A Creative Guide to Panning

By Geoff Harris

captiva sunset 1

Panning can be a great technique to try when you want to do something just a bit different!  A panned photo is one where the camera is moved in a straight line while the shutter is open.  This means you’ll need a fairly long shutter speed – as a starting point, try somewhere around 1/8 or 1/15 second, although the time needed will vary according to lots of factors including the brightness of the scene and your distance from the subject.

You can move the camera in any direction you want, but it’s usually best to follow the lines of your subject in some way. For instance, pan vertically for trees - I usually pan from bottom to top for these. Start the camera movement before you press the shutter release, then keep moving as smoothly and steadily as you can until you hear the shutter close. Then repeat this process at least 30 times!! It’s very hit and miss, and each picture you take will be slightly different, so the more you do, the better your chances of success.

silver birches in autumn - straight silver birches in autumn - panned

Recently I’ve had fun trying the panning technique with seascapes – in this case I pan from one side to the other, taking care to keep the movement as horizontal as possible.

Some photographers like to pan by moving the tripod head, but I prefer to do it hand held.  One tip is to use manual focus, as sometimes the autofocus can’t cope with the movement and hunts a bit, stopping you release the shutter just at the moment that you’d like to.

Try to avoid any very bright patches in the area that you will be panning, as they’ll turn into long streaks of white and pull the eye away from the rest of the image.  Sometimes the technique can work best on an overcast day when colours are more muted.  The panning will spread the colours in the scene across the image, softening detail and making a more impressionistic photograph.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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