The Art of Panning…


I certainly cannot take the credit for the information contained in this post. Other than actually pressing the shutter all this information I learned was a result of a  meet-up with Sean Robinson from Unique Photo at Raceway Park in Old Bridge, NJ.

My main goal during this meet-up was to learn about the specifics of panning and apply this information while shooting vehicles that travel at approximately 200 mph. I have to tell you I didn’t expect to get many keepers on my first go round, but I was pleasantly surprised with the results.

The panning technique used during this day focused on these 3 particulars:

  1.  Shutter Speed
  2.  Horizontal Tracking
  3.  Focusing

I will also talk briefly on the use of an ND filter to further enhance your results.

If you didn’t see my earlier post on panning here is the photo…

Basically a snapshot with the following settings…. f4 and 1/1500 sec. This shutter speed will totally freeze the action rendering this race car as if it were standing still. BTW, at this point in the race the car is doing approx 170 mph.

Click for higher resolution look!

Now lets go to the next set of camera settings … f5.6 and 1/250 sec. A change in shutter speed certainly gives the viewer a sense of motion due to the blurred background and wheel rims. But the car still seems to be moving fairly slowly.Not totally satisfied with the result I pushed my camera(and my luck) to the following settings: f4 and 1/90 sec. Now we start to see a dramatic change in the dynamics of the photo. The second shot really gives the viewer a sense as to how fast these cars are really traveling.

After taking a hundred or so shots I decided to use Sean’s recommendation of 1/30 sec. The next shot really pushes the limit of my ability at the settings of f22 and 1/30 sec. The ultimate of panning technique, sharpness at the front of the car and blurring of the rest of the car. Boy was I lucky.

At this point the setting of 1/30 was causing problems with exposure(blown out highlights) and less than optimum sharpness on my shots so I screwed on my 6 stop B+W ND filter.  This got me closer to f4 which allowed me to isolate the cars further and bring better clarity to my shots. So if you plan on venturing into this type of photography I highly recommend, at the very least, a 3 stop ND filter.

Sean also recommended that we continue panning the camera even after pressing the shutter. This would help with focus and provide a better percentage of keepers. Kudos to Sean for his help in making this a great experience despite not being able to better orchestrate the weather:)

I hope this helps you with your technique and if you do use these tips please post a link to your shots in the comment section. Would love to see your shots. Thanks for looking!

12 thoughts on “The Art of Panning…

  1. This outing is most informative and the different shots help understand the differences in results. The follow through in panning is so important to the outcome of the shot, sort of like a golfer following through with a swing. Since shifting to digital photography using filters rarely crosses my mind so thanks for the inspiration Mike!

    1. Hi Frank and thanks for stopping by…. continuous focus on all of these Frank and my aim was for the front end of the car. Obviously only managed that on the last shot. Lots of practice needed on that front.

  2. Top info Teech! Tell me though Panning head with lever (RIGHT?) and did you use a shutter release cable, as I had some problems with camera shake when I tried this with Trotters (Not quite as fast)

  3. What an example…thanks for sharing your panning secrets…I have been wanting to get out and try this and now you inspired me once again!

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