Panning shots are hard. To say that Kate road past me 20 times while I tried this shot is an understatement. I’m pretty sure that if spring wasn’t in the air, she’d have given up on me sooner. In photography, panning refers to the rotation in a horizontal plane of a still camera. Panning a camera results in a motion similar to that of someone shaking their head from side to side. See how Kate’s face is in focus yet there is clear motion blur in her body, wheels and especially behind her? She’s zooming past that yard in the background and it shows. That’s panning. You’ve probably seen panning in shots of race cars and roller coasters. It’s a really popular photography technique for communicating speed, especially high speed.
I like Wikipedia’s description: When photographing a moving subject, the panning technique is achieved by keeping the subject in the same position of the frame for the duration of the exposure. The length of the exposure must be long enough to allow the background to blur due to the movement of the camera as the photographer follows the subject in the viewfinder. So here’s how this went down. I locked focus on Kate’s face then followed her with my camera as she zoomed past. No point and shoot this time. This is pointing and shooting through the movement at a low enough speed to capture the blur. Lots of people would use a tripod for this type of shot. I didn’t. I shoot children 95% of the time and tripods just slow me down. Ain’t nobody got time for that in the world of children’s photography! Yes they can be awesome and are absolutely necessary for lots of shots like long exposures, landscape, self portraits and more. But I’m usually with kids on the go so I don’t use one very much. I hand held my camera for this shot and my shutter speed was 1/50. With or without a tripod, you should give panning a try! Worst case scenario, you spend the afternoon shooting while your kids ride circles around you. That’s a win win for everyone in my book!
Updated January 2015: Click here for more photography tips including advice for using both a DSLR and iPhone camera.
Abbe McCracken is a natural light, on-location portrait and lifestyle photographer serving Charlotte, NC and the surrounding areas of Matthews, Ballantyne, Weddington and beyond. She specializes in family, newborn, child and event photography.
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