Anything that shows dynamism in photography is great, and panning is a fantastic technique that will help you achieve precisely that. This is also a fun technique to learn, and although it takes some practice, it’s relatively easy to get started.
There is a nice element of minimalism in a panned photograph, as you’ll be looking to keep your subject sharp while at the same time blurring the background.
The first thing you’re going to have to do is to choose a subject, and, of course, your subject has to be moving. If you’re new to this technique try starting with bicycles, as these tend to be relatively easy to get good results from while you practice. Alternatively, you could pan with running people, cars, or boats.
Once you’ve chosen your subject, set the camera to Shutter Priority and set the shutter speed between 1/10 sec–1/60 sec. There is no single ‘right’ shutter speed—it all depends on how fast your subject is moving and how much blur you want in the shot, which you will only be able to determine through trial and error.
Your position relative to the subject is also important—you want to be somewhere that allows the subject to move parallel to your position, and that gives you a clear line of sight as it approaches. The final thing to think about is the background: it will be blurred, but there is still the potential for distracting shapes and colours, although you might find that a completely plain background does not tend to show the movement quite as well.
Now that you’ve got your camera set up, it’s time to take the shot. As your subject approaches, focus on them and start tracking with your camera until you feel confident that you are moving in sync with the subject. Make sure that you have the subject in focus by pressing the shutter button halfway down, and—still moving the camera—take the shot as smoothly as you can. You may find that your first few attempts produce an overly blurred subject because your movement was out of sync with the subject.
This is where practice comes in! If you’re looking to get additional sharpness, using a strobe while panning can help to freeze your subject momentarily.
A park can be a great place to practice your panning; you’ll find joggers, people on rollerblades (and rollerskates), as well as cyclists. You will probably be able to find a nice tree to use as your background as well. Once you’re a little more confident, consider photographing racing cars or motorbikes, although getting a photo of these will take some serious practice— you’ll probably be using a long telephoto lens, so camera shake can also become an issue.
If your camera won’t focus automatically on a moving subject, try focusing manually at the point you anticipate the subject being when you’re going to take the photo. Then, when the subject comes into shot, it will move into focus.
In Simple Scene Sensational Shot, Simon Bond shows you how to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. From altering your angles to trying out HDR and making the most of bad weather, any situation can be turned into a superb shooting opportunity.