How to Capture Speed With the Panning Technique

Open any motor sports magazine and you will see them everywhere – the panning shots. Somehow the photographer has managed to make a speeding vehicle look perfectly still, whilst successfully catching the feel of motion by making the background a blur of colour. This is an exciting genre of photography, but you would be wrong if you thought it took years of training to get right, and therefore best left to professionals. With the aid of a few digital photography tricks, you can soon be taking panning shots that family and friends would be envious of.

photography panning technique for motion

"need for speed" captured by bobdaveant (Click Image to Find Photographer)

So when are panning shots used? Well, sports mainly – such as running and cycling, as well as motor sports. But similar techniques can help make your wildlife and nature shots look out of this world. Birds are excellent subjects. Geese or swans, being somewhat slow and lumbering, make surprisingly easy targets when panning. A panning shot makes the viewer appreciate the element of motion. Compare this to a similar static shot taken using a super fast shutter speed and you will see which produces the far more powerful image.

The subject of the shot needs to be moving left to right, or vice versa. A colourful and blurred background helps to lend to the feeling of motion, but the aim is to make sure that your point of interest appears beautifully in focus. Whilst this is true for most sports pictures, in nature a plain background can be used, for example when photographing a humming bird and trying to capture the movement of the wings. A digital photography trick to remember is to take a decent zoom lens along for your shoot.

Panning is the act of tracking the subject with the camera, whilst taking a single, or multiple shots. Trial and error is the best approach. 15 successful shots from one hundred attempts does not sound like much, but you are doing well if you achieve this. The advantage of this digital age is that you can “bin” anything you don’t need – at the end of the day, if you get one truly memorable image, the viewer won’t know, or even care, how many goes it took you to get it.

There are multiple settings you could select, but a good one to try is Continuous Focus, or Servo. In this setting, the camera constantly focuses on the object as you pan. Combine this with the Continuous Shooting mode and you will be able to capture multiple shots.

motion photography with panning

Photo capture by dotinyoru (Click Image to Find Photographer)

Some of my favourite panning shots have placed the subject slightly off centre, allowing space for them to move into. Understandably, concerns with composition are not always at the forefront of your mind when attempting to capture a speeding object, but a few digital photography tricks can be applied subsequently in Photoshop, if required, to address this.

You can discover how to use a few simple digital photography tricks that will take your photographs to another level. Check out for further information.

Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New! Want more photography tips? We now offer a free newsletter for photographers:

No, my photos are the best, close this forever