Learning to perfect your technique in panning photography may be more simple than you think. With a step by step technique guide, you can follow the steps to learn panning photography in no time at all. Follow our guide below. 

Understanding Panning in Photography

Panning photography is a technique in photography that uses a slow shutter speed while moving your camera along to create motion blur in the background. With the right technique, you can create a relatively sharp subject combined with a background that features motion blur for a stunning photograph.

You’ll find that panning is often done with a moving subject going horizontally, such as a person jogging or a dog running. 

Taking a Panning Action Photo

You need to use slow shutter speed to capture great photographs of moving subjects. The motion is captured, which gives it a blurred background while keeping the subject in the viewfinder in the same position, giving it a sharp look in contrast to the motion blur that the subject is surrounded by.

panning of bicycle race

What Are Good Shutter Speeds for Panning?

Getting the right shutter speed is partially the key to capturing fast moving subjects in panning photography. To get the technique down, you’ll have to experiment with shutter speed, but once you get the hang of that, if you panned along correctly, you’ll get a great photo every time. 

The Best Shutter Speed for Panning

The right shutter speed depends on how fast your subject is moving. If you have a subject going really fast, such as a car, you’ll want to make sure your shutter speed is around 1/125.

For subjects moving slowly, you may need a shutter speed of around one-eighth of a second. For a moving subject at a moderate pace, you want to make sure your shutter speed is around 1/60 second. 

Creating the Right Focus for Panning

To the focus for a perfectly panned photo, you’ll want to make sure that you enable shutter priority mode on your camera. Since panning photography is all about perfecting shutter speed, that’s your main priority.

You don’t have to worry about the aperture and ISO values on your camera at this time. Your camera will take care of those for you, based on lighting conditions. 

Use Framing for a Sharp Panning Shot

You can use framing to capture fast moving subjects sharply with some motion blur in the background. To do this, use your camera on a tripod or a camera strap around your neck so that you can follow the moving subjects smoothly.

You want to prepare your image and frame it like the moving subjects are already in the scene, then wait for the subject to come into your focal area. 

The Best Exposure Setting for Panning

Remember that your success in this photography technique depends on adjusting the speed of exposure. You’ll get the hang of panning as you practice this technique.

For subjects that are up close to your camera, you need your shutter speed to be very fast to capture the moving subjects with a sharper focus. 

Is Flash Required for Panning?

If you’re just beginning to learn the panning technique with your camera, using the flash can be a help. As the flash goes off, it will freeze the motion in the shot, and then you complete the panning as you normally would. 

Step by Step Guide to Capturing the Perfect Panning Shot

Here’s the step by step guide to mastering the technique of panning photography. Remember to follow the instructions for how to press the shutter, moving your camera along smoothly the entire time. 

panning of street

Take Time to Frame Your Shot and Note the Focal Length of Your Lens

We discussed framing your shot earlier, and this is where you ensure that your image will be captured correctly by setting it up so that the moving subject enters your frame and you can move the camera along with it. For the best results, match the speed of what is moving as you’re panning the shot.

Select Burst or Continuous Shoot Mode

Your camera’s continuous shoot mode or burst mode should be selected when you’re trying to master this technique.

Don’t Forget the Continuous Auto-Focus Mode on Your Camera

Since you’ll be using the continuous shoot mode on your camera, you will also want to use the auto-focus mode. This will help the camera focus on what is moving quickly and seamlessly.

Shutter Priority Mode on Your Camera Helps with Adjusting Aperture

Depending on your camera, to use shutter focus priority mode, you will want to select the S on your dial, or sometimes it’s noted as Tv for time value. This will ensure that your camera adjusts the aperture on its own while you’re capturing the motion, as we discussed earlier.

Use Accuracy When Adjusting the Shutter Speed

To capture a subject with a sharp focus, you need to pay close attention to your shutter speed. The best explanation for this, “is to use a shutter speed, which is at least as fast as one divided by the focal length of the lens.” Let’s say you’re using an 85mm lens; then you will set the shutter speed on your camera to 1/85 of a second to get the desired focus in the image.

