Light Speed: The Art of Panning

By: 
Jamey Price

Photography is all about capturing a moment in time. But sometimes your subject is moving
faster than others. Welcome to my world, where everything is moving at break neck speed.

With racing it’s all about showing that the car or bike is actually moving. The general rule of
thumb is that if you can see the sidewall of the tire, or what brand of tire the car has, there
should be some movement in the photo. And that means slowing the cameras shutter speed
down.

Playing with shutter speeds is like doing the limbo. Go as low as you dare. Sometimes it works,
sometimes it doesn’t. But often times, our world looks pretty funky when things are slowed
down. Lights, colors, and lines all blur into one interesting image.

So for a great panning photo, here are some quick and easy tips!

Choose your equipment.
Panning can be done anytime, anywhere. The only thing you need is a DSLR camera that has the ability for you to control the shutter speed. As for what lens to use? The sky is the limit! Wide lenses or long lenses. It doesn't matter what you’re shooting with. It can all be interesting.

 

Get your Balance. 
The thing that affects the sharpness of a panning photo most is you. You need to have a spot that will allow you to follow the subject across the frame without you losing your balance. So plant your feet shoulder-width apart and be smooth with your follow-through. Just like a golf swing.

 

Be creative. 
Until you try it, you never know what you’ll get. Start with some easy speeds. 1/150. Then bump it down to 1/100. Then 1/50. Then 1/30. Then 1/20. Then you start getting into territory where your “keep rate” will be very low, but the results can be fascinating! But the point is, don’t spend all day shooting at 1/100. How many photos do you need of the same car going through the corner at the same speed? But remember, the slower you go, the more light is coming into the camera. Try putting on a polarizer or ND filter to get some of the light back. In broad daylight, you may not be able to pan below 1/50 without a filter on the lens to let less light onto the sensor.

 

Pan through things.
Sometimes the most interesting pans can be done by panning through things. That means there is a grove of trees, a group of fans, or cars, or flowers, or building between you and your subject. Just use those same tips from above and do it with something in the way. Using a slower shutter speed, you may be amazed with what you end up with.

 

Practice. Practice. Practice. 
Panning takes years to perfect. You won’t nail it the first time out. But you can know how your camera works long before you get to the race track. Practice at home on cars going by outside. Anything that moves in a consistent way and speed will work to hone your skills.