Panning is a technique where you move (or ‘pan’) the camera and lens to follow a moving subject (animal or bird). The idea is that the subject stays more or less in the same position within the frame, so that it appears sharp in the photograph, while the background/foreground is recorded as a blur. The results can be fascinating and create a sense of movement in the still frame.
Panning is an essential technique to master for birds in flight photography. Using a tripod fitted with a gimble head can help to ensure that the panning motion is as smooth as possible and the image is sharp where it needs to be.
Set your camera to Shutter Priority or Manual Mode so that you can change and control the shutter speed more easily. Select a single focus point and move its position to the center of the frame.
Select a slow shutter speed of between 1/15 and 1/30 and select continuous focus mode and continuous shooting mode (camera shoots multiple frames while the shutter release button is pressed down). In Manual Mode take some test shots to make sure that your ISO and aperture are set correctly to properly expose your image. In Shutter Priority Mode, the camera will select the ISO and aperture to correctly expose the frame at the desired shutter speed (this may result in a narrow aperture which will affect your depth of field).
Try to get your subject in the center of the frame while it is moving in a more or less perpendicular angle to your position. Keep the focus point on your subject, then hold down the shutter release and pan the camera and lens smoothly sideways, keeping the subject in the center of the frame (at the same speed as the subject is moving).
Check your resulting images. If the shutter speed is too fast, the background will appear in focus or if the shutter speed is too slow, the subject may be just a blur itself. Changing the aperture to a wide aperture may solve the problem when the shutter speed is too high as this will help to blur the background further. You will be able to change the aperture whilst still controlling the shutter speed and ISO in Manual Mode or if in Shutter Priority Mode, increase the ISO which will automatically increase the aperture at the same shutter speed.
The At Close Quarters Team