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Panning is a technique used by photographers to make the background appear blurry while keeping a moving subject relatively sharp. Using the technique will give a feeling of movement and speed to the image.

Delman – Indonesian horse-drawn carriage

How to do it?

  • Select a slower shutter speed than you normally would. Start with 1/30 second and then try with slower ones. It depends on the light and the speed of your subject you could end up using shutter speed between 1/60 and 1/8;
  • Place yourself in a place where your view of the subject will not be blocked. Consider the background of your shot. Single coloured or plain backgrounds usually gives better result;
  • As the subject approaches follow it smoothly with your camera, while half pressing the shutter button to make the camera do the focussing (if you have a camera with automatic focus tracking. In my case I use AI Focus mode). To ensure smooth results keep your feet still and rotate the top half of your body as you track your subject. For extra support you might like to use a monopod or tripod with a swivelling head;
  • Make sure you press the shutter when the subject reaches a midpoint along your panning track to ensure it’s in the best position. Once you’ve released the shutter (do it as gently as possible to reduce camera shake) continue to pan with the subject, even after the shutter has opened again. This will ensure the motion blur is smooth from start to finish in your shot;
  • Practice, practice, and practice. You need to practice a lot to master this tricky technique. Theoretically it doesn’t sound difficult, but in practice it may lead you into frustration.
  • Also keep in mind that it’s unlikely that your main subject will ever be completely sharp and in focus. This technique is about getting a relatively sharp subject in comparison to it’s background. Some blurring of your main subject can actually add to the feeling of motion in the shot.
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