The basic idea in panning is that you pan (track the subject) your camera, at a relatively slow shutter speed than usual, in sync with a moving subject to produce an image where the subject is relatively sharp but the background has a motion blur. The combination of the two, a sharp subject and a motion blurred background, gives a feeling of motion and speed.

There are a few key elements here that one needs to get right to produce the desired effect. The first is the background, basically there needs to be one that produces the blur which gives the sense of motion. While the technique will produce a blurred background, if there are distracting shapes or colors it could prove to be distracting. Single coloured backgrounds (like trees and foliage for instance) tend to work best esp. for wildlife.

The second one is getting the optimal shutter speed. This is determined by the relative speed of the subject to the background. The closer the subject is to the background the slower the shutter speed needed to produce the blur. This is easier said than done and a good way to start is to pick a slow shutter speed like 1/30 and work your way up or down depending on the results. Just remember that the slower you go, there are chances of introducing camera-shake induced blur (that you should avoid) on top of the motion blur (that you want).

The third one is the direction of motion of the subject. Since you will be tracking the motion of the subject, you will need to position yourself in a place where your view of the subject is not be obstructed. Ideally, you should position yourself in a place that is parallel to the path of the subject – this will make for better tracking and keep the subject in roughly the same focus plane during the image capture.

The last one is the image capture itself. Once you have released the shutter (gently to reduce camera shake) continue to track the subject, even after the shot is complete. The follow through will ensure that the motion is smooth from start to finish in your shot.


With so many different elements that stand between you and the desired result, this can get frustrating at times and you could be left with a lot of blurred images that need to be deleted. So approach this with an attitude of experimentation and don’t try it if all you have is a fleeting opportunity of a shot. And go out and practice as there can’t be a better teacher than self-learning.

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