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Top Tips for Panning Action

Give your action shots some extra dynamism by learning how to pan.

Freezing action is a great way of capturing something rarely seen by the naked eye. That perfectly frozen athlete, for example, can show facial expressions and muscle tone that we would ordinarily miss as spectators. But such an approach doesn’t always truly convey speed or movement. That’s where panning comes in. This technique involves moving your camera to match the movement of the subject and it can deliver dynamic images which emphasize speed. Here’s how to get the best results.

Find the Right Position

Panning is typically associated with motorsport or other fast-moving subjects, but you can build up your skills on something more sedate like a runner or cyclist if you prefer. One of the keys to success, however, is finding the right place to stand and this should ideally be in a location where the subject remains at a constant distance from you as it passes. So, position yourself on a straight, rather than a corner, for example. You should also check what’s in the background. If you’re at a race track, avoid locations where there are marshals wearing luminous jackets, for example. Now, choose your lens. Fit one which leaves some space around the subject, but not too much.

  • Learn photography with Fujifilm, Top tips for panning action
  • Learn photography with Fujifilm, Using Manual Exposure Mode
  • Learn photography with Fujifilm, Using Manual Exposure Mode

Set Up Your Camera

While panning is possible with any FUJIFILM X Series camera, it will be easier if the model you use features an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Most do. Furthermore, if your model is an X-T2, X-H1, or X-T3, select the Boost mode to get the highest possible frame rate on the EVF.

You can either choose to use autofocus or manual focusing. If you prefer to autofocus, select AF-C, navigate to the AF/MF SETTING menu, and then choose AF MODE> WIDE/TRACKING so all AF points are active. If you have Custom AF-C options on your camera (also accessible from the AF/MF setting menu), select option 2, which ignores obstacles and continues to track the subject. This ensures the camera won’t refocus if something passes in front of you as you pan. If you want to manually focus, use the pre-focusing technique and focus on the point opposite where the subject is going to pass. Once set, leave the focusing ring alone! Then, select the continuous shooting option so you can take a burst of images, rather than just one frame.

Finally, choose Shutter Priority and a shutter speed of 1/125 sec as a starting point. This may seem slow on fast-moving subjects, but remember you’re moving with the subject, not trying to freeze it. Shutter speed choice will vary according to what you’re photographing. If it’s a slower moving subject, such as cyclist or your kids running around the yard, try 1/60 sec as starting point. You will need to experiment with shutter speeds – try both faster and slower – to see which gives you the perfect blend of blurred background and sharp subject. You’ll discover that as you get better at panning, you can use progressively slower shutter speeds and still keep the subject completely sharp.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, Top tips for panning action© Alan Winslow

Start Shooting

Now comes the real fun part! Get your camera to your eye as your subject approaches from distance and start tracking them. Keep tracking them and then, a split second before they pass directly in front of you, press the shutter release; perfect timing will come with practice. Even after you’ve taken the picture, keep following the subject as they go past, so it becomes one complete, smooth movement from start to finish.

Congratulations, you’ve taken your first panning picture! Check the image and you should have a blurred background and a sharp subject. If you don’t, don’t worry, this technique takes a ton of practice to get right. But once you do, you’ll have action images as good as the pros.

© Alan Winslow

Your Next Steps

  • CHALLENGE Pick a fast-moving subject to practice your panning technique on. Try different shutter speeds see what difference this makes to the degree of background blur you’re seeing, and the sharpness of the main subject. Post your results to social media with the hashtag #MyFujifilmLegacy. You can also submit your work here for a chance to be featured on our social media channels.
  • LEARN Download our booklet Capture the Action with FUJIFILM X Series.