Panning is the technique of going with the flow of a moving subject to make images. The movement of the camera should be at the same vector as the subject and at the same speed, while the exposures are clicked. Ideally, panning movements are used to shoot not one but a series of images and is a technique that is used in sports, wildlife and at times in everyday photography as well.

The key to effectively use the panning technique is to use it with the right camera settings. Having said that there is no hard-lined doctrine of sorts that is going to work in every situation no matter where you are and how you are shooting.

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So, depending on the conditions, the light and of course the subject, you will need to tweak the settings, experiment and get it perfected. Of course the more you shoot the better you will get at this. So without further ado here are a general guideline on the camera settings that you should be using.

Shooting mode

Shooting mode should be shutter priority, period. Aperture priority wouldn’t give you the option to tweak the shutter speed the way you want itand that is really the key to successfully produce panning. In the manual mode the settings will be difficult to manage, at least at the beginning. Not entirely impossible though.

Once you get a hang of things you might as well try the manual mode, because that will give you a better control over not only the shutter speed but also the depth of field. At the beginning though, you should begin with the shutter priority mode.

Another thing is with shallow depth of field it might be very difficult to keep the subject focused. The margin of error is very small. Somewhere between f/8 and f/16 would be good aperture values to work with, especially because you would be shooting at slower than normal shutter speeds to make the exposure.

The actual shutter speed would, again,be dependent on what’s working at the given location, the speed of the subject and of course the light. Start with something like 1/60 of a second and take it down a stop faster or slower to see which one is giving you the best results. The trick is in getting the subject to be tack sharp while everything else is out of focus.

Image stabilization

Switch off image stabilization, if your lens has the old image stabilization system (version one – some photographers call it after the upgraded versions came in) of countering for any and every hand movement. This is going to make it impossible for you to pan properly.

If your lens has one of those modes which allow panning then it is fine. Ideally, I wouldn’t use image stabilization at all and switch it off.

Focal length

Focal length isn’t that important really because unless you are shooting with a tele lens, in which case you will have a hard time keeping the subject in the frame, with all other lenses (read: wide angle lenses) it should be easier to keep the subject in frame.

Use the focus delimiter button

If your lens comes with a focus delimiter button by all means use it. It helps to reduce the range within which the lens has to hunt for focus. That should make the focusing thing a bit faster than when you have the entire focusing range selected.

photography tips panning

Focusing mode

Focusing mode should always be auto-focus (and never manual focus). With manual focusing you would never be able to properly focus within the time you’ll get to make the exposure. To properly lock focus, frame the subject and then make the exposure becomes a tough challenge. So switch to auto-focusing and leave it that way.

But what mode? Well, there are two main modes of auto-focusing, single shot and continuous. Select single shot if you are ‘feeling lucky’. If it works then I would also recommend a trip to Las Vegas afterwards while it is still going for you. Else, select continuous auto-focus. Continuous auto-focus allows you to, well, continuously correct focus as the subject moves across the frame, which is ideally suitable.

Use back-button focusing

I would also recommend using back button focusing because that basically frees your index finger from having to be pressed down continuously on the shutter button to keep the subject in focus. You can use the AE-L/AF-L button at the back of the camera to be set as the focusing button. Hold it down to lock focus or track focus and then fire the shutter button to make the exposures.

Auto-focus priority selection

Also recommended is to set the auto-focus priority option to release and not focus (with continuous auto-focusing). That will ensure that the camera won’t prevent you from taking a picture when you don’t have absolute 100% correct focus. You would rather want to shoot as many frames as possible and then sort out the keepers from the bunch. If you allow the camera to dictate terms you would probably lose a lot of great moments.

Use high speed shooting (continuous high)

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Continuous shooting would allow you to get as many frames as possible before the buffer overruns or the subject moves away from sight. Why need continuous shooting? Because there is no telling if you are going to get one shot perfectly focused, so get as many as you can.It increases your chance of getting at least one right bang smack in the middle. This is one of those rare occasions when you need a camera with a high burst rate. Spray and pray time folks!

White balance, ISO

Set white balance according to the light. I am not a big fan of using higher ISO numbers and the only time I am going to use it probably is when I am photographing the Milky Way or I am deliberating trying to induce noise. So keep your ISO at 100 and take it from there.

I hope that you would be able to use some of those bunch of tips that I shared here. As I said in the beginning there is no one technique or approach that can work in every situation. You’ve got to try different things and find out what’s working at the given conditions. Happy clicking.

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib’s love for the road is second only to his love for photography. Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly. He has been writing for over 6 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favourite pursuits.
Rajib Mukherjee