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Photo Tip Of The Day

Today’s Photo Tip (#193)

I got asked the other day how to do “panning” shots. These are photos of moving objects that show the movement but the subjects are sharp. The most typical of these are of racing cars. The logos and car itself is perfectly sharp but the wheels are blurred, the other objects in motion are blurred and the background, especially the background, looks like it’s flying passed at a million miles an hour. The technique is not difficult but it does take practice.

The trick with the technique is timing and pre focusing. Let’s tackle the prefocus part first. You need to decide where the photo is going to happen. You’ll need to focus on the spot where the subject is most likely to be. Let’s use the race car analogy again. There is a fair bet the car is going to be on the track. There is usually a darker area on the track that most cars travel on called the “race line”. This is the perfect spot to focus on. Once the camera is focused on the spot, turn off the auto focus and don’t move the focussing ring.

Next step is to set the camera up exposure wise. You should know your camera well enough to either use it in shutter priority or manual modes. You need to have a slower shutter speed than you would normally use. Most action shots are 1/500th second or above to freeze the subject. Here we want flow, so a slow shutter speed is called for. The think to remember here is the slower the shutter speed the harder it is to capture the effect because there are other variables in play here. I would aim for a shutter speed around 1/45th – 1/60th of a second. Set that speed in either mode shutter priority or manual.

We have the shutter speed set and as with any camera you need to make sure of your exposure by balancing out the aperture and ISO. I can’t offer advice here because circumstances will dictate what happens. Once set we’re almost ready to proceed.

The camera can be set to either continuous shooting or single shot, it’s a personal choice here. Continuous will mean more shots to choose from but I’ve used single shot with this method with success.

Last thing to do is to work out where you will see the subject first as it comes into view. Now remember we have already pre focused so you subject won’t be sharp until it arrives at the point you focused on. While looking through the viewfinder you spot the subject as it comes into view and you move the camera to keep the subject in the viewfinder. I suggest that you set the zoom a little wider than you think you need. I would much rather crop into a photo than to cut off part of your subject. So back to tracking our subject, we’re trying to match our panning of the camera with the speed of the subject and maintaining them roughly in the center of frame. Once they reach the area we’ve prefocused on start shooting. Don’t stop moving the camera, keep tracking them until the subject has left the pre focused area. That last part is the key to the technique.

Line up your next subject and repeat. Once you have several shots to view check them out but all you need to worry about is the blurriness of the background. If it’s still too sharp drop the shutter speed a little. Every now and again recheck your focus. The more photos you take the more chance of having the sharp subject and blurry background the way you want.

Once you have the technique mastered you can then try your camera with the auto focus set to continuous auto focus or servo focus. Depending on your camera this will may give you slightly sharper images. But if you only use one method you might not have as high a success rate. Try both after all it costs nothing to press the shutter button these days. Take lots of images the more you practice this technique the better you’ll be using it. Don’t forget to experiment and remember what worked and what didn’t. Write it down if you have to. Have fun.

Happy Shooting

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