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How to Use Panning Technique in Photography

Cheryl Mascarenhas
Panning is nothing but rendering a picture in motion. Though it sounds tough, this technique is relatively easy to master.
"A still photograph is called a still photograph because the picture doesn't move, not because the objects in the picture are not in motion. The photographer's mission, should he decide to accept it, is to capture motion with stillness."
―Vincent Versace
While most pictures create a static image of the moving object, panning allows the background to be blurred, so as to get an impression of motion. Panning allows you to attain amazing results, if done with perfection.
The panning technique is nothing but moving the camera in a steady sweep, to keep the subject in the same spot on the viewfinder. In short, you have to pan the camera to keep up with the moving subject, to make your subject stand out in the picture. Panning helps render motion to an otherwise still image.


Panning, in simple words, is a technique that follows eye and neck movement while watching a race. This means that the movement is steady and slow, and not one that jerks. Panning is widely used in sports photography, especially that of races, to suggest fast motion.
It is also used to make the subject stand out from the background. Panning is essentially like clicking a picture in the panorama mode, where you move the camera slowly from one point to another along the same horizontal plane.
Observe how the cyclist appears to be static while the background appears to be in motion, in the picture above. This feat has been achieved by triggering the shutter just before the bike has come into the focal point, to the time the cyclist has just crossed the line of vision.
This allows the viewer to assume the biker is cycling down in full speed, thus, giving the picture motion.

Method of Panning

Your safest bet when implementing this technique is using a tripod. Position the camera to face a point that your subject is to pass. Once your target enters into the focus zone, move along with your subject, to get the perfect shot.
The main idea is to keep the subject in a specific area of the viewfinder, and follow it to the end of the panning area. The key is to fire the shutter right in the middle of the sweeping motion, and to continue panning till the subject leaves the focal point.
What this means is, you shoot your subject from the point it begins passing you till the point it has crossed your line of vision.

Use a Slow Shutter Speed

To master this technique, you ought to use a camera with a slow shutter speed. A camera with a fast shutter speed will only result in freezing the subject in its path, while one with a slow shutter will help capture motion.
Start by using cameras with shutter speeds of 1/30th to 1/60th of a second, to excel in the art of panning. Remember, the essence of the panning technique lies in the blur it creates.
The key thing to remember about using a slow shutter speed is that, anything that moves in the scene will blur. Which means, you ought to never let your focus falter while panning, or else, you will end up with a blurred subject, along with a blurred background.
Take the limbs of the leopard for instance. Due to the motion, it is normal to allow it to blur. The same effect is not desired of the main body, which has been correctly put in focus.

Shoot in Manual Mode

Your camera obviously won't know what you want to focus on; hence, it is advisable you shoot in manual mode. Manually set the focus way before your subject gets in the focal range, as it will allow you to lock-in the subject.
Ensure that your camera is stable on a stand, with its lens facing the direction of the action. In case of a race, assume your subject to pass right in front of you, and set up the camera accordingly. Just when the subject enters your range of vision, depress the shutter halfway through. Shoot when the subject is directly in front of you.

Move with Your Subject

To avoid any jerky movements, turn at your hip rather than moving your shoulders, to capture the shot. Remember, never let go of your focus to get a clean shot when implementing this technique. A steady hand and motion will give you a sharp picture in the end.

Pan and Track

A steady sweeping motion accompanied with holding the subject in focus at all times is the trick that has to be employed.
Ensure that you have the subject at a specific point on the viewfinder from the time you depress the trigger to the point your subject has left the frame a while after the shot has been taken.

Diagonal Panning

Once you master the art of horizontal panning, you can try out diagonal panning. Again, the technique is the same. You ought to keep the subject in focus while moving diagonally, to achieve a blur motion of the background.
A piece of advice-you would rather not trust the LCD of the camera while experimenting with this technique. Shoot in the manual mode, and peep through the viewfinder to get your shot right. At the same time, remember not to shake the camera so as to end up with noise in your final picture.
Last but not the least, approach this technique with patience. It will take you a few vague shots to get perfect with your timing, so be patient and do not give up. While on the road to perfection, keep experimenting with moving objects, like birds in flight or a car you fancy on the road.