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Tips for Shooting Pan-Blur Action Images


By Charlotte Lowrie

Bikers with streaked backgroundShooting action subjects is always challenging and very rewarding. And you can easily add a sense of motion by panning the camera with the motion of the subject. A pan-blur image has the subject in focus, but the background is rendered with lovely streaks, as shown in the accompanying images. The trick is to use a slow shutter speed while moving the camera smoothly with the motion of the subject.

Here are some tips to help you master the pan-blur technique.

  • Biker with blurred backgroundFind a shooting position where the background will be attractive when it is rendered as long streaks of color. In the images for this article, I chose a background filled with trees and plants. I also was up on a small hill shooting down on the athletes. That position helped avoid including the sky in the frame. Since the sky will be much lighter than the subject, it will be difficult for the camera to maintain detail in the bright sky. So it's often a good idea to exclude the sky or minimize it.

  • You can use either Tv or Av shooting mode. In Tv mode, set a shutter speed of 1/40 to 1/25 second. In Av mode, set a very narrow aperture until you get the slow shutter speed you need.

  • Use a tripod. The tripod will help you make a smooth flow-through movement as you follow the subject's motion. And the line of the horizon will be straight.

  • The lens you choose depends on your shooting distance. A telephoto lens is excellent to provide smooth backgrounds. But wide-angle lenses work well too. The images in this article were shot with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at 35mm to 50mm focal lengths. Then the images were cropped.
  • Canon EOS 7D Field Guide book coverAs the subject nears your shooting position, frame the subject, begin moving the camera smoothly with the subject, and just as the subject is to the left or right of center frame, focus and shoot, and then follow through by moving the camera with the subject as it leaves the frame. Alternately, you can prefocus on a spot where the subject will pass in the scene, and then keep the Shutter button half-pressed until the subject is at the spot where you prefocused.

If you're new to using this technique, give yourself some time to practice moving the camera with the subject and focusing at the right time and at the right place within the subject. I also use One-shot drive mode to ensure that I can get a full follow-through motion with the subject.

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About the author: Charlotte Lowrie is an award-winning freelance journalist and photographer based in Seattle. She is the author of 17 photography books, numerous magazine articles, and she teaches photography classes at BetterPhoto.com.

All images and articles are copyrighted by Words and Photos and may not be reprinted without permission.
Contact: charlotte@wordsandphotos.org