Giving panning a go
As well as using an ultra-short shutter speed to freeze motion, you can also help make sure the subject remains sharp by panning with your camera—a technique that can also come to your aid when the lighting means you have to compromise with the shutter speed.
75mm | 1/30 second | ƒ/2.8 | ISO 400
A creative offshoot of panning with a moving subject is that the subject will remain sharp, but the background can become blurred. This simple visual effect enhances the notion of movement and injects a sense of speed into an image.
Panning most likely needs no introduction—the basic aim is to track the movement of the subject as it passes the camera. This can be done with the camera mounted on a tripod, but make sure the tripod head is unlocked in at least one direction so you can turn the camera to follow the subject, or you can pan with the camera handheld.
50mm | 1/10 second | ƒ/4.0 | ISO 400
If you choose to handhold the camera, stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart and turn your body from the waist to track your subject as it passes. This will produce the smoothest panning action, and in conjunction with lens-based or sensor- based stabilization it will mean you get the sharpest result. You also need to accurately track the subject, and make sure the entire exposure falls within the duration of the pan. The easiest way to do this is to start panning/tracking the subject as it approaches and then trigger the shutter when your subject is where you want it to be, and only stop panning once the shutter has closed.
Although panning is easy to understand and implement, there are some technical issues that need to be remembered. For a start, you should aim to pan with subjects that are moving parallel to the plane of your camera’s sensor. This is because an object moving toward the camera will appear to increase in size, while one moving away will appear to shrink. Panning with a subject that remains relatively constant in size—one that is moving across the frame—is more likely to produce a sharp image.
190mm | 1/30 second | ƒ/25 | ISO 200
You also need to think about the speed of your subject. It’s easy to think that just using an ultra-short shutter speed will be enough to freeze all motion, but panning is still a better way of making sure very fast subjects remain sharp. For example, an object traveling at 100 mph will travel almost 2 inches (5cm) during a 1/1000 second exposure. This might not sound like a huge distance, but it’s more than enough to take the edge off any detail if your camera remains stationary during the exposure.
In principle, the skills you need for high-speed panning are no different than those you need for low-speed panning—you just need to move a lot faster. For example, a racing car traveling at 200 mph will cover a distance of almost 300 feet (90 metres) in a second, so it will speed past you in the blink of an eye. Because of this, you will probably find your initial attempts at photographing fast-moving subjects are less than perfect. It’s easy to miss the subject entirely or accidentally crop the front or rear of a vehicle, but persevere and you’ll soon find yourself getting more hits than misses.
170mm | 1/500 second | ƒ/8 | ISO 800
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