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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Camera FAQ #14 : How Do I Take Panning Shots?

Panning shots allow you to precisely capture a subject while at the same time creating a background that appears to be flowing. How, though, should you take photos that look real and life-like? In this article, I will introduce tips on how to set up and move your camera for awesome shots. (Reported by:  Yuya Yamasaki)


Move your camera in sync with your subject

The technique behind panning shots  has much to do with understanding the principles and effects of shutter speed. When taking shots of moving objects, a general rule of thumb is to use a high-speed shutter so that the subject will not appear blurry. However, a moving subject will appear to be at a standstill in such photos, and viewers often don't get a sense of the speed at which the subject is moving.

On the other hand, panning shots are generally taken using a slow shutter speed while moving your camera in sync with the subject. If your timing is good, the image sensor captures a still, non-blurry shot of the subject while there is motion blur in the background because you were moving the camera while the shutter was open. This makes it appear as if you are actually following the subject with your eyes, and therefore, the photo pulls you into the scene.

The panning shot is a highly popular technique because no special equipment is needed, and you can take photos that evoke a sense of speed relatively easily. While it is the go-to technique for train and motorsport photography, it can also be used for a range of subjects such as running children and pets, so you should give it a try.



EOS-1D X/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 35mm/ Manual Exposure (f/22, 1/8 sec)/ ISO 50/ WB: Daylight
In addition to the feeling of racing at high speed, the fencing and guardrails in front of the trains are also blurred, so from the finish of the photo, you wouldn't think there were any man-made objects present near the shooting location.


SHUTTER SPEED: 1/5,000 sec.

EOS-1D X/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL:  65mm/ Manual Exposure (f/4, 1/5,000 sec)/ ISO 800/ WB: Daylight
When you shoot at a high shutter speed, the moving train appears as if it has stopped. The photo doesn't convey as much dynamism, which makes it less engaging to viewers.


Point 1:  How to set up and move your camera

Moving horizontally


Moving diagonally


Firstly, relax your shoulders and move with your hips (and not your hands) while holding the camera. Stand facing the position you will capture for your shoot, with your feet apart at about shoulder width, and turn with your hips in the direction in which the train is approaching. Basically, you should time the movement of your hips to the movement of the train, without moving your elbows or hands.

To move parallel to the train’s line of motion, hold the camera with both elbows facing the direction in which the train is approaching. As it gets closer, gradually tuck your elbows in while turning your hips. In order to keep up with the rapid movement of the train, I would recommend not only moving your hips and elbows, but also whipping your knees and wrist in the same motion.


Point 2: Face the position you want to shoot, and set your feet shoulder-width apart

Face the position you want to shoot, and set your feet about shoulder-width apart. In the case of a train, the amount of movement increases as it approaches, whether it is doing so horizontally or at an oblique angle, so you need to bear in mind that you will have to gradually speed up your movement of the camera. Additionally, it is important to keep your eyes fixed on the place that you want to focus on.


Point 3:  The degree of difficulty changes due to the relationship between shutter speed and focal length

At the same shutter speed, you have to move a telephoto lens more within the same time interval compared to with a wide-angle lens. Naturally, the more telephoto you go, the higher the level of difficulty. When combined with the differences according to the shutter speed, a panning shot undertaken with a telephoto lens and at a low shutter speed makes for the most challenging panning shot possible.


Tip: The background blurs differently depending on the shutter speed

When shooting at high shutter speeds, even if the movement of the camera is slightly out of sync with the subject, the discrepancy will be too small to notice, so the movement appears to be well timed. This makes it is easy to take successful panning shots. However, because the high shutter speed doesn’t allow the background to blur as much, it is difficult to emphasize the sense of speed.

Conversely, when you shoot at low shutter speeds, this allows for more blur in the background, which dramatically increases the sense of speed in the photo. However, because the shutter is open for a longer period of time, you need to stay in sync with the movement of the subject, so the level of difficulty increases.

I therefore recommend shooting at high shutter speeds initially, and then gradually reducing the shutter speed once you are used to following moving subjects.

1/250 sec.
EOS 7D/ FL:  70mm/ Manual Exposure (f/5, 1/250 sec)/ ISO 200


1/60 sec.
EOS 7D/ FL:  70mm/ Manual Exposure (f/7.1, 1/60 sec)/ ISO 200


1/15 sec.
EOS 7D/ FL: 70mm/ Manual Exposure (f/13, 1/15 sec)/ ISO 100



Yuya Yamasaki

Born in 1970 in Hiroshima, Yamasaki is the representative of "Railman Photo Office," a photo library that specializes in railway photos. He has been producing photographic works on railways from unconventional angles with his unique sensitivity.


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A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.

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