Panning To Create Unique Street Photography

Panning in photography is simply following your moving subject as it moves past you.  You’ve most likely seen this type of photography in car magazines or sports magazines where subject are quickly moving past the camera man or woman.  Panning photography can isolate your subject and make an image more interesting by blurring an otherwise distracting background and presenting said subject in a new and interesting way.

The image above and directly below, of the buses, involved panning as the bus moved towards and past me.  It is extremely difficult to get images like this in perfect focus as the subject is not simply passing by but also moving towards the camera.  You need to move your camera back towards your body as you pan at the exact same speed as the subject.  In reality, the more interesting your subject is the less you have to worry about getting it tack sharp…

How To Pan

Place your camera into manual exposure and manual focus.  Auto focus is sometimes too slow or it simply doesn’t focus accurately as your subject is moving (sometimes very quickly).  Slow your shutter to less than 1/30th of a second (if your subject is very fast you can use faster shutter speeds).  I use a narrow aperture because I’m manually focusing, this allows me to use zone focusing and have a larger in-focus area.  You can use whatever ISO setting allows you to obtain the desired shutter speed…  I typically try to keep it as low as possible.  The settings of the image above were ISO 1600, 35mm, f/4, 1/8th of a second.

*Your lens choice matters…  wider lenses allow more of the environment in your frame which better conveys the movement by turning everything around your subject into light streaks and blur.  Using a longer lens and zeroing in on your subject decreases this feeling of movement and lessens the impact in my opinion. 

You can pan at anytime of the day.  If you’d like to try this in the harsh light of the afternoon you can simply use a ND filter (neutral density) with a very narrow aperture (f/16ish).  Otherwise, right around sunrise and sunset are always excellent times because the light is beautiful and soft enough that you don’t need ND filters (I use a 3 stop ND filter in bright light).

Panning isolates your subject and can create intimate moments in otherwise hectic street scenes.  Take the photo above for instance, I focused on the bus windows instead of the front of the bus to see if I could capture commuters riding home from work.  I got lucky, you will rely on luck a lot when panning, and captured a couple in what looks like a quiet conversation in the blue hue of the bus window.


Challenge yourself to spend a few evenings at dusk taking panning photographs in and around the city and you’ll pick it up relatively quickly.  The best part is, very few people take these types of shots which mean you’ll likely peak interest on whatever social media site you upload your images to.

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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