Camera Panning Control

How you pan – direction, speed, smoothness – has a major effect on the resulting image.

If you are panning along with a moving subject – wildlife, people, vehicles

  • You should start following them in the viewfinder well before releasing the shutter
  • After releasing the shutter continue tracking them smoothly until the shutter closes (and after for a smooth follow through)

If you are creating the motion (illusion) by moving your camera

  • Direction – is usually dictated by the nature of the subject
    • Panning perpendicular to the “flow” often doesn’t “work”
    • For example, if it’s a plant/tree then vertical is usually the way to go
    • The pan doesn’t have to be linear (straight line); try some curves for their effect
  • Speed – the faster the pan the greater the blur
  • Smoothness – pausing during the pan creates different effects
    • A pause at the start or end will create a relatively unblurred “stamp” of the subject on the image
      • Useful if you want the viewer to know what the subject is,
      • but not necessary if you’re trying for abstraction
    • Multiple starts & stops create yet another effect
      • This can lead to an image similar in appearance to a multiple exposure

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Some tips –

  • Start by using a tripod until you get the hang of it
  • For ultra-smooth pans
    • Tip the tripod on two of its legs (instead of tipping the camera)
      • If you want a vertical pan, make the two legs parallel to the back of the camera
      • Horizontal pan – perpendicular to the camera back
      • Oblique pan – at an angle to the camera back
  • Shoot in groups of five or so
    • The “keeper percentage” is low so doing just one isn’t likely to succeed
    • After each shot, look at the result in your camera’s monitor
      • Adjust speed, direction, etc. based on what you see
  • Not all subjects are suitable for this technique

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Examples (all 200mm, EV = -2/3, ISO 200, tripod except where noted); black foam board background –

Left – smooth pan (pause at start) by tipping the tripod; 3 sec. f/29
Center – Pan with starts & stops; 3 sec. f/29
Right – Multiple exposure; 1/6 sec, f/5.3
A noted at the start of this post, panning with starts and stops can produce a result that is very similar to a multiple exposure.
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Left – smooth pan, tipping tripod legs at an oblique angle to the camera back, pause at the start; 3 sec. f/29
Right – same camera movement as for left image; made 10 multiple exposures in a burst mode while the tripod was moving; 1/6 sec. f/29
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3 sec, f/25, ISO 200, EV -1/3, 75mm, tripod
I moved the camera in small circles. This image, as compared to the previous five, is more in the spirit of this technique (as depicted in William Neill’s Impressions of Light, our reference for this method in an earlier post). It is light, airy and more abstract (but, then, Beauty is in the Eyes of the Beholder). The 1st five are stiff and formal – more like an engineer (me) would do than an artist. 😉 Here is a link to Neill’s site for information on ordering this book in electronic form – wonderful inspiration for your future explorations. Well worth the $15 – recommended.

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