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Camera FAQ #21: What Unique Images Can I Achieve With Circular Panning?

Here are two techniques that involve circular panning, or spinning the camera as you shoot. When combined with normal panning technique, you will get a scene full of dynamism; when combined with the zoom burst technique, you will get a vortex effect that seems to be waiting to suck you right into the heart of the scene. (Reported by: Yuya Yamasaki, Kazuo Nakahara)


Method 1: For a more dynamic picture, spin the camera while panning it

EOS-1D X/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 16mm/ Manual exposure (f/10, 1/15 sec., EV±0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight
I was thinking about how to express a sense of speed in a slightly different way and tried combining the circular panning and horizontal panning techniques. It was quite tricky to keep my lens aligned with the focal point at the front of the moving train.


Depicting the train so that it seems to be dashing out from the greenery

Besides the normal panning technique where you move the camera along a horizontal or diagonal axis, there is also the circular panning technique, which results in a radial blur effect. Combine these two and you get the technique I am about to introduce here, which I shall call the panning-spin technique. As you have to keep your lens aligned with a focal point on a moving subject even as you spin the camera, it is double the trickiness. For this photo, I framed the train in the top right of the photo,  fixed the focal point of rotation on the right edge, and rotated the left side of the camera just like a pendulum. At the same time I moved my body in line with the moving train in a horizontal pan. In this way, I was able to express the dynamism of a moving train leap dashing out of the greenery in a way that would not have been possible with a normal panning shot.

By spinning the camera, the degree of blurring increases as you get nearer to the edges of the image. Using a wide-angle lens lets you effectively enhance the amount of blurring further.


Method 2: Combine circular panning with the zoom burst technique to create a vortex effect

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 30mm/ Shutter-priority AE (f/10, 1/10 sec., EV+1.0)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto
By combining the circular panning and  zoom burst technique while standing in the middle of a tunnel of greenery, I was able to create a vortex effect. Placing the focal point of rotation in the centre makes for a beautiful image.


Spin your camera by hand without using a tripod

By setting the shutter speed to about 1/10 second, and spinning the camera while holding the lens’ zoom ring for the shot, it is possible to carry out both circular panning and the zoom burst technique at the same time. Try spinning the camera rapidly by hand without using a tripod.

Spinning the camera during exposure (Circular panning)
EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 16mm/ Shutter-priority AE (f/11, 1/10 sec., EV+1.0)/ ISO 100/ WB: Manual

Zooming during exposure (Zoom burst technique)
EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 25mm/ Shutter-priority AE (f/10, 1/10 sec., EV+1.0)/ ISO 100/ WB: Manual

Circular panning creates a compelling radial blur, whereas zoom burst technique creates a sense of speed that draws you into the centre of the image. Combining the two techniques, you get twice the pull in the form of a swirling vortex effect that seems just about to suck you into the depths of the image!


To find out more about panning and using a slow shutter, click here
Camera Settings to Use for Awesome Slow Shutter Shots!
Slow Shutter Art: Creating Surreal, Spinning Radial Blurs


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Kazuo Nakahara

Kazuo Nakahara

Born in Hokkaido in 1982, Nakahara turned to photography after working at a chemical manufacturing company. He majored in photography at the Vantan Design Institute and is a lecturer for photography workshops and seminars, in addition to working in commercial photography. He is also a representative of the photography information website studio9.

Yuya Yamasaki

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.