How to Take a Panning Shot

How to Take a Panning Shot

A great panning shot, with the moving object in clear focus and the background blurred just right, convinces you that a still photograph is in motion. It takes pro-level talent to consistently get superior panning shots, but it’s definitely a skill worth working on for any amateur photographer with a DSLR camera. Your results may be hit-or-miss at first, but your “hit” photographs will be fantastic!

Part 1 of 3:
Camera Settings

1
Get a high-quality DSLR camera if you want to take high-quality panning shots. A true panning shot puts the target image in extreme focus while blurring the background to create a sense of motion. The average smartphone camera or basic digital camera struggles to achieve this result. Your best bet is to invest in a high-quality digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera, which, unfortunately for your wallet, can easily cost $500 USD or more. [1] X Research source Check out this wikiHow article for advice on choosing a DSLR camera.
2
Set your camera to shutter priority mode for maximum shutter control. Shutter control is definitely your priority when taking panning shots, and the appropriately-named shutter priority mode gives you maximum control. Turn the dial on your DSLR camera to the appropriate symbol; check your camera’s product manual for guidance. [2] X Research source For example, on Canon DSLR cameras, the shutter priority symbol is “Tv,” while it’s “S” on Nikon DSLRs. Depending on your camera, putting it in shutter priority mode may also put it in automated settings for aperture and ISO values. These settings are less essential when taking panning shots, but check your camera guide for details on your ability to adjust these settings.
3
Adjust (and re-adjust) your shutter speed based on your target’s speed. Finding the right shutter speed is definitely a trial-and-error process. Try out your best-guess speed setting, see how the photos turn out, and adjust as needed. In general terms, the faster your target object is moving, the higher the shutter speed you want to use. Try the following as a starting point: [3] X Research source Runner or average cyclist: 1/4 - 1/15 sec. Fast cyclist or car in street traffic: 1/15 - 1/30 sec. Racing car: 1/60 - 1/125 sec.
4
Turn off any image stabilization setting unless it has advanced features. While image stabilization is a great feature when you’re holding the camera still, it will typically try to “correct” the camera movement that’s essential to panning shots. Use image stabilization only if your camera has an advanced type that recognizes and doesn’t interfere with panning shots. [4] X Research source Use your product manual to learn about your camera’s image stabilization feature and how to turn it off.
5
Use manual focus or autofocus based on your skills and preferences. Many action photography pros prefer manual focus for panning shots, but there’s an argument to be made for autofocus as well. If you’re new to taking panning shots, start with autofocus, but also try manual focus and see which works best for you. Here’s a basic comparison of the pros and cons: [5] X Research source Manual focus requires you to estimate and pre-sight the focal point for the object, which can be a definite challenge for a novice. If you get it right, though, manual focus is more responsive and—at least in skilled hands—more likely to capture a great shot. Autofocus requires less active effort on your part, but it usually adjusts more slowly than is possible with manual focus. Basically, you’re sacrificing greater control for greater ease of use.
6
Utilize burst mode in order to improve your chances of a great shot. Without burst mode, you’ll get one chance to capture a great photo each time your target passes by. With burst mode, which takes numerous photos in rapid succession, you’ll often get 10 or more chances for a perfect pic each time you press the shutter button. [6] X Research source Most modern DSLR cameras have burst mode. Check your product guide for details. The only real downside to burst mode? You’ll have to delete many more lousy shots!
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Part 2 of 3:
Positioning

