Speed panning shots

Chris Dodkin

West Coast Correspondent
There's nothing that says speed more than a nice panning shot of a moving target, with the background all blurred out. (See Number 55 by Hamish)

It's a great effect, and with some practice and the wonders of a modern DSLR, you can get some great keepers.

You ideally want the car to be going a constant speed, so you can pan smoothly with it, and you want to be standing 90 degrees on to a piece of track, so it's a pretty constant distance from you as it comes by.

Start with the shutter speed set in TV mode at around 1/120, and pan with the cars as they pass, use AI Servo focus if you have it, so the camera keeps the car sharp.

Matching the cars speed with the camera takes practice - use the LCD on the camera to review your panning speed, shot timing/composition, and the effect of the shutter speed.

As you get the timing right, start dropping the shutter speed, and check how this effects the background blur, and the sharpness of the car.

The lower you go, the more the effect, but the harder it is to keep the car sharp!

Here's a sequence of frames shot on motordrive - you can see how my panning speed is out, but then matches the car speed briefly to get a frame or two that are keepers.

The driver ended up buying 3909 as a print of him at the wheel of his Lotus :cool:



Here's another speed blur shot, at the same location - this time with the whole car framed up.


I've tipped the camera axis to add more interest to the shot, and also give me the longer diagonal to use to get a larger image of the car in frame.

If you do shoot at an angle to the track, you'll get an effect where the car has changed size in the frame during the capture, making parts of it sharp, and other parts blurry.

Can be very effective - as here, passing under the bridge on the way up to Druids


With digital shots now being effectively free - it's well worth it to try this technique out the next time you have a chance - the final results just might be worth it. :)
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Super tutorial, that and some great pics here. I don't get much opportunity to do much of this, but it's a superb effect. The mini picture is making me feel dizzy, mate. Super stuff, nicely illustrated.
There Great! With my motorcycle insurance I get to join Club MCE, which means I get a Free PIT WALK at Brands Hatch for the British Superbike, and access to Pit straight Grandstand on Sunday. This should be the perfect opportunity to utilise these techniques!!!
Cheers Chris :D
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Pit access! Nice!!! :)

Don't forget to keep the camera handy for the brolly-babes in the pits ;)

vr helps too.. and on nikon cameras 3d tracking is a big help

shutter speed relative to focal length is a factor too
this shot was taken at 200mm with a shutter speed of 1/250 i still retained a lot of the background blur as the focal length was so long... at least thats how it seems to work to me... im no expert in these matters


i often work on the priciple that the shutter speed should be almost equal to the focal length to get a sharp photo.. for eg 1/60th of a second is really as low as you can safley go to get a sharp photo at 50mm... at 200 mm 1/200th is more apropriate... im not sure if this is a recognised rule... but it always seems the case with me
VR and IS can help - in fact there's an IS mode specifically for panning on the Canon telephotos.

Haven't managed to buy any IS lenses yet - too expensive :(

Your rule of thumb ref shutter speed / lens length is spot on
VR and IS can help - in fact there's an IS mode specifically for panning on the Canon telephotos.

Haven't managed to buy any IS lenses yet - too expensive :(

Your rule of thumb ref shutter speed / lens length is spot on

is it a recognised rule? or just from experience?

yeah, nikons have a panning mode too

do you want to borrow my 70-200vr barry?
Did someone mention legs??? :cool:

Should probably do a separate thread on using wide angle in the pit area to capture the wildlife!

Should that come under sport or people? LOL
sorry the nose of the mini has been chopped i need to change a setting somewhere in the backend ..... but i cant find it ....
Not really a car type of bloke, but I loved the last shot!

only time I've ever tried panning was with cycles, works quite well with city types on Bickertons:)