One of the pleasures of using the Creative Zone modes on your Canon EOS camera is just what the term implies... that you can get creative with your photography. Panning is a cool creative effect that is both achievable and pleasurable, with a little practice.
Here's how to get started.
What is panning?
Following the action with your EOS camera whilst the exposure is being made is a technique called panning. When successful, it creates some areas of reasonably sharp focus and others of blur. It's a useful technique when you want to isolate a fast-moving subject from the background, and to also give a sense of motion and drama to an image.
Practice makes perfect (pans)
Panning is a skill that needs practice – especially with long focal length lenses. There's one common mistake that's made when starting out with this technique, and that's to stop moving the camera as soon as the shutter button is pressed and the viewfinder goes black. This means that you stay fixed on one point and, because of the slower shutter speeds you'll be using, the whole image will be blurry as your subject moves through the frame.
You need to follow your subject for the duration of the exposure, as that's what keeps the subject sharp. It's important to continue with a smooth sweeping motion as the exposure is being made. This can be tricky to master – because the viewfinder turns black, you can no longer see your subject, so you're effectively tracking your subject blind.
You'll need to be in one of the Creative Zone modes for this – the easiest one to use is shutter-priority (Tv) mode. This mode enables you to set the shutter speed of your choice, and that's what you need to concentrate on to achieve this effect. You can of course use Manual (M) mode, if you're confident of the range of settings you need to get the exposure right, but using Tv mode means that the camera will choose the aperture setting for you and the ISO speed too if you switch the camera to Auto ISO.
Slow it down
So, what sort of shutter speeds do you need for panning? It depends in part on how much motion you want to convey and how fast your subject is moving. A good place to start is around 1/60 second – you can then adjust from there. Typically anything between 1/250 and 1/10 second will work for panning. Compare that to freezing the action, where you need speeds of around 1/1000 second or faster (1/2000 can be typical for birds in flight, for example).
That's why using Sports mode, pictured right – if your EOS camera features this mode – is no good for panning, as Sports mode is programmed to freeze the subject. Taking control of your shutter speed with Tv mode is the way to go, knowing that the camera can automate the other settings if you're not sure.
Waterskiing is fast-paced and the water spray adds an extra element to the panned shot. Only the head of the waterskier is sharp. Shutter speed 1/20 second.
A classic race car, with a nice varied background to create the go faster stripes behind it. Shot at 1/100 second.
New Panning mode
With the introduction of the EOS M5 a new Scene mode was created – Panning mode. This shooting mode takes care of the shutter speed settings for you, and you have options for choosing the strength of the effect. The same principles apply – you need to follow the subject smoothly with the camera to achieve the creative effect.
Will Image Stabilisation help keep my subject sharp?
If your lens features Image Stabilisation, then this may or may not help with panning technique. It depends on which modes it features. Mode 2 offers the best results for panning.
For more information, try this lens technology article on Image Stabilisation.
Sports are the ideal starting subjects, ranging from motorsports to athletes, horse racing to cyclists. Children on swings or running around in the garden can work too. You can make this work with anything that moves, but most of the time it's your background that can really make or break the shot. Panning a flying bird against a blue sky isn't going to create much motion effect, except for the blurred wings. But pan against a decent background and it can create that sense of drama we're looking for. And subjects with a predictable path are key – if you don't know which way your subject is going to travel, it's very difficult to keep them in frame.
Here are some other ideas.
Capture subjects moving at different speeds, like this shot of a fast-moving skateboarder amongst a crowd of pedestrians. Shutter speed 1/50 second.
A snow goose in flight, with both the background and wings conveying the sense of movement, whilst the head and body remain sharp. Shot at 1/250 second.
Like most creative photography techniques, panning takes practice to get right. Stick to Tv mode initially, set your shutter speed to something slow and find plenty of subjects to practice with. Once you've refined the art of sweeping the camera at the same speed as your subject, then you will open up a range of opportunities for some picture perfect panned shots with your Canon EOS camera.
And when you've mastered the technique, why not share your shots on the EOS magazine forum.
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