a13 April 2012

Tutorial: Panning technique

There are two most common ways of showing action. One way is to freeze it with very fast shutter speed (like eg. 1/640 or even faster) to have everything tack sharp. The other way is opposite, i.e. to blur movement using slow shutter speed. In this short post I will focus on the latter technique.

Probably you've seen some photos where person or vehicle is in focus while the rest of the image is blurred horizontally making the image very dynamic. If not, take a look at my attempt. I took this photo in Milan. This effect can be achieved through technique known as panning.

The idea is to focus on the object using focus-tracking feature of your camera (AI Servo on Canons) and move the camera when it's going past you. Using slow shutter speed blurs the rest of the image.

Here are details:
  1. Set your camera to AI Servo mode or similar if you don't own Canon.
  2. Set your camera to Shutter-priority mode (TV or Canons) or Manual mode and set your shutter to slow value like 1/30 or 1/15 of a second (you can even try slower but this is usually good starting point).
  3. Focus on the object in a distance by pressing your shutter half-way down.
  4. Follow the object as it's approaching (AI Servo will focus automatically).
  5. When it's going past you press the shutter to take a photo. While pressing the shutter still follow the object. You can stop movement only when you hear shutter click. This will ensure nice and smooth blur of the background.
Though it's easy in theory, the practice makes it pretty difficult and it requires many attempts before success so don't be frustrated when you fail at the beginning.

One question remains. What about Image Stabilization? Well it would indeed ruin the photo as it would try to reduce shake which in this case is done on purpose. So it is better to disable it when using this technique. Also some lenses, like for instance Canon 70-300L have two Image Stabilization modes:
  • regular one - which tries to reduce all camera movement,
  • panning mode - which tries to reduce only shake in vertical axis thus allowing using this mode when panning (as the name implies).
Hope this helps!

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