Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Challenges of Panning

Panning is a fun way to abstract

Red Rider Coming In For A Rest
Panning provides many challenges not only for the photographer, but for the subject as well including; speed, stability, perception and expectations.

A couple of weeks back my friends at the Salem Digital Photo Group got together for a shoot in which we had someone drive, safely, around a parking while a bunch of us photographed him.

Our subject in this case was Paul and his Honda Goldwing appropriately named Red Rider. Another member, John, took over the driving duties in his Mini-Cooper when the brakes started getting warm on Red Rider.

The goal of panning is to blur the background while keeping your subject relatively in focus. Panning creates the illusion of super-speed even if the subject is moving at a moderate pace.

Stability is important with panning. You have to be able to avoid vertical shifts (the camera swinging up and down) while panning horizontally.

And no, you really can't use most tripods successfully for panning. A really expensive tripod might be able to pull this off, but most consumer tripods are not going to allow you to pan effectively and will likely get in the way of a smooth horizontal pan.

Stability comes with practice. 
Speed is another important factor. The subject doesn't need to be flying at 100 mph for a good panning result. What is important is having a constant speed for the subject if you want a smooth pan. 

In the photo of Paul and Red Rider above, you see that while they aren't tack sharp subjects, they are uniform making for a good pan. 

In the photo of John and his Mini, right, notice the deformity of the rear wheel? That is a result of John switching from accelerating to decelerating, while the shutter was open, the speed wasn't constant. The deformity is cool, but was an accidental byproduct of the shifts in speed while the shutter was open.

To prove my point, John above was reaching speeds of about 30 mph. To the left, Paul was reaching speeds of about 5 mph.

This points to the illusion of speed I mentioned above. Paul, on foot, is doing roughly 1/6 the speed of the mini-cooper, but the panning makes it seem like he is flying. And I am sure that in his mind he was flying.

One last thing to keep in mind is to keep your expectations realistic. What I mean by this is that your subject is moving and you are dragging your shutter, therefore your subject isn't going to be tack sharp and you shouldn't expect that the subject would be. Just remember, tack sharp is not required for a photograph to be cool.

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