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Photo of rally car
Pentax K10D, 21mm lens, 1/60th, f5.6, 100ASA


Panning is a technique wheere you use blurring to create a sense of motion. The idea is to blur the background instead of the moving subject. So you use a slowish shutter speed and move the camera to follow the subject.

Of course there's a bit more to it than that.

You need a background that will blur, which means it has to have some detail. Blue sky won't work. Less obviously, neither will one that's completely out of focus (although it certainly doesn't need to be tack sharp.)

It's a lot easier if you have the same thing happening more than once. If you have thirty rally cars going past one after another, you should have got the hang of it by the last one, as long as you have instant review - either a digital camera or polaroids.

Plan the shot in advance.

Until you're very experienced, leave plenty of space round your subject and crop later. (This is easier with a digital camera)

Either set continuous autofocus, or manually focus on the place where you've going to trip the shutter. This is normally when it's closest to you and moving fastest.

Use shutter priority or all manual and set to something between 1/30 and 1/4 of a second (you may need a tripod). The shutter speed you need depends on the subject: Formula One cars go a lot faster than bicycles. It also depends on how close you are. Things appear to move faster if you're right beside the track than if you're a hundred yards away. So it's a matter of trial and error, which is much easier with the instant review feature on digital cameras.

Stand with you feet shoulder-width apart, facing the place where they're going to take the photo. Then twist from the waist so the camera is pointing at the subject and follow the subject, trying to keep it in the same place in the viewfinder. With an SLR, you want the main point of interest (e.g. the cyclist's eyes or the driver's face) 1/3 of the way into the frame. Squeeze the shutter as the subject goes past, and follow through. (With an SLR, the viewfinder will go black as the mirror comes up. You have to keep moving anyway. You should take the photo at, or just before, the point where your body is most comfortable.

If you're using an LCD display that's always about 1/2 a second behind reality, then it's really difficult. You probably want the front wheel just poking into the display in order to get it in the right place on the final photo. You may need to move back to be able to do this at all.

Either way, you need to practise, practise, practise. This is a lot cheaper with a digital camera, where you don't pay for the shots you don't use.

The reward of all your practise will be to create a sense of movement in a static photgraph.

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