1
Set up in a safe spot before deciding if you want to switch lenses. Prioritizing safety is especially important if you’re trying to capture something like fast-moving cars. Find a spot with a clear view that doesn’t put you in harm’s way. Only after picking out your spot should you decide which lens to use to best capture a panning shot. [7] X Research source Even if you’re just trying to capture joggers or bicyclists on the street, make sure you’re not blocking foot or vehicle traffic. It’s best to use a second person as a spotter if you’re taking pictures in a riskier environment, such as at a racetrack. The interchangeable lenses on a DSLR camera are defined primarily by their focal length (mm) and aperture (f/). The smaller the focal length number, the wider the shot you can capture; the smaller the aperture number, the less light is required to get a good shot.
2
Use a tripod or monopod while you build your panning shot skills. Keeping your camera steady and level while swinging it from one side to the other is tough! While pros can often free-hand their panning shots, you should start out by attaching your camera to a 3-leg tripod or a 1-leg monopod. Most tripods and monopods have a camera plate that screws into the threaded opening at the bottom of your camera; the plate then slides and locks into place on the tripod/monopod. [8] X Research source Tripods are a bit bulkier, but are probably the best choice if you’re a novice. A monopod requires more balance and support on your part. Once you’re comfortable taking panning shots, practice doing them without a tripod or monopod. That way, you’ll be able to get a great panning shot anytime, anywhere—at least as long as you have your camera handy!
3
Create a solid base with your lower body. Yes, your legs are important when taking a photo! Set your legs shoulder-width apart and bend your knees slightly. Point your toes, knees, and hips straight forward so that they’ll be pointed right at your target as it passes by you. Your lower body should remain in this position throughout the panning process—all of your body movement should come from above your hips. [9] X Research source Establish a solid base with your lower body even if you are using a tripod or monopod. Some photographers find it easier to point their lower body a bit in the direction from which the moving target will approach, and still others prefer to point slightly in the direction to which the target will exit the panning area. This is really up to your personal preference and comfort level. The important thing is to keep your lower body steady and still.
4
Establish a target zone of about 60 degrees to your left and right. Imagine you’re standing in the middle of a clock face. Your lower body, then, is pointed at 12 o’clock. That means your target zone (or panning zone) should range from 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock (or 2 to 10, if the object is approaching from your right). To get a great panning shot, you’ll need to track your target object from one end of this zone to the other. [10] X Research source For example, say you’re trying to get a panning shot of your daughter riding her bike from your left to your right. While keeping your lower body pointed at 12 o’clock, you’ll need to turn your upper body to start tracking her at 10 o’clock, and continue to turn and track her all the way to 2 o’clock.
5
Estimate your focal point if you’re using manual focus instead of autofocus. If you’re relying on manual focus, you’ll need to pre-sight the spot where you expect your target to pass by at the 12 o’clock position. Focus your camera on that point, and maintain that focus setting as you track the target object. That way, when the object passes by you, it will (hopefully) be in perfect focus! [11] X Research source If you’re using autofocus, don’t worry about this step. The camera will adjust its focus “on the fly.” Like many aspects of taking panning shots, expect to go through some trial-and-error here.
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Part 3 of 3:
Shooting

1
Aim your camera—and upper body—at the starting point of your target zone. In other words, if the car you want to photograph is approaching from your right, point your upper body and the camera at the 2 o’clock position. Watch through the viewfinder and wait for the target to enter the frame. [12] X Research source Remember to keep your lower body still and pointed at 12 o’clock. Doing so will help you swivel the camera through the target zone smoothly.
2
Press the button halfway down to autofocus on the approaching target. As the target enters your view, engage the autofocus to train in on it. If you’re using manual focus instead of autofocus, keep the shutter button pressed halfway down to maintain the focal point you already established. [13] X Research source If you’re using an unfamiliar camera, practice pressing on the shutter button beforehand so you know how much pressure to apply.
3
Track the target through the zone, working to center it in your frame. Start rotating your upper body as soon as the target enters your view. Do your best to match its speed and keep it centered in the frame. If you’re using autofocus, the camera will keep adjusting as you go. If you’re using manual focus, the target should increasingly come into focus as it approaches the 12 o’clock position. [14] X Research source The faster your target is moving, the harder this is to master. Consider practicing on joggers before moving up to race cars!
4
Take the shot right as the target passes by you. Wait until the target is centered in the frame at the 12 o’clock position to press down fully on the shutter button. This is the ideal position to take your panning shot. But don’t feel bad if you miss-time your shot the first few times—keep trying and you’ll get it! [15] X Research source Your entire body should be aligned with the target at this point.
5
Continue to track the target until it exits your zone. Don’t stop twisting your body and tracking the target after taking your shot! Just like with a golf swing, your follow-through is a critical component. Keep turning your upper body and tracking the target until it exits your panning zone—for instance, the 10 o’clock position if it’s moving from your right to your left. [16] X Research source If you’re using burst mode, your camera will take several shots as you continue to track the target. But even if you’re not using burst mode, following through will greatly improve your odds of getting a great panning shot. Following through helps add to the background blur effect that is key to expressing motion in a panning shot. If you capture a great panning shot on your first attempt, give yourself a pat on the back! But don’t be surprised or disappointed if your first few efforts don’t quite work out.
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Part 1 of 3:
Camera Settings

