Panning Photography Tutorial

Discover how they do that in this Panning Photography Tutorial

Images that capture the sense of motion while keeping the subject sharp and in focus? I will give a brief and simple explanation here with some quirky examples to whet the appetite of anyone interested in trying this form of action photography.

panning photography tutorial indian cycle rickshaw holy man

Indian Cycle Rickshaw in Action.

Panning is a Photographic technique which takes a little practice to perfect but once you have the know how and skills to get it right you will be rewarded with some very interesting and creative shots. The idea is to convey motion in a shot without blurring the main subject and creating a motion blur effect with the background. So let’s see how with this Panning Photography Tutorial

four on a motorbike in an indonesian city

Overloaded motorbike in Indonesia

So the panning technique is to create a sense of motion within the image and this is the tough part! To create this we need a blurred background/foreground and a sharp moving subject.

Killing two birds with one stone…

For the blurred effect we have to pan the camera which should be focused on the subject we wish to be sharp (using AI Servo mode which focuses and tracks the subject once focus is locked on) at roughly the same speed as the actual subject is moving. Then take the picture with a slow shutter speed setting on the camera which creates the blurred effect on anything but the focused subject.

This is the magic formula which creates a blurred out of focus background and sharp subject. Read on for more information about equipment and technique in this Panning Photography Tutorial

speeding motorbike passing graffiti wall in indonesia

Less Haste More Speed!

Panning Photography Equipment

  1.  Obviously a camera that supports creative modes, for Panning shots Shutter Priority function labelled as TV on the camera dial is necessary unless you are confident enough to go for full manual settings.

  2. ND or Neutral Density filter can be useful if you are shooting slow moving subjects in bright light where the shutter speed can be down to a 1/25th of a second. If you don’t possess an ND filter but want to shoot slower moving subjects you can shoot in the late afternoon or early morning when the light is not so intense.
  3. Tripod or Monopod for the same reason as above if you don’t have the steadiest of hands and aren’t able to perform a smooth panning motion these pieces of equipment will help, personally I prefer handheld as it is less restrictive.
panning photography of motorbikes in pontianak indonesia

Transportation in Pontianak, Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo

If your preference is Sports Photography and panning images of racing cars or motorbikes your shutter speed settings will be much faster than for slow moving subjects.
A Shutter Speed of around 1/125th up to 1/250th is ideal for fast moving subjects, for example Superbikes haring around a racetrack. Your Shutter Speed which will be related to the speed with which your subject is moving will control how much background blur you create when panning so even if you are shooting at faster Shutter Speeds your camera will still detect movement in the background when tracking a faster moving object.

speeding motorbike with motion blur in borneo

Catch me if you can! – 1/25 sec  f/13  ISO 100

The following images are examples of how motion blur is possible with slow or extremely slow moving subjects. Hand Pulled Rickshaw wala’s in Kolkata (formally Calcutta) India, granted these subjects aren’t painstakingly slow but neither are they the Cheetahs of the human race! This is unique tradition still continues to this day and provides beautiful examples

panning photography tutorial hand pulled rickshaw in kolkata

Slow moving subject – 1/25 sec  f/6.3  ISO 100

motion blue wheels of a hand pulled rickshaw

Rotating wheels of a Hand Pulled Rickshaw in Kolkata

As we can see the Rickshaw Wala is almost at a standstill in the first hand pulled rickshaw shot above hence the shop windows in the background are not so blurred as the panning action was slow and shutter speed at 1/25th sec but the overtaking car at a faster speed gives an extra boost to convey the feeling of motion in the shot.

The second image where the Hand Pulled Rickshaw is moving slightly faster creates that little bit more of a motion blur effect in the background and starts to ghost passers-by.


One more thing to point out if you are still following this Panning Photography Tutorial which can help when shooting with wide aperture and slow shutter speed to get more of the subject in focus is the Focal Plane factor. Depending on how important it is to have all the subject or not in focus then we have to take into account the camera’s focal plane being parallel to the subject. As we pan the better we can keep the camera parallel to the moving subject will dictate how much that subject will be in focus. The image below could be regarded as bad panning as the focal plane wasn’t that parallel to the subject hence only the horses rear end is sharp and in focus. Nevertheless I was pleased with the result. Sometimes not being perfect yields good results…

motion blur of horse and cart racing around racetrack

At The Races – Vigan in the Philippines – 1/30 sec  f/13  ISO 100


The Art of Panning Photography


I prefer handheld when it comes to Panning which gives me a lot of flexibility of movement when trying to achieve a smooth panning action, it takes some practice but that’s half the fun and doesn’t take long to pick up.


The focus settings if you are using a Canon camera should be set to AI Servo which when you half click the shutter button on your decided focal point will track the subject as you move and adjust focus for you by updating itself.
When you pan your feet should be shoulder width apart, hold your camera firmly with your elbows tucked in and start tracking your subject as soon as it comes into view from right to left or left to right.
Keep your feet facing forward and pivot your waist from the hips in a smooth motion panning action at roughly the same speed as your moving subject and click the shutter when it is in the position you want but don’t stop there continue to pan, following through tracking the subject after you have clicked the shutter. You can also use machine gun mode and fire a few shots off as you pan.

custom motorcycle on the street in indonesia

Home made vehicle on the streets of East Java, Indonesia


Panning Photography Tutorial and Things to Consider



Try to find a suitable background, not always important depending on where and what you are shooting but it can help. Sometimes a simple background without clutter can highlight or isolate your subject making it stand out. For example a wall with colour running horizontally which will turn into stripes of colour with motion blur.

panning photography tutorial shot of cyclist

Sunblock on the streets of Varanasi, India


Try to keep your subject in the same part of the frame as you pan and expose correctly for the shot which is more likely to ensure a crisp sharper subject. Keep the feet evenly spaced and steady whilst swiveling the upper body from the waist upwards and try to pivot at some kind of equal pace to the moving subject

Shutter Speed

Think about your subject and how fast it is moving, if it happens to be a runner, a horse trotting along or a cycle rider (one that doesn’t happen to be in the Tour De France)! your shutter speed could be down to a tenth of a second or less to achieve that blurred background, the faster the subject is moving you need to increase the shutter speed to get the same effect but without going to the extremes, eg. even if you track a subject and shoot at 1/4000 sec you will not get blurred out of focus background, your shutter speed will be so fast that it will actually freeze everything in the frame which would defeat the object.

panning photography tutorial motion blur of motorcycle courier

Delivery Service in Asia! – Panning Photography Tutorial

So go get yourselves out there and have a go. Happy shooting and experiment, practice practice practice, before you know it you will have some really nice shots! Just remember this is Slow Shutter Photography but not quite Long Exposure Photography, that’s another post. I do hope this Panning Photography Tutorial has helped you at least understand the basics of this creative technique.


Along with the Panning Photography Tutorial you may also like:

Making a Waterfall Timelapse Video
If you like this Panning Photography Tutorial post or have anything to add please leave a comment, G+1 or Share and MANY THANKS for visiting. If you are interested in using any images for the web or any other means please be sure to contact me or visit the Homepage where you can find a wide variety of Images and Collections for personal or commercial use.
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Freelance Photographer

Travel stock photo Specializing in Documentary, Asian cultures, Events, Festivals, Travel destinations, Food and Drink, Creative photography, Portraits, Commercial etc

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