How to capture a good panning shot

How to capture a good panning shot

panning1If you are fresh to photography, do you ever wonder how to achieve a shot where the foreground is in focus while the background is blurred? This technique is commonly known as Panning and can be achieved effortlessly with sufficient practice.

An SLR camera is preferred for panning shots due to its low shutter lag. Panning shots are commonly used in sports like motorbike racing, trekking and cycling. This technique allows the photographs to tell a story to the viewers. Viewers can easily appreciate that the subject of interest is in motion and thus making the photograph more attractive and complete, as compared to a frozen moment due to the result of a fast shutter speed.
To create a panning shot, you would need a subject that is moving across your camera from left to right or vice versa. Panning shots will be quite impossible if the subject is moving towards or away from your camera.


It is usually advised that the background should be colourful so as to make the photograph more attractive when blurred. However if the background is plain, sometimes this can make the subject stand out even more. Therefore experiment with different backgrounds to see which you prefer.
The following are the suggested settings for your camera when trying Panning shots:

  • Step 1: Set your camera to Shutter Priority mode,
  • Step 2: Set your shutter speed to a reasonable speed. I would suggest no slower than 1/15 sec and no faster that 1/125 sec. With this setting, you are deliberately achieving “camera shake” which is your main motive in panning shots although if your shutter speed is too slow, the whole picture will be a blur. If in doubt, experiment!
  • Step 3: Set your camera to “Continuous Shooting” mode. This will allow you to get a few shots at one time so as to achieve higher “hit rate”.
  • Step 4: If you want to use autofocus, set your camera to continuous focusing mode. This will mean the lens will re-focus slightly between each exposure. Manual focusing is also effective for panning shots. Pre-focus on a point and a fraction of a second before the subject hits that point, start taking pictures.
  • Step 5: Experiment with composition. Often with panning shots, the subject is in the middle of the frame. However it sometimes looks better if the subject is to one side looking into the frame. Remember, the more pictures you take, the more chance you have of getting that winning shot!

There you go! You have just used the technique of panning. Panning needs a lot of practice and you will be considered lucky if you are able to get 5 good shots out of 30 tries. Remember the good old days where SLR cameras are using film? Imagine how much money you will have to spent on films to get at least 10 good panning shots! Thus we are considered very lucky now as SLR cameras go digital.


You can further improve the photographs by making some adjustments in Photoshop or other photo editing software. You may choose to do some cropping of the photographs such that the main subject is position at the golden rule for photography, the “Rule of Thirds”. With this, the photographs are able to tell the viewer the whole story and thus making the photographs more attractive and eye catching!
Remember, you need a lot of practice for panning shots and do not be discouraged if you fail for the first few times. With enough practice, I am sure you can achieve what you longed for!