Monday, March 18, 2013

How to: Panning

My friend and budding photographer Hari ased me last week to write a little post about panning - so here I am and this is how I do it.

Panning is a technique that I really love and like to use it whenever I can to add the feeling of motion and energy into a shot. There are certainly times when panning is more effective than other times and I tend to only pan sparingly. 


Panning doesn't work for all shots and there is definitely a time and place when to pan. As a news photographer i'm usually pretty tight on time, required to shoot off a few frames within minutes sometimes. Panning takes time and a lot of practice to get right. Rarely do you ever decide to pan a photo and get perfect results instantly. 

The hardest thing about panning is keeping at the same pace as your moving subject. If you move too slow or too fast, your subject becomes blurry and you end up with a whirl of crazy colours and nothing really usable - arty yes, but usable for news, no. 


Shutter speed is another important factor when it comes to panning and dragging the shutter. I've found that 1/15-1/30th is pretty sweet, depending on what i'm shooting and how fast the subject is moving. There isn't really a rule to it, I just find that anything under 1/60th gives pretty good results while panning. 

Panning too long a time, you risk losing your subject in a mix and blur of colours, pan to short a time, your subject becomes static and blurry, defeating the purpose of panning. 


Practice practice practice to get your panning technique right. The reason why I don't spend too much time on it whilst on jobs is that there is a high rate of crap photos. Photos that are either too blurry or just not sharp at all. In a situation where you have only one chance, panning is a ballsy move, but if you pull it off, you're a super star. I generally like to use it for sports as it really accentuates the feeling of movement and speed. 


Although this is shot on a different angle, this image is not bad, it's a karting shot, stock standard and you lose the 'speed' and adrenaline in the shot. It looks static, you as the viewer have no idea if they were zooming past or just having a leisurely drive on the track, that is one of the reasons I love panning. 


 I mentioned earlier that panning takes a lot of practice and sometimes you need more than a few shots to get the perfect panned photo. This is a good example of how little margin you have to play with when you're panning. In this image, the background is blurry and smooth - tick. the exposure is correct - tick, but our rider is not sharp - big fat cross. 


This image is taken only a few seconds later. It ticks all the boxes and if you want to be anal, yes, the rider is blurry too, however his head and helmet are tack sharp, and usually that's what does it for me. This image shows off the movement and speed of the rider in the shot. 


Another example of panning vs not panning. This photo I quite like, the rider is high up on the dirt bank and it's a pretty cool photo, however, looking at this photo, you have no sense of action, it's just a 'cool' shot. When shooting sports, 95% of my shots are like this ^ static as there is less chance of stuffing up and in a pressure situation, you sometimes only get one chance, i'd rather get the shot than miss it. It may not be as exciting or artistic, but it's still the shot. Better safe than sorry. 

I'll be honest with you, I hate shooting roller derby and for a few reasons. It's one of those games/sports where I have NO idea what is going on, it's frantic it's fast paced and generally, shot in really crappy lighting conditions. High ISO, crappy lights = yuk, but, I don't mind panning in it as it really adds a new perspective when you look at other roller derby photos.


So pretty short and sweet How To: this time but to basically sum it up. Here are my rules for panning:
  1. Keep your shutter speed between 1/15th - 1/30th
  2. practice. A lot. 
  3. A longer lens usually exaggerates the sense of movement and speed - but is harder to keep subjects sharp throughout the pan.
  4. I find shooting in Manual a lot better.
  5. Don't pan everything, a few pans is a good way to break up sports photos but personally I wouldn't like to see too many of them in a sports spread.
So that's it.

Short and sweet!