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Panning photography tips

Your Guide to Panning photography

Taking you on photographic safaris to some of the Earth’s wildest and most scenic destinations is one of many reasons why ORYX was born. To share our passion and vast knowledge of photography with you, to guide, inspire and give you the tools to take control of your photography and capture your vision… that is another major player.

Previously I covered the topic of using Visual Mass in order to start taking control of your images. By request, I will be taking you to a different creative and technical level of your wildlife photography journey. Today, we are going to master ‘panning photography’.

What is panning?

Panning is a photographic technique where the results are incredibly varied and can produce powerfully evocative images.

Panning images are easily identifiable by the type of ‘look’ it produces. The basic idea behind it is that you pan along in time with your moving subject as you continuously release your camera’s shutter at a slower shutter speed than what you would normally dial in in order to freeze movement. What you will end up with is an image where you will have a relatively sharp subject, but with a nice blurred, streaky-looking background. These shots are used to produce the feeling of movement and speed and this is an excellent technique to use when on a photography tour.

© Greg du Toit, Serengeti, Tanzania.

Sounds pretty easy right?

Sounds? Yes. Implementing? Not as much. Panning is one of those techniques where ‘practice makes perfect’ needs to apply. There are a variety of factors one needs to take into account if you are looking at capturing a panning shot that ticks all your boxes.

So, without further ado, here is a general guideline on how to pan in order to create unique and interesting images:

  • Move your dial onto Shutter Speed Priority and start with a shutter speed of around 1/30s. You can also use Aperture Priority mode to control your shutter speed if you prefer.
  • Set up your camera to shoot on ‘continuous mode’. This allows you to continuously shoot while panning, whereby capturing a series of images of your subject as it moves into and then out of your range. Once you are done, you can look through your shots and select your best images out of them.
© Marius Coetzee, South Africa, Canon EOS 40D, 400mm, 1/125 sec; f/2,8; ISO 500
  • To get your subject in focus and get the background blurred, I find that I achieve this better when I pan with a subject that is moving on a diagonal and pretty straight course to where I am. It just allows you to move more easily along with them, especially if you are still practicing panning.
  • Ensure your focus point is on the part of your subject where you want it to be sharp and in focus. This will more likely be on their face.
  • And… GO!

This technique is all hit and misses. Keep an experimental approach to it if you haven’t practiced before or are still practicing. Although it can yield fantastic results, it can also be very frustrating when you don’t capture what you envisioned.

Here are some panning photography tips

  • In general; the slower your subject, the slower your shutter speed will need to be in order to capture their movement while still getting that lovely blurred background. The same principle applies with faster subjects.
© Marius Coetzee, Ethiopia, Canon EOS-1D X, 145mm, 1/30 sec; f/29; ISO 1250
  • Be aware of camera shake if you are using shutter speeds of under 1/30s, especially with your longer and heavier lenses. Use some form of stabilization to combat this, such as a monopod, tripod, or ensure that you stand with your legs apart and your elbows tucked in for additional support.
  • The likely hood of getting your subject completely sharp and in focus is slim, especially in wildlife photography. Think of panning more as getting your subject more sharp and in focus compared to your background.
  • Make sure you capture your key shots in a sighting before you practice panning. Once you have worked the scene and gotten your portfolio images, then go wild with panning and see what you can create!
© Marius Coetzee, South Georgia, Canon EOS-1D X, 600mm, 1/8 sec; f/64; ISO 500
  • Have fun and explore with different shutter speeds, how you move your camera, the direction the subject is moving…there are no bounds in creativity and the story you are creating!

Panning is such a fun and creative tool to use to create powerful and stirring images. All results are unique as it is about the story you are telling!

I personally love using panning photography to create more bizarre interpretations of my subjects. But don’t get me wrong; I will still look at capturing those perfected panning images for my portfolio! Once you become familiar and confortable with panning, go further. Try look for different ways to use this technique to portray you subject and capture another aspect of their essence.

© Dale Morris, Madagascar, Nikon D800, 25mm, 1/6 sec; f/25; ISO 50

As always; have fun! We create images because we are passionate about it and our subjects.

As Ansel Adams said, “Photography, as a powerful medium of expression and communications, offers an infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution.”

Stay passionate!

Penny Robartes

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