Quick guide: Panning for speed

Have you ever wondered how those motor sports magazines show us a sharp formula 1 car in focus while the background is blurry? This technique is called 'panning' and it is easier than you think. Panning gives the sense of speed and this is done by tracking your subject while moving towards you. AI Servo or Continuous can achieve autofocus while you move your camera with the speed of the passing vehicle. It needs practice but once you get the nail of it it becomes easier to achieve every time. 

  • Exposure mode: S (Nikon), Tv (Canon) or Manual (both)
  • Focus Mode: AI Servo or Continuous 
  • Shutter speed: start with 1/125 sec and adjust for slower / faster subjects
  • Aperture: set by camera
  • ISO: 100-200 to keep noise at minimum
  • Focal length: 18mm to 200mm depending on your proximity to passing vehicles
  • Drive mode: Continuous 
  • White Balance: Auto

Consider those additional tips: 

  • Select a good point where you can practice the panning before the race starts and be there early
  • Once your subject passes by (a car or a motorcycle for example) follow it with your AF point over it and move your hands horizontally with the same speed
  • Shoot in burst mode while in the middle of the panning process to choose your best photo
  • In post-processing, increase clarity and sharpness of your subject only while increasing the blur in the background. This can easily be achieved using Lightroom adjustment brush or Photoshop layer masks.