Getting The Shot: The Motion Pan

by editor on December 6, 2009

 

Walt Denson Captures Jiro at Speed on Mt Tam's Coastal Trail with a 1/30th shutter speed

Walt Denson Captures Jiro Nakamura at Speed on Mt Tam's Coastal Trail

Here it is: a step-by-step text of Walt’s “Getting the Shot: Motion Pan Images.” We’ll show you how to bring back pro-level “motion” images – no matter what kind of camera you have - from your ride! Check it out.

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Capturing the Blur Technique

Adding the look and feel of speed in an action sports image can really spice up an otherwise boring ride as well as add variety to your portfolio of great shots.

Notice that with even slight blurring, like the bike's spokes, the image on the left looks like speed. The rider and bike on the right, while sharp and vibrant, appears more "frozen"

Notice that with even slight blurring (notice the bike's spokes), the image on the left says speed. The image on the right, while sharp and vibrant, has a "frozen" look to it.

Best of all, Blurred Pan images are actually relatively easy to capture. Read the following steps, get out there, and in no time at all you’ll be Getting the Motion Blurred Shot!

Notice the detail of the rider, bike logos, etc. This image was shot at 1/30th of a second. At that shutter speed, you can easily preserve subject detail, but in most cases you don't get extensive bluring of the background unless you are panning the subject at a very rapid rate.

Notice the detail of the rider, bike logos, etc. This image was shot at 1/30th of a second. At that shutter speed, you can easily preserve subject detail, but in most cases you don't get extensive background blurring.

There are several ways to capture the feeling of speed in a photograph. One of the more popular and dramatic ways is to blur the background while keeping the subject fairly sharp and in focus. 

The “sharp-subject, blurred-background” technique requires ”panning” (moving the camera) with the subject as it passes by the photographer.  Camera position and point of view is critical with this method.

This method requires the subject needs to be far enough away from the shooting position to allow the photographer to follow the subject in the viewfinder or LCD monitor comfortably.  Remember, you can always crop your image if your subject is too small.

The subject should also be traveling as parallel  as possible to the photographer: Motion directly toward or away from the camera won’t work with this technique.

This subject in this image was moving at less than 10 mph (his top speed). The shutter speed was 1/15th second. Notice there's less detail in the rider, and the bike.

The subject in this image was moving at less than 10 mph (his top downhill speed). The shutter speed was 1/15th second. Notice there's a fair amount of background blurring yet the subject is fairly sharp.

A common mistake is assuming the subject needs to be going very fast. Actually, the opposite is true. It’s not necessary for the subject to going extremely slow - say when a cyclist starts having trouble maintaininghis/her balance - but, slow enough so that the photographer can keep the subject in the viewfinder.

The trick is to use a slow shutter speed for the motion blur while trying to keep the subject in the same place in the viewfinder while shooting.  Here too it’s a good idea to experiment with a range of shutter speeds. While getting blur is a function of several factors including: lens focal length, speed of your panning, even aperture, start with shutter speeds ranging from 1/15th to 1/30th of a second.

Notice the "radial effect" of the blurring. This is a function of panning in an arc, and having trees in the background. Remember: experiment, try different angles, locations, etc.

Make sure you continue the pan after you have pushed the button and hear the shutter click -  much like the follow through in a tennis or baseball swing.  If you’re using a camera withan eye level viewfinder, keep both eyes open as you shoot. Doing so will let you see the subject while the camera’s ”mirror” is up and blocking the view through the lens.  Again, a shutter speed of 1/15 sec. is a good starting point; faster shutter speeds tend to look like the image is just out of focus. You NEED ENOUGH TIME TO DELIBERATELY MOVE THE CAMERA in the same direction as the subject is traveling.  

In this image the subject is moving real fast, in excess of 30 mph. At this speed, you're going to get some blur with the rider too... especially over rough terrain, so keep that in mind.

Experiment with different shutter speeds and take more than one shot.  Getting the perfect motion blur has a bit of luck along with the technical side.  To use slower shutter speeds (for greater levels of blur) lowering the camera’s “ASA” and “closing the lens” (higher f-stop numbers)  down will help.  If you have a very basic camera that does not have a “manual” setting – or no settings at all, you can still get motion pan shots; you’ll just have to let nature help you out: shoot in the deep shade or late in the day when the overall lighting is low. 

Hopefully you’re fired up about getting out there and getting some motion pan shots. Here’s a bullet point review of the basics: 

  • Adding the look and feel of speed in an action sports image can really spice up an otherwise boring ride as well as add variety to your portfolio of great shots
  • Blurred Pan images are actually relatively easy to capture.
  • There are several ways to capture the feeling of speed in a photograph. One of the more popular and dramatic ways is to blur the background while keeping the subject fairly sharp and in focus.
  • The “sharp-subject, blurred-background” technique requires ”panning” (moving the camera) with the subject as it passes by the photographer
  • The subject should also be traveling as parallel  as possible to the photographer: Motion directly toward or away from the camera won’t work with this technique.
  • A common mistake is assuming the subject needs to be going very fast. Actually, the opposite is true: it’s the camera that’s going to produce the blurring effect, not the subject
  • Experiment witha range of shutter speeds. While getting blur is a function of several factors including: lens focal length, speed of your panning, even aperature, start with shutter speeds ranging from 1/15th to 1/30th of a second
  • Make sure you continue the pan after you have pushed the button and hear the shutter click
  • Experiment with different shutter speeds, locations, and time-of-day. Take lots of shots.  Getting the perfect motion blur has a bit of luck along with the technical side.
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