Panning Shots – Sharp and Blur Together

Panning shots always looked cool to me.  You see them often in sports photography – a car or bike in perfect focus with the background just a motion blur behind it.  The way you usually do this is by setting your camera to a moderately low shutter speed (it all depends, but maybe somewhere between 1/50 and 1/10) and as the subject moves past you in a horizontal direction, you track them with your camera and take the picture while moving your camera to follow them.  When done right, you get a subject in focus and everything else a blur.  I’ve never had a ton of practice getting this type of shot but here are a few like that:

Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland - Panning Shot

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Here’s another.  Notice how… not sharp the subject is.  Part is lack of practice and the other part is this just… kinda hard!

Seattle Redbull Soapbox Derby Banana - Panning

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I’ve got the cure for your problems.  Wanna take a picture that doesn’t require things to go whizzing past your face, lets you easily accommodate your subject of choice, and get a great panning effect?  With a little help from an idea stolen directly from DIY Photography, you can do just that!  Hit the jump for the rest!

Alright.  Here’s the idea, and I promise it makes things way easier.  The only thing you’re gonna need is a merry-go-round.  The kind that (hopefully) your local city hasn’t torn out of all of the local parks.  I didn’t think there were any still around in today’s litigious society, but I was happy to find out I was wrong!  A little googling turned up at least 3 local parks that have them (hint: Yelp reviews seem to always mention a merry-go-round, if present!).  Back to the technique:

  1. Find your merry go round, and scare off all the local kids, unless they are your own.  People rarely appreciate it when you take pictures of their children.
  2. You need a camera setting that will be slow enough to capture the blur but fast enough to be able to hand-hold.  The easiest way to do this is set your camera to Shutter Priority (Tv) and pick an exposure somewhere around 1/15 to 1/30th of a second.  When you do this, your camera is going to pick an aperture for you.  The bigger the number, the larger the depth of field, which is kind of nice in this application and simplifies your focus work.  I’d prefer something in the range of f/6 to f/8 or more.  If your camera is giving you WAY more, try dropping the ISO.  If you can get that all the way down to 100, it isn’t going to hurt!
  3. Now that your camera is all set, you need to figure out what you’re going to shoot.  The best thing to shoot is someone else, on the other side of the merry go round.  If you are flying solo today, like I was, you can shoot yourself or the spinning ground on the other side.
  4. Here’s the general technique: Get your camera all ready, stand half on the merry go round, and start pushing with your free foot to pick up some speed.  Once you’re spinning, jump all the way on, put your back against the bar at the edge, and shoot at the ground on the far side of the merry go round.  You should end up with something like this:

Spinning Merry Go Round in Wallingford Park - Panning

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Wow.  I think that’s the first picture I’ve ever taken that makes me nauseated just to look at.  In any case, shoot a few more – it’s good fun!  I thought it was interesting that as the merry go round slows to a stop, I can feel it just looking at the shots:

Last but not least, it isn’t impossible to shoot pictures of yourself this way.  You’re going to need a somewhat wide-angle lens, as you’re holding it at arms length.  You also might want to tell your camera not to be too picky about focus as they really don’t like being that close.  On Canon, that means AI Servo Mode.  Lastly, just do the same and hope for the best:

Your faithful photographer, taking pictures of himself.

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