Use Panning As A Creative Tool To Shoot Awesome Action Shots

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For certain photos motion blur may not have been what you were going for, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when the technique would greatly improve the impact of an image. In fact, when done correctly, panning your camera (or, tracking a moving subject as you take the shot) could take an otherwise average photo to the next level. Which is precisely why it’s a technique I encourage all new photographers take the time to learn–here’s a few helpful tips to get you started.


Panning typically works best when you’re able to move the camera in a straight line in any direction. If the camera is panned in more than one direction during the exposure, the motion blur effect may appear a little jumbled and the subject may fall out of focus. This is most likely to occur while shooting handheld. Even though we’re using a motion blur technique, camera shake can really mess things up.

Using a monopod is the perfect way to prevent unwanted camera shake. Some use a tripod successfully for panning, but I find a monopod to be more nimble, faster, and easier to rotate (not to mention easier and lighter to carry around!). But, regardless of whether you’re using a monopod or tripod, a little stability can make things a lot easier.
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Camera Settings

As always, which exposure settings you need to shoot with are going to vary wildly between specific shots due to variations in shooting conditions. So, while it may be impossible for me to tell you exactly what your shutter speed needs to be, I can share a few rules of thumb with you. For starters, in order to capture movement or action, you’ll need to use a slower shutter speed than usual. The challenge is to not overexpose your image with a long shutter speed. You’ll need to counteract the increased light by adjusting your aperture, ISO, or using a neutral density filter.

Another, less complicated way, is to shoot in shutter priority mode, especially if you’re not familiar with shooting in manual mode just yet. Once you dial in what your shutter speed needs to be, shutter priority mode will make sure your other settings are optimized to create a properly exposed photo.

Experiment with different shutter speeds: use a longer shutter speed for more blur, or a shorter shutter speed for less blur. The speed at which your subject is moving will also affect the shutter speed. For example, if your subject is moving as fast as a race car, you can use a slower shutter speed to capture motion blur than you could use if you were shooting something slow moving like a turtle on a leisurely stroll.

How To Pan

This is the part that sounds pretty simple and basic, but can actually be kinda tricky. Luckily, it’s not an obstacle a little persistence can’t overcome. As I mentioned earlier, you’re basically going to follow your subject with the camera while simultaneously exposing the image. The goal is to move at the same speed of the subject so they appear sharp and in focus, while everything else in the photo is blurred from the panning motion of the camera.

To do this, make sure your subject is actually in focus before you start the exposure. Some cameras have motion tracking, which could help you out with making sure your subject stays in focus, but knowing how to do that part on your own tool is worth learning. So, frame up your subject, get your subject in sharp focus, then press the shutter release. As your subject moves across the frame, move your camera at the same speed so the subject essentially remains in the same spot of the viewfinder of your camera.
David Friedrichs.Motocross.

For The Best Results

Practice. Often. And a lot.

It may take a little hands on experience to get good, consistent results, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not taking great shots in your initial attempts. That being said, with the pointers you just learned I think you’ll find that it really isn’t too difficult once your out there shooting. Lastly, don’t expect to master panning in a day and make sure you remember to take some shots when you aren’t practicing motion blur, that way you’ll have a nice mix of photos at the end of the session.

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Published Monday, July 4th, 2016 Pin It

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About the Author: Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is an adventure and fine art photographer based in Hawaii. When she's not climbing volcanoes or swimming with sharks, you could probably find her relaxing in a hammock with a book somewhere near the ocean.