

    Another tip for panning is to use a small aperature so you will have a better chance to have the subject in focus. Depth of field doesn't really matter because the background will be blurred anyways due to panning.

  2. Awesome panning shots, thanks for the tips. Keep up the good work.

  3. Your explanations are the clearest and most understandable on the web. Love this blog.

  4. I tried a couple this weekend and got a couple good ones.

  5. Great explanation especially the part about the hips! That is so true, you have to move with your hips. If I may add another tip for panning is to try to have a good background. What I mean by this is to have a background that will blur into a pattern that will not distract, but enhance your subject. The girl on the rope is an excellent example. This is not always possible especially with kids. You got to take the shot when it presents itself.

  6. Holy shit, Chuck. These are phenomenal! I can't wait to put your tips into practice, today was my very very first time trying this, and I am also brand new to all manual shooting. Thanks so much, you are amazing!

    Liz Corritore