Pan pan pan

In an aircraft, a “pan” call is a request for assistance without an immediate emergency – i.e. you are lost. Tune to 121.5 MHz, put out a pan call, and some controller will help you figure out where you are, and save the day.

Although the word comes from the same Greek word, in photography, panning means something else entirely. It means “moving with the subject while using a slow shutter speed”.

I have talked about it before, of course, but let me refresh your memory, and give you some more recipe detail.

  1. Use an appropriate lens (this does depend on subject, location, and situation, but often it is slightly wide angle, like 35mm).
  2. Set your camera to S/Tv mode (shutter priority).
  3. Select a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second.
  4. Pre-focus where the moving object will be in front of you. Either pre-focus and hold, or pre-focus and then set focus to manual (“M” with the switch on your lens).
  5. Wait for the subject to enter your field of view – point there, where the subject enters.
  6. Now aim at the front of your subject and follow along with the subject.
  7. When subject is straight in front of you, while you are still moving, click.

Takes a bit of practice but it works very well. Here, from an Oakville walking tour the other day:

Oakville Panning Photo (Photo: Michael Willems)

You do this, in other words, when you want to show motion; when a static picture would look odd. Motion blur can be good!


Blur is bad. Always. Or…?

Or is it?

Bike, photo by Michael Willems

Bike, Toronto, Aug 2010

Indeed not. That is why you have a shutter speed priority (Tv/S). Sometimes you want to show motion, and you do that by blurring things.

I took the shot above while panning at 1/15th of a second (and f/22 at 100 ISO: it was a bright day in Toronto). It shows “in a hurry”, dynamic motion much better than a “frozen” picture of the same subject would do.

Need for speed.

The need for LOW speed, that is. Not every picture has to be razor sharp. In fact, often, to give the impression of speed and movement, you need to blur parts of a picture. The background parts.

You do this by panning.

To pan a picture, you need a slow shutter speed. Like 1/15th of a second. Panning gives you pictures like this:

Panning picture by Michael Willems

Panning picture by Michael Willems

Panning picture by Michael Willems

Panning picture by Michael Willems

To do this:

  1. Set your camera to Tv/S mode
  2. Select a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second
  3. Wait for the car. bike, child, etc to approach
  4. Start following them with the camera, keeping them in the middle
  5. When they are half way, right in front of you, SHOOT!

To focus, you can either focus quickly, or pre-focus “where they will be”, or use AI Servo/AF-C mode.

You can vary the shutter speed as you like, of course.

Have fun!

Learning technique

Today, a tip and a request.

First, the tip.

How do you learn to “pan” your camera along with a moving object (like a bicycle travelling traversely through your picture)? So that the object appears to not move much, while the background is a streak? How do you learn this in the absence of cyclists riding through your living room? You pan and follow your hand. That’s how.

  1. Set your camera to S/Tv mode
  2. Select a shutter speed of 1/15th second (a good starting point).
  3. Hold your hand out as far as it can go.
  4. Focus on it. Wait for the beep and then hold your finger on the shutter to lock that focus distance.
  5. Now rapidly move your entire body around, so your hand describes a circle around you.
  6. Half way through that circle: click. (Do not stop moving to click!)

Try this technique, and repeat until you are happy. Your images may look somewhat like this:

You thus get to practice the technique that gets you images like this:

Did you find that a useful tip? Then I have a request for you.

I teach these and many photographic techniques –  a tip a day! – because I want to give back and help disseminate information and knowledge as widely as possible. I want the world to learn photography, and I think I can be a small part of that.

But you can help me too.

First: send me questions. About anything photographic.  I’ll do my best to answer them in a timely manner right here. That way, your question benefits others too.

Second: help me with the blog. Apart from small contributions, which are always welcome (see the link on the right), even more importantly, you can link to me. Mention my blog to friends and to others who many be interested. Link from your blog or from your facebook page. Tweet. Mention me on your web site. If you are helped by this, you can do me a big favour by spreading my name, and that of this blog, as widely as possible. This is an ongoing request!

That way I get better known, and I get to help more people. In this way, we all help each other. I firmly believe that this is the way the new economy works. Social media, sharing, the Internet: we now grow value by collaborating, not by “hoarding and hiding knowledge”. People who do not yet understand this will eventually find out that the old “make money by keeping knowledge secret” paradigms are dead.

And the world will be a better place for it.