A photograph can show motion even though technically it’s a still image. When a photo shows something like a running horse or an automobile with a blurry background your mind will automatically see the horse or car in motion. The technique used to blur the image and simulate motion is known as panning, which has been around for years.
In the past, when film cameras were used, fast motion was very difficult to capture because there simply wasn’t any film that was fast enough to be able to reproduce it. The way they got around this problem was to move their cameras in synch with the subject. The events back then were usually auto and horse races.
After experimenting with different methods photographers realized they could get pretty sharp photographs with streaky backgrounds if they simply moved the camera along with the subject. When they figured out how to do it properly panning was born and it quickly became very popular.
What you have to do to achieve the effect is to move the camera in synchronized motion with the subject as it’s moving past you. This way the subject remains in the same position in the frame and the remainder of the image becomes blurry.
The concept may sound simple enough, but it takes quite a bit of practice to master it though. In fact, you may find that only about 10 per cent of your panned shots will turn out the way you had hoped for. But that’s the beauty of digital photography. You can take as many shots as you like until you get it perfect or find the image you’re looking for.
You might actually find that it’s easier to pan along with a faster-moving subject than a slower one. Try practising with sprinters since they are moving quickly and are running in a straight line. It’s hard to get blurry backgrounds with people who are simply walking because they’re moving too slow to get a streaky background. It’s also hard to do with soccer, football, and rugby players because they usually move in all directions.
You need to make sure that the shutter speed doesn’t change when you’re taking the shot, so it’s best to choose the shutter priority setting or use the manual exposure setting. When it comes to the shutter speed there isn’t a correct when in panning, but the longer the speed is the more blurry the background will be. This means the subject will really stand out. The downside of a longer shutter speed is that it’s going to be harder to get a sharp image of the subject.
When experimenting with panning you might want to try anything from 1/8 of a second down to 1/60 of a second. If the speed is slower than 1/8 it’s going to be hard to get a sharp image, but it still might look pretty creative. If the shutter speed is faster than 1/60 then the camera may freeze the action and you won’t get a blurred effect.
The background also has to be suitable for panning too. It needs to have some detail in it to make a streaky effect. For example, if you try and pan a bird in flight with the blue sky as the background you won’t get the desired effect. When you practice you need to make sure you move the camera along smoothly and fluidly. If your motion is jerky the image will be spoiled.