Choose the Right Stance: Keep Your Legs a Shoulder’s Width Apart

To start, you will want to stand with your camera comfortably, in a supportive position that allows you to move the camera and capture the subject accurately.

You can do this by standing with your feet about a shoulder’s distance apart, with your knees bent if you like. If you are practicing your panning technique for a while, you do not want to lock out your knees.

A Tripod is Useful

If you’re just starting out, the best way to focus accurately on your subject while getting a smooth picture is to set your camera up on a tripod. If you like, you can also practice shooting your subject by using a camera strap around your neck.

panning photo of roller skating

Accuracy is Important When You Focus

Earlier, we talked about how to set your camera to a continuous shot or burst mode, shutter priority mode, and auto-focus mode. Each of these is going to help you focus accurately to create the shot you want while panning the camera along at the same speed as the object that’s moving. 

Maintain a Correct Position

Remember that you’ll be in motion to capture these shots, moving your camera along with the moving subject to keep it focused. That means that you’ll need to position yourself correctly to follow the motion of the moving subject with your camera. 

Find Your Subject By Viewing Them in the Lens

To master your panning photography technique, you really need to have an eye for focusing on your subject through your camera lens. Earlier, we discussed framing the photo by making sure to set the image like the subject is already there. If your subject is moving fast, it can be difficult to find your subject, but you will eventually get the hang of it. 

If you’re using a zoom lens, you can start by zooming all the way out so that you have a wide field of view. Then, zoom in on your subject. You can also pre-focus your camera so that it’s focusing on the subject based on the distance the subject is away from you.

Either way, you need to keep your eyes and your head pointed towards the subject as you are panning along, so that you can find it in the viewfinder quickly. If you aren’t quick enough, you may miss the shot. 

Give the Shutter Button a Half-Press

Let’s focus on how to press the shutter button now. First, you will start by half-pressing the shutter button, this allows the camera to auto-focus and performs auto-exposure. If you skip to a full press of the shutter button, you might not get a great focus on the subject in your photo. 

Follow the Motion of Your Subject

By now, hopefully, you have been practicing your panning technique. To get these panning shots done accurately, you need to follow your subject here, matching its speed. You will have the shutter half-pressed. 

Press Your Shutter Button All the Way

When you’re ready, and your camera has had the chance to auto-focus, you’re going to press the shutter button all the way. There isn’t much else to it. 

Stop Moving the Camera After You Press the Shutter Button

As you’re panning the camera along with the subject, you can’t stop moving until the shot is done. If you stop panning, you’ll negatively affect the image. After you’ve completed the shot and have pressed the shutter button fully, then you can stop moving your camera. 

panning photo of motorcycle

Take a Look at the Shot and Re-Adjust if Necessary

Now you can view the results of your shot. If you feel like you got a great shot, then there is nothing else to do. How does the focused subject look compared to the blurred background?

If your subject is just as blurry as your background, you’ll know that you need to keep trying. If you haven’t quite mastered the panning or the slow shutter speed, you can adjust the settings and try again. 

Consider Reserving the Rights to Your Photos

If you want to maintain your rights reserved on your photos when using online, you can try a few techniques. For example, you can add watermarks somewhere in the background. If you don’t like to add watermarks, you can add in your copyright to the metadata. 

You will also want to read fully the terms of websites if you’re submitting photos. If you like, you can pay for services that allow you to add advance barcoding to your photographs. 

Another Panning Technique: A Variation

When it comes to panning, there really are no rules. You can experiment by using flash when panning, or simply keep trying changing the shutter speed on the same subjects while panning. You’ll know that you’ve got the hang of it when you’re able to get a sharper image of the subject while the background has an appropriate blur. 

You can also practice panning without actually shooting to get the motion and the feel for it with your camera. Practice panning your camera with your camera strap and tripod to get experience with both, you never know when the opportunity will arise for a great panning shot.