Monday, August 31, 2009

Photography Tips - Panning Technique

Action photography is a photographing technique and it is all about timing a shot. It is a technique used when capturing moving subjects. It is a technique that can produce amazing shots, though it requires a lot of practice to perfect it. It is an experimental process that can be very fun yet sometimes can be quite frustrating for first timers.

shot taken with nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR mounted on nikon d80 at 1/40s f/2.8

The very basics of panning a shot is by using a slower than usual shutter speed while continuously focusing on the subject while it is moving, producing a relatively sharp subject with a blurred background. This method gives the shot a feeling of movement and speed. It is achievable by keeping the subject in the same position of the frame along one single plane for the duration of the exposure. An SLR camera is preferred while taking panned shots. The aid of a monopod or tripod is handy to keep the framing in one single plane.

Here are some tips and tricks that I’d like to share in producing a panned shot.

shot taken with nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR mounted on nikon d80 at 1/250s f/5.0

Camera settings. Select the camera mode dial to “Shutter Priority (S)” or “Time Value (Tv)”. This will allow you to select your desired shutter speed while the camera calculates the aperture value automatically. Ensure that your Auto Focusing is set to “Continuous Servo Drive”. Start at a faster shutter speed and make your way down. For motorsports, start at around 1/500s and step it down as you get a hang of it. The ideal shot is around 1/250s to as slow as 1/125s, depending on the speed of the subject. I’ve even started at higher shutter speed, as high as 1/1000s freezing the subject as though it was pasted on the background. Something I’ve learned is to take my time practicing and making my way down.

Tracking. Track the subject smoothly with your camera as it approaches. It is best to position yourself parallel to the moving subject, making it easier for the camera to track. Try to move only your upper part of your body, waist up. Use the support of monopods or tripods for those huge telephoto lenses of yours to keep it steady.

One shot, one kills. It is a 50-50 chance of getting it perfect. It took me many sporting events to get it right. Try to avoid using continuous burst settings and set your camera to single shot when shutter is released. Time your shot well. Learn your camera characteristics. Older cameras and entrée level digital SLR tends to have shutter lag.

shot taken with nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR mounted on nikon d80 at 1/40s f/22.0

Follow through. Continue to pan with the subject after releasing the shutter and even after you have heard that the shot is complete. This helped me in perfecting the motion blur smoothness from time to time.

Be well prepared. Early birds get the worm. Pack your gears earlier so that you will not leave anything behind. Monopod, tripod, additional memory cards, fully charged batteries, not to forget, some variety of lenses and your camera body. I’ve learned that getting up early and being at the location early is essential to produce better images. Being at location early allows me to setup my gear properly without any rush. In addition, I’ll be able to scout a variety of photographing spots. Anticipate the movement of the subject by taking a minute or two by learning where, how and at what speed the subject is moving and passing by.

shot taken with nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR mounted on nikon d80 at 1/800s f/2.8

Mix it up. Select different spots photographing the subject. Have a variety of backgrounds. While shooting motorsports, don’t just stay at the same position. Experiment around with different angles. Try getting some stills by capturing the pits and garage activity. It is essential to mix it up to keep it interesting.

Patience is virtue. Panning requires a lot of practice, and I mean, a lot. Practice makes perfect. Don’t give up. Take it up as an experimental approach. Take some safety shots. It really doesn’t matter if you freeze the subject. This will help motivate us to keep it going. In a way, we’ll end up with some useable ones instead of just having a collection of blurry images.

There are no limitations or rules with panning. You may also experiment taking panned shots with your speedlight. Though, it will only work if the subject is close to you. Set the flash setting to “Rear Sync” while photographing subjects in the dark.

Keep in mind that the subject panned will not be as crisp and sharp. The main idea is to get the subject relatively yet sharper than the background. Adding some blur to the subject can help provide more impact and motion feeling to the image.

Go ahead and try it out. Hope that my sharing will somehow help you in getting the shots that you want. All the best!

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