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How do you go about getting great panning shots of things like cars and bicycles so that the background is nice and blurred but the target is sharp as can be. I have tried on many occasion to do panning shots and I just can't get the setup right.

What lens setup, shutter speed would be a good place to start?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

I find a long lens helps 200-300mm, as you have to move the camera more side to side, being closer and using a shorter lens will give you problems with the subject coming toward you and then going away. Being further away yields a more consistent side to side panning motion which is easier to perform consistently. A strong deliberate sideways motion also helps overcome any slight vertical motion that can blur your subject.

I try to lock my elbows at 90 degrees like a sort of tripod and move from the waist when doing this sort of panning. A long lens and fast subject requires fast panning so I use a shutter speed of around 1/200 - 1/250s for motorsports:

This was shot @200mm, 1/200s, f/4

Another one @200mm, 1/250s, f/7.1

This one was done with a wider lens @75mm, 1/250, f/7.1 due to space. A longer lens would have given me more movement and better blur.

Even with the best lens and technique you will probably still miss more often than hit, so it always takes time and patience.

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1  
Is it a lot harder to do it with a shorter lens. The longest lens I have is a 105mm –  Designer023 Feb 15 '11 at 11:57
    
In that case you can still stand further away and crop your images. If you have space a telephoto almost always makes panning easier as it smoothes out the subject motion. –  Matt Grum Feb 15 '11 at 12:11
    
Excellent tips. I will try them out asap, and see if I can get hold of a telephoto lens –  Designer023 Feb 15 '11 at 12:36
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It's a lot like golf -- the swing is all in the hips, and follow-through is critical. (It's not that follow-through -- continued motion after the deed is done -- actually affects the picture, but that it helps to ensure that you don't stop moving in the right arc too soon.) –  user2719 Feb 15 '11 at 12:42
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The optimal lens length very much depends on the speed of the object. I was able to get some great panning shots of a bicycle, using a 50mm, but bikes don't go all that quickly, so... –  PearsonArtPhoto Feb 15 '11 at 13:00

I used to shoot a lot of motorsports photography, cars mainly and my main advice is to practice, lots!

It is easier with a longer lens as you are less likely to get distractions in the background.

This leads me onto my next tip, choose a location where the background is plain, a lone tree, or even worse a marshal in bright orange overalls can ruin a shot.

Shutter speed is the key to controlling motion blur, so send your camera to shutter priority, as a beginner I would advise starting at 1/125th and adjusting from there, I find that unless you are dealing with something extremely fast 1/250th doesn't give enough motion blur.

For the technique I advise tracking the subject as soon as it comes into view, give the camera a chance to focus on it, press the shutter then continue tracking the subject as it goes away from you, this should be one smooth movement of the upper body.

I found that having second cameras and or camera bags on my shoulder got in the way of the smooth panning movement, so this is also something to bear in mind.

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good comment on the background - this applies when photographing anything really but especially when taking moving objects –  JamWheel Feb 15 '11 at 12:34
    
Great tips, I would have thought that having busier background would have given more things to give the blurred effect! That would have been my first mistake. I will try with 1/125 on some cars on the roads by me and hope for the best. –  Designer023 Feb 15 '11 at 12:39
    
You need to have a much slower shutter speed to really blur backgrounds. –  LC1983 Feb 15 '11 at 17:47
    
Will things like image stabilization on the lens also come into play? Should I have the stabilization off? –  Designer023 Feb 16 '11 at 14:52
    
I've only used an IS lens on an important shoot so just switched it off as I didn't have the chance to experiment. I'm sure it has been covered on here before though. –  LC1983 Feb 16 '11 at 19:01

You need to place yourself in a position that the object you wish to photograph passes in front of from one side of you to the other.

A good starting setting (not essential or always appropriate but will help get things started) is to use shutter priority (named Tv on Camera dials). The shutter speed you select will determine how much background blur you get during the pan. The faster the object travels past you the faster your shutter speed can be and still detect movement in the background. There are other considerations when you select your shutter speed. When shooting propellor aircraft you have to be mindful not to freeze the propellor blades by selecting too fast a shutter speed, equally with vehicles, you don't want to freeze the wheel rotation as either of these make the aircraft / vehicle look stationary. Jet aircraft typically have no give away moving parts visible so you can get away with a slightly faster shutter speed (bearing in mind that you still want background blur)

For focus settings, set your camera to AI Servo (this is what Canon calls it, use the equivalent of your brand) and select a single focal point from your AF system which should be placed to cover the area of the frame you wish to keep sharp while tracking the object. The AI Servo setting will constantly adjust the focus of the moving object.

Metering settings will vary depending on the subject - if it is sunny and the subject has highly reflective surfaces (aircraft canopies etc), using spot metering is a risky option as you could meter off the glinting sun and your camera would expose for that rather than the whole scene, I tend to use partial center weighted metering.

The challenge is to smoothly pan the camera along the path of the object without introducing any conflicting movements which will introduce motion blur in the final image. Improving this is down to technique and practice mostly although some lenses have 2 mode image stabilisers which stabilise only in the direction opposite to that you are panning (if panning left to right they stabilise for up/down movements and vice versa if panning down to up).

Hand held:

Your posture is quite important to provide a solid base on which to perform the panning movement.

  • Your feet should be facing forwards about shoulder distance apart throughout the pan.
  • Hold the camera firmly with your shutter hand and the lens hand in a suitable place on the lens like you would hold a rifle
  • Tuck your elbows in rather than having them sticking out either side (this helps avoid upsetting other photographers / spectators by whacking them as you pan)
  • Start tracking the object as soon as it comes into view well before you want to start shooting (this allows the AF system to lock on nicely and start predicting the object's distance and allows you to adjust to the speed of the object smoothly) pivoting your upper body at the hips to keep your legs and feet in the same position
  • Fire the shutter when you see the image you want in the view finder and keep tracking smoothly as you do so
  • Keep tracking the item after you have finished taking pictures (which forces you to keep tracking while releasing the shutter)

    Tripod / Monopod supported: You can buy specialised heads to assist with using supports (gimbal heads) but they aren't cheap. I never pan supported as I find it too restrictive in movement, especially when in a crowd of spectators, you will have to move around your tripod as you pan which a lot of time there just isn't room to do)

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Wow thanks, excellent advice. Does the same issue as the propellers also occur with things like bike wheels? Do you keep the other eye open while you pan or will that confuse things? –  Designer023 Feb 15 '11 at 12:42
    
Yeh, too fast a shutter speed will freeze the bike wheels making the bike look like it is standing still with a photoshopped in blurred background. I shoot with both eyes open so I can see what other aircraft are doing for formation cross overs or getting multiple aircraft in the same frame. –  JamWheel Feb 15 '11 at 12:43

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