1
Get a high-quality DSLR camera if you want to take high-quality panning shots. A true panning shot puts the target image in extreme focus while blurring the background to create a sense of motion. The average smartphone camera or basic digital camera struggles to achieve this result. Your best bet is to invest in a high-quality digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera, which, unfortunately for your wallet, can easily cost $500 USD or more. [1] X Research source Check out this wikiHow article for advice on choosing a DSLR camera.
2
Set your camera to shutter priority mode for maximum shutter control. Shutter control is definitely your priority when taking panning shots, and the appropriately-named shutter priority mode gives you maximum control. Turn the dial on your DSLR camera to the appropriate symbol; check your camera’s product manual for guidance. [2] X Research source For example, on Canon DSLR cameras, the shutter priority symbol is “Tv,” while it’s “S” on Nikon DSLRs. Depending on your camera, putting it in shutter priority mode may also put it in automated settings for aperture and ISO values. These settings are less essential when taking panning shots, but check your camera guide for details on your ability to adjust these settings.
3
Adjust (and re-adjust) your shutter speed based on your target’s speed. Finding the right shutter speed is definitely a trial-and-error process. Try out your best-guess speed setting, see how the photos turn out, and adjust as needed. In general terms, the faster your target object is moving, the higher the shutter speed you want to use. Try the following as a starting point: [3] X Research source Runner or average cyclist: 1/4 - 1/15 sec. Fast cyclist or car in street traffic: 1/15 - 1/30 sec. Racing car: 1/60 - 1/125 sec.
4
Turn off any image stabilization setting unless it has advanced features. While image stabilization is a great feature when you’re holding the camera still, it will typically try to “correct” the camera movement that’s essential to panning shots. Use image stabilization only if your camera has an advanced type that recognizes and doesn’t interfere with panning shots. [4] X Research source Use your product manual to learn about your camera’s image stabilization feature and how to turn it off.
5
Use manual focus or autofocus based on your skills and preferences. Many action photography pros prefer manual focus for panning shots, but there’s an argument to be made for autofocus as well. If you’re new to taking panning shots, start with autofocus, but also try manual focus and see which works best for you. Here’s a basic comparison of the pros and cons: [5] X Research source Manual focus requires you to estimate and pre-sight the focal point for the object, which can be a definite challenge for a novice. If you get it right, though, manual focus is more responsive and—at least in skilled hands—more likely to capture a great shot. Autofocus requires less active effort on your part, but it usually adjusts more slowly than is possible with manual focus. Basically, you’re sacrificing greater control for greater ease of use.
6
Utilize burst mode in order to improve your chances of a great shot. Without burst mode, you’ll get one chance to capture a great photo each time your target passes by. With burst mode, which takes numerous photos in rapid succession, you’ll often get 10 or more chances for a perfect pic each time you press the shutter button. [6] X Research source Most modern DSLR cameras have burst mode. Check your product guide for details. The only real downside to burst mode? You’ll have to delete many more lousy shots!
Advertisement

