Mastering the Pan Shot [Photographer’s Guide]

A photo of a racing vehicle, animal or athlete with the subject in focus and frozen against a blurred background is something you have probably seen. These images capture the pulse-pumping motion of racing animals, vehicles, or athletes. They use a technique called pan shot, also known as panning photography.

The juxtaposition of a sharp subject and a blurred background makes panning photos visually compelling. Panning photos are a quick and easy way to convey the feeling of speed and movement in action photography.

These are the three steps to incorporate the art of the pan shot in your photography. This technique is easy to master with our cheat sheet.

1. Choose a location that has a lot of moving subjects

Pan Shot Photography of Cyclist - 42West, Adorama

You will need fast-moving subjects to get started with motion blur techniques such as panning photography. You may eventually want to capture action shots of wildlife on safari, or birds in flight. But for now, it is important to keep things predictable.

Begin by going to a bustling area of town or on a popular bike route. It will work well in any place that has a steady flow of people.

You should be facing the path so that the subject moves from left to right or left to right. If subjects move away from you, this technique won’t work.

For the pan shot technique, adjust your camera settings

Certain camera settings are better than others. You will become more proficient with action photography and panning. For now, however, we’ll stick to the basics.

Select shutter priority mode

Shutter priority mode will tell your camera that shutter speed is your greatest concern. The camera will automatically select the correct aperture for you, depending on the shutter speed. The camera will adjust to changing lighting conditions and ensure that your photos are properly exposed.

Use a slow shutter speed

You need to drag the shutter a little when photographing moving subjects against blurred backgrounds. You can freeze the background and subject in perfect sharpness if you set the shutter speed too fast. You can blur the background by choosing a slower shutter speed.

The speed of your subject, their distance and the amount of light will all affect the shutter speed. There is no one shutter speed that works for all situations. You can start with a shutter speed of 1/30 to 1/1000 and adjust as you go.

For continuous shooting, set your autofocus mode

As you get more experience, manual focus can be a good option. However, for now set your camera to autofocus. For the moment, select continuous focusing mode. You’ll need the setting called AF–C if you have a Nikon, or a Sony. Choose AI-Servo if you have a Canon. This will allow your autofocus system to track the subject’s movement through the frame.

3. Move your camera along with the subject

Bird in Flight - Pan Shot Photography

Once you have your settings and positioning set, you need to hold the camera steady so that your subject can be tracked. If you have a panning tripod, you can use it. Otherwise, handheld shooting will work fine.

When a subject enters the field of view, focus your camera by pressing the shutter button halfway. To take an image, press the shutter while moving your camera with the subject. Although it may take some time to be satisfied with the images, the more you photograph, the better the results will be.

Make adjustments

You can slow down the shutter speed if you notice blurred backgrounds in your photos. You may need to speed up your shutter speed if the background and subject are blurry.

Photographers who shoot in burst mode have the best luck with panning techniques. So feel free to take a few shots of each subject while the shutter is depressed.

After you have mastered the art of panning with cyclists, and other subjects, you can start to capture exotic birds and animals in motion.