31+ Days Of Photography Experiments – Panning Blur

Yesterday’s topic was Sun Stars.

Today let’s try something fun, but sometimes frustrating; Panning Blur.

First some inspiration and then the experiment.


Here’s the experiment you can run:

1) Switch to Manual mode (here’s why).

2) For starters, pick a shutter speed of 1/20. This is a good place to start but play around with shutter speed as objects are closer or further from you, or traveling at different speeds. The shutter speeds in the photos above are from .3 seconds to 1/8. ISO set to the lowest number you can achieve (L1.0 on Nikons, for instance).

3) You will need a moving object, preferably not in a brightly lit place. Shots at night work, but near dusk works as well. If your photos are over exposed, you will need less light. (see Things To Consider below)

4) The best objects to practice on are cars on the road because they will move usually at a constant speed (stay away from stop signs and lights if possible). It is perfectly legal to take a photo of someone’s car on a public road while standing on a public sidewalk in the USA. You might get waved at. You might get flipped off. People are like that.

5) The important thing here is to track the object and follow through. Don’t stop when you take the photo.

6) Set your camera to its highest burst rate, in terms of frames per second. This will be the “Continuous” mode instead of single shot.

7) Also change your focus mode to AF-C or AI Focus, depending on your camera. More info on focus modes can be found here.

8) Now then, track your object well before it gets to you. It’s important to match the speed as best you can.

10) When the object is perpendicular to you, compared to its path of travel, start taking photos. You can even do it a bit before, if you like. Keep your finger down on the shutter release for 4-8 shots as the object passes.

Done! With Shooting.

Practice and repetition is the name of the game. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and sometimes everything will suck. As you play around with this method, you will find that fast moving objects are harder and objects moving toward you are really hard. Try to practice on constant speed items. If there is a velodrome near you, try that as the curve of the corner is a perfect place to stand.

Things To Consider

  • If the object is big, like a semi truck, different parts will have different amounts of blur. Track the part you want to be most in focus.
  • The longer the shutter speed, the more blur, but the more chance your subject will be too blurred.
  • If there is too much light, consider purchasing a 3 stop (.9) neutral density filter for your lens. These filters block out a certain number of stops of light, much like sunglasses, but are neutral in color to not change your image.
  • You can also buy a variable neutral density filter, but they are more expensive. The advantage is you can adjust the amount of light coming in based upon your situation
  • The more zoomed in you are, the more blur occurs.

As with many things in photography, this method can be a lot of fun and add flair to your images, which might otherwise have been boring.

Tomorrow’s topic will be Shoot Some Silhouettes.

31+ Days Of Photography Experiments is a series written by professional photographer Peter West Carey on The Carey Adventures.Com. The series is designed to unravel the mysteries of photography so you can take better pictures through practical experiments on the material found in 31+ Days To Better Photography. Subscribe here to receive all the updates and bonus material. Your comments are always welcome.

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