Part 2 of 3:
Positioning

1
Set up in a safe spot before deciding if you want to switch lenses. Prioritizing safety is especially important if you’re trying to capture something like fast-moving cars. Find a spot with a clear view that doesn’t put you in harm’s way. Only after picking out your spot should you decide which lens to use to best capture a panning shot. [7] X Research source Even if you’re just trying to capture joggers or bicyclists on the street, make sure you’re not blocking foot or vehicle traffic. It’s best to use a second person as a spotter if you’re taking pictures in a riskier environment, such as at a racetrack. The interchangeable lenses on a DSLR camera are defined primarily by their focal length (mm) and aperture (f/). The smaller the focal length number, the wider the shot you can capture; the smaller the aperture number, the less light is required to get a good shot.
2
Use a tripod or monopod while you build your panning shot skills. Keeping your camera steady and level while swinging it from one side to the other is tough! While pros can often free-hand their panning shots, you should start out by attaching your camera to a 3-leg tripod or a 1-leg monopod. Most tripods and monopods have a camera plate that screws into the threaded opening at the bottom of your camera; the plate then slides and locks into place on the tripod/monopod. [8] X Research source Tripods are a bit bulkier, but are probably the best choice if you’re a novice. A monopod requires more balance and support on your part. Once you’re comfortable taking panning shots, practice doing them without a tripod or monopod. That way, you’ll be able to get a great panning shot anytime, anywhere—at least as long as you have your camera handy!
3
Create a solid base with your lower body. Yes, your legs are important when taking a photo! Set your legs shoulder-width apart and bend your knees slightly. Point your toes, knees, and hips straight forward so that they’ll be pointed right at your target as it passes by you. Your lower body should remain in this position throughout the panning process—all of your body movement should come from above your hips. [9] X Research source Establish a solid base with your lower body even if you are using a tripod or monopod. Some photographers find it easier to point their lower body a bit in the direction from which the moving target will approach, and still others prefer to point slightly in the direction to which the target will exit the panning area. This is really up to your personal preference and comfort level. The important thing is to keep your lower body steady and still.
4
Establish a target zone of about 60 degrees to your left and right. Imagine you’re standing in the middle of a clock face. Your lower body, then, is pointed at 12 o’clock. That means your target zone (or panning zone) should range from 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock (or 2 to 10, if the object is approaching from your right). To get a great panning shot, you’ll need to track your target object from one end of this zone to the other. [10] X Research source For example, say you’re trying to get a panning shot of your daughter riding her bike from your left to your right. While keeping your lower body pointed at 12 o’clock, you’ll need to turn your upper body to start tracking her at 10 o’clock, and continue to turn and track her all the way to 2 o’clock.
5
Estimate your focal point if you’re using manual focus instead of autofocus. If you’re relying on manual focus, you’ll need to pre-sight the spot where you expect your target to pass by at the 12 o’clock position. Focus your camera on that point, and maintain that focus setting as you track the target object. That way, when the object passes by you, it will (hopefully) be in perfect focus! [11] X Research source If you’re using autofocus, don’t worry about this step. The camera will adjust its focus “on the fly.” Like many aspects of taking panning shots, expect to go through some trial-and-error here.
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Part 3 of 3:
Shooting

1
Aim your camera—and upper body—at the starting point of your target zone. In other words, if the car you want to photograph is approaching from your right, point your upper body and the camera at the 2 o’clock position. Watch through the viewfinder and wait for the target to enter the frame. [12] X Research source Remember to keep your lower body still and pointed at 12 o’clock. Doing so will help you swivel the camera through the target zone smoothly.
2
Press the button halfway down to autofocus on the approaching target. As the target enters your view, engage the autofocus to train in on it. If you’re using manual focus instead of autofocus, keep the shutter button pressed halfway down to maintain the focal point you already established. [13] X Research source If you’re using an unfamiliar camera, practice pressing on the shutter button beforehand so you know how much pressure to apply.
3
Track the target through the zone, working to center it in your frame. Start rotating your upper body as soon as the target enters your view. Do your best to match its speed and keep it centered in the frame. If you’re using autofocus, the camera will keep adjusting as you go. If you’re using manual focus, the target should increasingly come into focus as it approaches the 12 o’clock position. [14] X Research source The faster your target is moving, the harder this is to master. Consider practicing on joggers before moving up to race cars!
4
Take the shot right as the target passes by you. Wait until the target is centered in the frame at the 12 o’clock position to press down fully on the shutter button. This is the ideal position to take your panning shot. But don’t feel bad if you miss-time your shot the first few times—keep trying and you’ll get it! [15] X Research source Your entire body should be aligned with the target at this point.
5
Continue to track the target until it exits your zone. Don’t stop twisting your body and tracking the target after taking your shot! Just like with a golf swing, your follow-through is a critical component. Keep turning your upper body and tracking the target until it exits your panning zone—for instance, the 10 o’clock position if it’s moving from your right to your left. [16] X Research source If you’re using burst mode, your camera will take several shots as you continue to track the target. But even if you’re not using burst mode, following through will greatly improve your odds of getting a great panning shot. Following through helps add to the background blur effect that is key to expressing motion in a panning shot. If you capture a great panning shot on your first attempt, give yourself a pat on the back! But don’t be surprised or disappointed if your first few efforts don’t quite work out.
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