How to Get the Sense of Movement by Panning the Camera

I love getting that blurred background where a bike or a person running past is in focus and you literally see the motion in a still image. Mango Street made a video to show how to do it with some great tips I had never even thought of. 

Keeping the subject at the same distance as it passes by sounds more difficult than it is. Cars, bikers, and people crossing the street are all you need, and the shutter won't be open for too long, so it's long enough to remain the constant distance you need. They recommend closing the aperture to f16 and setting your shutter speed to a 1/30th of a second. Once you do this you'll be able to gauge what needs to be changed to get that motion blur captured. Shooting at f16 will have more of the image in focus, but with the motion you're adding, this won't be an issue. You'll still 'remove' the subject from the background by adding the motion blur. 

Extra tips:

  • If 1/30th of a second is over exposing, you can add an ND filter. 
  • You can shoot in darker times of the day. Car headlights can add some great effects. 
  • Going out to shoot these type of shots is going to give you many misses, but every once in a while you'll go though your shots and be pleased with what you got. 

Here are some of the images I shot in Vietnam:

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yanpekar's picture

Thank you for sharing your experience! A few points: it is a bit strange to see you teaching how to do the technique, taking into account that you "have only done it once"? The video does not mention how your body should be turning when you do panning, which is one of the key things to get sharp results. The impression one can get from the video is that the results you get are not predictable. They are quite predictable if you know how to do it and with a bit of practice. The reference photos used in the article could be much better, as the subjects (the main points of attention) are not sharp at all.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

A little fill flash can greatly help when panning

JetCity Ninja's picture

follow through, follow through, follow through. stand in an isosceles, shoulder width apart, and set up so you can twist through the full range with only your hips. optionally, an open, strong side fighting stance can also be used. this keeps your feet in a stable position as you rotate your upper body to follow your subject. moving your feet or not accounting for the full range of motion will make it more difficult as it forces you out of your most stable position, adding a jarring movement. try swinging your body a few times to get a smooth range of motion and adjust your feet as necessary so you can cover the full range you intend to capture.

once you begin to track your subject, move in a single, smooth motion that matches the rate of speed of your subject. once you see what you want, press the shutter but do NOT stop your motion. follow through the complete swing. people new to panning will often stop just as they press the shutter, putting the subject out of focus. continuing the follow through motion helps to prevent this.

if you've ever shot trap, skeet or sporting clays, you know the importance of follow through and how doing so will significantly increase your hit rate.

if there's one thing i do really well, it's panning shots, and it's due to my precision as a world class trap and skeet shooter when i was in my teens,