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This technique is used to get your subject in fairly good focus while the background is blurred – thus conveying a sense of speed to your subject. You can do this either hand-held or using a tripod. If you have vibration reduction or image stabilization on your camera, either turn it to Mode 2 (panning mode) if you can. For best results, your subject should be moving directly in front of you – not moving either towards or away from you – as this will maximize the lateral motion that causes the blurring of the background. Frame your subject and then move the camera to keep your subject in exactly the same location in your frame as best you can, while you smoothly take the picture. You may need to experiment with the shutter speed to get the proper amount of background blurring you desire. I find that a shutter speed of 1/4 to 1/30 second often works well. Don’t expect to get the picture the first time! This technique requires practice and a certain amount of luck to get just the right combination of background movement while keeping the subject sharp. Also, don’t be too disappointed if the subject is not razor-sharp. If the subject moves in any way in your frame (and the camera itself is moving, remember!) then there will be some blur in the subject. A perfect picture is somewhat rare, but very gratifying. Most often, the disparity between the subject and background makes up for the slight blurring of the subject and can be a very compelling photo in itself – even if it’s not perfect.

  • Focus on a car, bus, or cyclist that is moving straight across your frame – neither moving towards you, nor moving away from you. Set the shutter speed somewhere between 1/4 and 1/30 second. If you are using image stabilization with a mode switch, turn it to use Mode 2. Start tracking the subject as you depress the shutter halfway to lock in focus (if necessary). Smoothly keep the subject in the same relative position in your frame as you fully press the shutter button.
  • Find a bird in flight. Try to keep the bird’s head in the center of the frame as you pan and take the picture. You might find that putting your camera into manual focus mode and manually focusing on the bird is easier than letting the autofocus try to handle it. If the bird is in bright light, you might find that your aperture is so small that you might be afraid that the background will appear sharp. Using this technique, the motion blur of the background will suffice to isolate your subject, no matter how deep your depth of field.
  • At a park or play area, try panning on a moving child or dog. Try to keep their head in the same place in the frame as you take your picture. The larger they are in your frame, the slower they have to move to use this technique effectively.

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