Anne Darling Photography

Slow Shutter Speed Technique 1

How to Use a Slow Shutter Speed in Panning

Using a longer shutter speed is a great way to get creative. With a slow shutter speed you can blur either your subject or the background. Blurring your subject is called 'motion blur' and will be covered in another article. Here we are going to look at panning where the background is blurred but the subject remains in sharp focus.

A slow shutter speed is required for panning. This is not a difficult technique but does require a little practice to get the hang of it. The shutter speed you choose needs to be a bit slower than normal. To give you an idea, the photographs on this page have shutter speeds of 1/40, 1/15, 1/15 and 1/25 second.

picture of a chicken running with panning blur

A Chicken Running (Photo by Joaquim Alves Gaspar): Nikon D80, 1/40 sec, f/6.3, ISO 100, focal length 82 mm

Normally you would need a tripod to take shots at these speeds but when panning the camera is often hand held so try to keep your hand as steady as possible as you try to match the speed of your moving subject.

honda scooter with four people

Honda Activa Family Outing (Photo by Judith): 1/25 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, focal length 6.2 mm

Your goal is to get your subject in as sharp a focus as possible with a nicely blurred background. Usually subjects are forms of fast moving transport such as cars, bicycles and so on but animals can be a good subject too. You will get the best results if your subject is moving straight across your view on a plane parallel with that of the camera and preferably in a line that allows you to predict which part of the frame they are running in to.

policeman on a bike

Champaign Police Bike - Shot During the Illinois Marathon in Urbana (Photo by Daniel Schwen): Canon EOS 5D, 1/15 sec, f/18, ISO 100, focal length 105 mm

Although a slow shutter speed is required, don't make it too slow or your main subject may wind up being blur too! Once you've practiced panning for a while you might like to try the slightly different technique of using the flash to freeze the motion of the subject. A speed of around 1/15 second is a good place to start.

photo of a taxi with background blur

Taxi Outside Ueno Station (Photo by Parag.naik): Nikon D60, 1/10 sec, f/13, ISO 100, focal length 55 mm

There are lots of possibilities to practise panning. If you have children take them to the park and try panning while they are on the swings or roundabout. Or have someone throw a ball down the garden for your dog and pan him as he whizzes past. If you are a passenger in a car, an easy way to start panning is by photographing the driver as the trees and houses move past in the background.

photo of a lorry with background blur

Truck with Background Blur
(Photo by Fir002):
Canon 20D, Tamron SP AF28-75mm, f/2.8

Shutter speed is an integral part of exposure. Learn to use it creatively, and you unlock the magic that transforms an ordinary subject into a work of art. From the blazing 1/8000 second that captures each feather in a hummingbird's wing to the lazy half-second that turns a fireworks display into a color-rich patchwork, shutter speed allows you to freeze time.

In Creative Shutter Speed: Master the Art of Motion Capture. Derek Doeffinger, a former writer/photographer for Kodak, teaches you how to:

  • Unleash the power of shutter speed from 1/8000 second to 8 hours
  • Learn creative techniques to transform your photos
  • Discover how to achieve different effects with various aperture/shutter speed combinations
  • Determine the effect of weather and lighting conditions
  • Use filters, lenses, tripods, and other tools to manipulate shutter speed
  • Explore stop-action and creative blur techniques
  • See how to reinforce your creative vision using Photoshop®
  • View what you can achieve in stunning full-color examples
photo of a lorry with background blur

A highly recommended book with enough creative ideas to keep you going for a long while!

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