Panning Photography - How To

With some quirky examples...

Panning shot of a devout Hindu in Varanasi, India

Panning is a Photographic technique which takes a little practice to perfect but once you have the know how and skills to get it right you will be rewarded with some very interesting and creative shots. The idea is to convey motion in a shot without blurring the subject.

Racing ahead in Thailand

So the panning technique is to create a sense of motion within the image and this is the tough part! To create this we need a blurred background/foreground and a sharp moving subject.

Killing two birds with one stone...

For the blurred effect we have to pan the camera which should be focused on the subject we wish to be sharp and in focus at roughly the same speed as the actual subject is moving and take the picture with a slow shutter speed setting on the camera which creates the blurred effect on anything but the subject.

This is the magic formula which creates a blurred out of focus background and sharp subject.

Less Haste More Speed!


  1. Obviously a camera that supports creative modes, for panning shots Shutter Priority function labelled as TV on the camera dial is necessary unless you want to go for full manual settings.
  2. ND or Neutral Density filter can be useful if you are shooting slow moving subjects in bright light where the shutter speed can be down to a 1/25th of a second. If you don't possess an ND filter but want to shoot slower moving subjects you can shoot in the late afternoon or early morning when the light is not so intense.
  3. Tripod or Monopod for the same reason as above if you don't have the steadiest of hands and aren't able to perform a smooth panning motion these pieces of equipment will help, personally I prefer handheld as it's less restrictive.

Catch me if you can! - 1/25 sec, f/13, iso 100

If your preference is sports photography and panning images of racing cars or motorbikes your shutter speed settings will be much faster than for slow moving objects.
A shutter speed of around 1/125th upto 1/250th is ideal for fast moving subjects. Your shutter speed will control how much background blur you create when panning so even if you are shooting at faster shutter speeds your camera will still detect movement in the background when tracking a faster moving object.

The following image is an example of how motion blur is possible even with an extremely slow moving subject. A hand pulled rickshaw wala in Kolkata (Calcutta), India. A place where the tradition still survives provides the example!

As we can see the rickshaw wala is almost at a standstill hence the shop windows in the background are not so blurred as the panning action was slow and shutter speed at 1/25th sec but the overtaking car at a faster speed gives an extra boost to convey the feeling of motion in the shot.

Keeping the tradition alive on the streets of Kolkata (Calcutta), India

The Art of Panning

I prefer handheld when it comes to panning which gives me a lot of flexibility of movement when trying to achieve a smooth panning action, it takes some practice but that's half the fun and doesn't take long to pick up.

The focus settings if you are using a Canon camera should be set to AI Servo which when you half click the shutter button when you have decided on your focal point will track the subject as you move and adjust focus for you by updating itself.

When you pan your feet should be shoulder width apart, hold your camera firmly with your elbows tucked in and start tracking your subject as soon as it comes into view from right to left or left to right. Keep your feet facing forward and pivot your waist from the hips in a smooth motion panning at roughly the same speed as your moving subject and click the shutter when it is in the position you want but don't stop there continue to pan, following through tracking the subject after you have clicked the shutter.

 Transportation in Pontianak, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Home made vehicle on the streets of East Java, Indonesia

Things to Consider

Background - Try to find a suitable background, not always important depending on where and what you are shooting but it can help. Sometimes a simple background without clutter can highlight or isolate your subject making it stand out.

Sunblock on the streets of Varanasi, India

Position - Try to keep your subject in the same part of the frame as you pan and expose the shot which is more likely to ensure a crisp sharper subject.

Delivery Service in Asia!

Shutter Speed - Think about your subject and how fast it is moving, If it happens to be a runner, a horse trotting along or a cycle rider (one that doesn't happen to be in the Tour de France)! your shutter speed could be down to a tenth of a second or less to achieve that blurred background, the faster the subject is moving you need to increase the shutter speed to get the same effect but without going to the extremes, eg. even if you track a subject and shoot at 1/4000 sec you will not get blurred out of focus background, your shutter speed will be so fast that it will actually freeze everything in the frame!

Very slow panning motion which just manages to create blur with the spokes of the wheels

So, happy shooting and practice practice practice, before you know it you will have some really nice shots! Good Luck.

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