Three cyclists ride around a velodrome; the cyclists are in sharp focus, with everything else blurred.


Learn to use panning for better action photos

Panning is a technique usually applied to action images to convey a sense of movement. It involves keeping your camera shutter speed low and moving the camera in the direction the subject is travelling in. When this is executed correctly, the subject remains sharp while the background and any static objects in the frame are streaked across the frame in a smooth blur.

Panning can be used to provide a sense of movement to your pictures, for creative effect and to smooth the background, adding further focus on your subject.

Whatever your intention, panning is a great skill to have, and the secret to achieving an impressive pan is... practice. Panning requires good camera control, so there is no substitute for experience. Good panning subjects to practise on are track sports as you get many attempts to hone your skills as they pass by each lap.

Setting up the camera

Switch to Shutter Priority or full Manual Mode and select your shutter speed. The speed depends on a number of factors: how fast your subject is moving, the distance between you and your subject, the lens you are using, and how much of a blur effect you want to achieve.

Start with a shutter speed such as 1/60 sec and lower it as you get more comfortable with the action. Don’t forget to switch off your lens stabiliser (unless you are shooting with a lens with a Mode 2 function – if so, use this).

Panning is a great way to add interest to an action image in overcast conditions. Using a wider lens and standing closer to the track produces a shot that really draws the viewer into the action.

Focus in advance

To prevent your camera refocusing during the pan, pre-focus your lens. Decide where you want to capture the subject and focus your camera, then switch the lens to manual focus.

As the subject approaches, watch the motion carefully through the viewfinder, place an AF square on the subject and keep tracking it through the viewfinder as it moves in front of you. Using a smooth motion, swing the camera in the direction of travel, being careful to minimise vertical movement. Using continuous shooting, press the shutter well before the subject reaches your pre-focused position, and take a series of shots until your subject has passed through your intended shooting spot.

Check the image on the camera screen. If your subject is perfectly in focus and the background a smooth silky blur, consider it a job well done. Chances are, though, you will want another go!

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