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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Slow Shutter Art: 2 Ideas to Make Your Panning Shots More Interesting

Panning is one of the most popular techniques used to express the speed and dynamism of a fast-moving vehicle, but did you know that the motion blur that it creates can also be used to beautify your image? Here are two techniques for doing to. (Reported by: Yuya Yamasaki, Digital Camera Magazine)

Bullet train with panned foreground bokeh

EOS 5D Mark III/EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM/ FL: 200mm/ Manual exposure (f/11, 1/30 sec)/ ISO 50/ WB: Daylight (M4)
Other equipment: PL filter


Technique #1: Pan that foreground bokeh

Believe it or not, the image above is #nofilter (or at least, #nosoftwarefilter). Can you spot the difference from a conventional panning shot?

In the conventional panning shot, the sense of speed comes from the motion blur in the background. But if you defocus the foreground and then pan your camera, you will get results like the shot above, where the foreground bokeh seems to have been “swiped” across the entire image. 

The pink in the motion blur comes from the sakura flowers in the foreground, which I placed out of focus before panning. I started panning the camera when the bullet train moved. Although I used a polarising filter (PL filter)  to enhance the pink of the sakura, the effect wasn’t enough so I carried out white balance correction, increasing the magenta tones by +4.

Tip #1: The longer the focal length, the more obvious the motion blur

Considering the speed of the bullet train, I couldn’t shoot with a shutter speed that was too slow—the train would disappear!

Fortunately, with a telephoto focal length, it isn’t that hard to get obvious motion blur lines in the foreground bokeh and background when you pan the shot. The longer the focal length, the more obvious the effect. Using the 200mm telephoto end of my lens, I got the results you see above at 1/30th of a second.

The actual scene

Bullet train with sakura

Shot at f/5, 1/2,500 sec, ISO 640

This is the same scene as the very first image, shot with a standard lens. A wider angle of view would show just how much the train moved, so I had to shoot as fast as 1/2,500th of a second to freeze it. The lighting conditions are the same as the first image.

Tip #2: Don’t make the aperture too narrow!

I had another reason for not using a slower shutter speed: it would require using a smaller aperture, which would weaken the foreground bokeh and the filter-like effect. For the first image, I set the ISO at 50 and the aperture at f/11. The telephoto focal length ensured that sufficient bokeh was possible even at f/11.


Technique #2: Turn urban lights into a rainbow-coloured brushstrokes

Train with panned neon lights

EOS 5DS R/EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM/ FL: 200mm/ Manual exposure (f/7.1, 1/2 sec)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight

Shooting in the bustling centre of Shinjuku one night, I thought of panning the shot by hand to turn the neon city lights into colourful brushstrokes of light that resembled waves.

As the station was nearby, the train was moving extremely slowly, and I needed to slow the shutter speed down to ½ a second to get the effect that I wanted.

On a DSLR camera, shooting at such a slow shutter speed results in a long mirror-up duration, which makes it harder to coordinate your movement with the subject. The only way around that is to practice until you don’t need to look through the viewfinder!

I set the white balance to “Daylight” to add a slight colour cast and make the shot look more surreal.

Tip #3: The best shutter speed for panning is the one that gives you your ideal results

Panning shot of train at 1/8 second

Not enough motion blur at 1/8 sec

As the train was moving so slowly, 1/8th of a second did not result in ideal results: Not only was only a little bit of motion blur, you can still see the shapes of the buildings, which takes the magic away from the image. There is no “ideal” shutter speed for panning—the best shutter speed is the one that gives you your envisioned results.


For more slow shutter art techniques, check out:
What Unique Images Can I Achieve With Circular Panning?
Camera Settings to Use for Awesome Slow Shutter Shots!
Slow Shutter Art: Using Zoom Burst to Transform Stars in the Sky into a Meteor Shower

Also see:
3 Slightly More Interesting Ways to Shoot Fast-Moving Subjects


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

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.
Published by Impress Corporation

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.