How to shoot beautiful panning photos. / by Alex Gesse

This type of shot is called panning, and what a better way to practice that than watching Formula 1 in person. 

As a fan of Formula One since a kid, I'm lucky that the United States now hosts one Formula One Grand Prix per year. It's now being held in Austin, Texas and I was there in 2013 to catch the action and freeze... or better yet, blur the moment with my camera.

Canon T3i + Canon 55-250mm @250mm 1/200th F/11 ISO 100

Canon T3i + Canon 55-250mm @250mm 1/200th F/11 ISO 100

One of the coolest photos you can get during an event such as car racing, bike racing, boating or even if you are into photographing flying birds is with panning. Panning is when you track a moving subject at a slower slower shutter speed in order to create a motion blur to both background and foreground while trying to keep the subject in focus, creating this effect of speed and motion to the photo. It's a really pleasing image to see.

This was my first time trying this shot and I did a few things wrong, two of them were: I shot in single focus mode and I was moving my arms too much as I was shooting handheld. 

I was shooting with my Canon T3i and a Canon 55-250mm IS. This is an entry level camera and a somewhat cheap lens, still I was happy to see I've gotten some really nice photos out of this package.

Important tips to remember:

  • Shoot JPEG - I shoot raw but for this type of event I was shooting in continuous shooting mode and I needed the speed to take as many shots as I could.
  • Shutter Priority or Manual - You need to set the shutter speed accordingly. As for fast cars I was trying to shoot around 1/200 sec. in shutter priority. The slower the more difficult to get it right but if you get it right the more you blur the foreground and background which gives you an even more pleasing image.
  • ISO 100 - Usually this is taking place during the day so the lower the ISO the better. 
  • Continuous Shooting Mode - As I mentioned, track the moving object while holding the shutter button taking as many photos as you can.
  • Use a Monopod - A monopod would be great to help you catch sharp image more often
  • Move your hips - If handheld follow the moving object by moving your hip from side to side and not your arms.
  • Turn Image stabilization on - If your camera or lens does have, use it.
  • Take tons of shots, it's digital and you can delete the bad ones later.
  • Manual focus or continuous focus mode - Like I said earlier. I was set to One Shot Focus when instead I should have been in Manual. I should have locked the focus to the area I wanted to do the panning or at least set my camera to continuous focus called AI-Servo on Canon cameras. AI-Servo will follow the moving car trying to maintain focus while you hold the shutter button down.

If you follow these simple tips you should be able to get some really nice photographs. Don't forget to shoot a lot and look at the back of the LCD from time to time to see how your pictures are coming out and make adjustment based on that.

More examples: