Panning: The When, Why and How?

Johan van Zyl All Authors, Johan Leave a Comment

Photography is about capturing the moment the way your interpret it in front of you.  For some it might be to capture the subject in it’s natural surroundings.  To others it might a close up portrait of an intent stare.  We all see it differently.

The use of shutter speeds can also give your image a completely different feel, depending on what it is you would like to achieve.  Using slow shutter speeds to create panning images can not only be a lot of fun, but can give your images a totally different feel.


One of the most important things to consider before panning is whether you have achieved the results you were hoping for in your sequence of images that you have already captured.  We refer to it as “Banking” your images.  This means you have taken some good solid images of your subject.

Instead of taking the same images over and over again (which you are going to most likely delete) why not try and be creative by using slow shutter speeds?

1/8 F32 ISO 640

1/15 F29 ISO 100

The best results for panning is usually when the light is a bit lower, so either first thing in the morning of late afternoon (the problem during mid day is to get your shutter speed down slow enough) and ideally you want your subject to walk across your frame.  Having your subject move towards or away from you doesn’t give the image the same effect.


This is often in the eye of the beholder and can be used to showcase various stories.  Most notably panning is used to show movement and motion.  Ever seen those images of racing cars where the car is in focus yet there is a line of movement behind it showing the speed at which it is travelling?  This gives a feel of speed and movement which wouldn’t have the same impact had it been done with a fast shutter speed and freezing the moment.  The same goes for nature.  You want to showcase the speed at which some of the animals move.  You want to give your viewers the feeling of movement and make them think why is this animal moving at such a speed?  What is it chasing?  What is it running from?

1/8 F4 ISO 1000

1/6 F 25 ISO 100


Panning can be achieved using any of the manual settings in your camera, as long as you understand how all the elements work together.

Shutter Priority (TV or S mode)

In Shutter Priority, simply dial your shutter speed down to the desired speed.  Your camera then automatically chooses the Aperture for you, according to the light available.  This is most probably the easiest way to achieve the desired shutter speed.

Aperture Priority (AV or A mode)

In Aperture Priority you need to manipulate your ISO and Aperture to get your desired shutter speed.  Again it is crucial that you understand how all the elements work together.  Firstly by dialing in the lowest ISO value (ie. 100) your camera will then give you a shutter speed according to the light that is available.  If this is still higher than what you are after (usually a shutter speed from 1/6 up to 1/60 could give you motion blur depending on how fast your subject is moving) then you need to increase your Aperture number (smaller Aperture).  As your Aperture number increases, you will see your shutter speed drop.  Increase the Aperture till you achieve the desired shutter speed.  When there is a lot of light your Aperture needs to go up to F22 or even higher, whereas if the light is low, an aperture of F7.1 or F8 might be enough.

Manual Mode (M)

In Manual mode you as the photographer takes control over all the elements.  You have to select the Shutter Speed, Aperture as well as the ISO.  This could take a lot of time, which might result in missing the image you wanted to create.

There is no right or wrong in any of the modes, it is all about what you are most comfortable with and what works for you.  It is vital though to understand the various elements and how they combine to give you the results you are after.

To see how to process panning images, check out the recent blog that Andrew did in his Behind the Frame Episode 7.

Hope that helps, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to give me a shout.

Till next time.


About the Author

Johan van Zyl


The opportunity of visiting some of the wildest, undisturbed areas and sharing my passion for wildlife, conservation and photography with like minded people is a privilege that I am forever grateful.

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