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Panning for Action

by Sue Barthelow

Summer brings with it plenty of sports action. It's a good season to learn and practice the art of panning with your camera. Panning works well for certain types of predictable action. This technique lets you show your subject clearly in front of a background that indicates movement. Consider panning when taking pictures of runners, bicyclists, soccer players, cars, moving birds or animals and more.

How do you get that movement in your image? You use a long shutter speed and pan, or follow, as your subject moves by. One key to a successful image is the constant speed of your subject, letting you follow the action smoothly.

What does that mean? Use your camera's shutter priority mode to keep the shutter open for a moment, maybe for 1/30 a second, for whatever works for your light conditions. Pick a spot at which you'd like to start your image. Then, frame your subject, press the shutter release button half way down to focus and start following it in your view finder until it reaches your predetermined spot. At that moment, fully press the shutter release button and continue to smoothly follow the subject with your camera. Keep the subject in the same position within the image. Continue to pan briefly after the shutter closes to make sure you don't leave your subject too early and smear the image.

Panned image of bicyle racer

To ensure that you capture at least one successful image, use continuous action and pan through several pictures at a time. Consider setting your camera to continuously auto-focus so each image stays sharp. Check your camera's manual to see how to set its continuous action mode. This works just like the single shot approach except that you hold the shutter release button down. The camera will take multiple pictures for as long as your hold the shutter release button down. Continue to smoothly follow your subject with your camera, keeping it in the same position within the image. Take your finger off the shutter release button as or after the subject passes you and continue to pan briefly to make sure you don't ruin the last shot.

Panned closeup image of bicyle racer

I learned how to pan recently by shooting Auburn International Triathlon bike racers as they traveled along a road near my home. It was oodles of fun and much easier than it sounded. If you haven't used panning, why not give it a try?

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