Part of my son’s birthday celebration included trying out his new toys outside. As I watched little boys whiz around me in the cul-de-sac, I decided this was the perfect opportunity for panning practice. It has been on my assignment list forever. This was definitely the kids’ favorite photography project in months, and I learned lots of tips to share with you in the process!!
Panning means you move your camera to track a subject as it moves through a stationary background. You’ll want to shoot in shutter priority mode (TV) and drop your shutter speed down low enough to see some motion blur. These were taken at 1/30 sec. (You may have to shut down your ISO or close down your aperture to keep from overexposing the shot). By doing this, you create motion blur on the background (motion from your camera movement), and the subject stays in focus. (Ideally). It is fun to play with. A zoom lens can get a better blur, but I was shooting with my “nifty fifty.” The neighbors were out on bikes that day, which works well for panning practice. Make sure to show the kids periodically! They are so cooperative when they can see how they are “zooming” in the pictures!
I learned that there is a perfect distance for a panned shot. You want to be close enough to have considerable movement with your camera to get a good blur, but not so close that you can’t possibly keep the subject in focus. I also learned to give the kiddos a little room. They get passed you pretty fast, and then you have a shot of their back riding away. (Also because in their exuberance to get a good speed shot, they don’t steer exceptionally well, and you are in grave danger standing there with a camera over your eye and a lack of concentration on your own safety).
My boys wanted in on the action, of course. But they didn’t want to go to all the trouble of getting their bikes out. So they tried running. We also learned some lessons from this exercise. First and foremost, running is bouncy. There is nothing stationary to track. My older son decided he could remedy this by some super still upper body running, and he did remarkably well. It is still pretty tough to keep their faces in focus, but it makes pretty cool blur on their arms and legs if they can pull it off.
My youngest could not be outdone. Luckily, he is a little slower and easier to track. He is also much bumpier, which results in a shot that just looks blurry overall, rather than a distinct motion blur. But his face is priceless as he tries!
The neighbors’ oldest boy was working on some tricks with his new bouncy shoes. (I have never seen anything like these!) I tried the panning idea on this, and gave up. Up and down motion is unpredictable, and just too hard for me. So I clamped down the shutter speed to 1/320 to remove all motion and just capture the jump. You can see the difference a fast shutter speed makes.
As a general rule, I try to keep my shutter above 1/100 for stationary objects (to account for me moving), and above 1/250 when taking pictures of kiddos. If I am trying to stop motion on sports, running, jumping, etc, I will go even faster. When I want to show movement (running water, moving cars in background, etc) I usually end up down around 1/30.
If you’re interested, here is a good tutorial on panning
And another one on shutter speed: