Panning with different shutter speeds

The starting point; “This comes naturally as a technique to most people”!  Regrettably I do not fall into that category and on the occasions I have tried to use this technique have had to work really hard at it, many shots to get just a few acceptable results; my initiation was a course at the Welsh Hawking Centre so perhaps not the best place to give it a go.  In my planning for this exercise the main headings that came to mind were; different subjects to compare use of the technique; a suitable location with clear line of sight and no obstructions in the panning arc; an uncluttered background; range of shutter speeds to try; safety when photographing passing vehicles (both personal and driver distraction).  I opted to use camera set to Shutter priority, Continuous Low shutter release and constant ISO 200 with a 24-70 f2.8 zoom lens; I am aware that there are some who recommend the use of a tripod or monopod to maintain the horizontal sweep.  My resulting shots are grouped by subject.

DSC_5505 - 1/40 sec at f22

DSC_5505 – 1/40 sec at f22

This first shot was a crow that I tried to get close to before it took flight.  I had already selected 1/40 sec as they are not the fastest of flyers.  As one of my first shots I do not consider it too bad.  Obviously with a bird there is both the direction of flight and wing movement to contend with.  The blurred background is achieved and the bird is recognizable.  I think the background is perhaps too blurred for the subject as it conveys a speed of flight out of character with the bird.  My technique probably has much to do with the result and there is probably a degree of camera shake given the shutter speed and the lens is quite heavy.  Next time I would opt for a slightly faster shutter speed.

DSC_5446 - 1/60 sec at f11

DSC_5446 – 1/60 sec at f11

This next shot was an opportunity shot and, as such I am quite pleased with it, a better result than the previous shot with better focus of the bird and a good sense of movement conveyed by the burring of the background and the wings.  A shutter speed of 1/60 sec would seem to be about right for this subject although there was no opportunity to try at other speeds. I like this shot as it gives a sense of the bird dragging itself away from danger, reaching forward to scoop the air over its wings and gain height.  Again this was one of my early shots so technique is perhaps in question.

DSC_5480 - 1/50 sec at f16

DSC_5480 – 1/50 sec at f16

Seem to be getting the hang of it with this next shot of a cyclist.  The face is in focus, there is a good amount of blurring of the background and the movement of the wheels, pedals and cyclists legs is well depicted.  Clearly I am better able to cope with the passing speed of a cyclist in terms of the panning technique.  The shutter speed of 1/50 sec must also help in addressing any camera shake.

DSC_5478 - 1/50 sec at f22

DSC_5478 – 1/50 sec at f22

I was hoping for a motorcycle and this opportunity surpassed my expectations, not the normal “road racer”.  I picked it up from a fair distance and was able to achieve a relatively smooth tracking.  The 1/50 sec shutter speed has achieved the desired effect, just a pity I was not able to get a sharper image of the machine and rider.

The next series of photos are arranged in increasing shutter speed.  My expectation was to see a difference in the degree of background blur, irrespective of my efforts to achieve a sharp subject.

Clearly the sense of speed is greater at the slower shutter speeds even though all of these cars were travelling at around 30 mph.  I think two of the photos have interesting points.  Firstly DSC_5448, the yellow Saxo, which I took just as another car was passing from the opposite direction such that there is the overlap of panning on one with the other driving through the frame with considerable blurring; to me this makes the Saxo really stand out in a sea of confusion and brings bright colour into the equation making me want to explore the technique against a background of brighter colours.  The other shot I find interesting is DSC_5463 the ambulance.  This vehicle took me by surprise having never seen anything like it before.  However, aside from the challenge of fitting it into frame, I am intrigued by the variations in focus along its length, could I have been changing my point of focus whilst trying to keep the overall vehicle in frame.

So what am I left with at the conclusion of this exercise?  First of all the panning technique needs practice, as evidenced by the variability in my results; where there is little or no opportunity for a repeat take best get your camera setting right and opt for either bracketing or a high rate of shutter release.  I need to go back to my camera manual and explore the plethora of settings that might improve things.  It may be worth exploring the use of a tripod (gimbal or ball head?) or monopod, not something I have ever tried.  One habit I found coming through most shots was that of tilting the camera down to the right as I panned, I corrected this in LR.  As to the use of blur to create a particular effect; I think it is down to what you are trying to convey.  In some instances having a pin sharp subject against a blurred image will enable the viewer to appreciate the detail of the subject yet it is set in a context of what it does, move at speed.  Equally, some blur of the subject can add to the impression of movement or portray a situation.  Moving to the far end of the scale, where there is overall blur of both subject and background, can make for fascinating abstracts.  In this exercise my favourite shot is DSC_5446 the pigeon; the blur of both the bird and the background to me conveys a struggle to climb away from danger at full power and maximum speed  As regards the previous shutter speed exercise I favour Photo 9 as it provides a blend that gives the impression of the power of water but the calming effect it can have.


Shutter speeds

In my mind the jury is still out on “creamy water” so I chose to use a water scene for this exercise as part of my own journey to making a a personal decision on this aspect of photography; in this case it is the water feature in Millennium Square in Bristol, which, fortunately was functioning on the day I visited, having since discovered it is often switched off (a frequent target for revellers with soap powder!); given the simplicity of this feature I felt it would provide an ideal scene.  Conversely the weather was far from ideal, cold with a mixture of rain and snow!

1/6 sec

1                       1/6 sec

Photo 1.  Classic creamy water with no definition of the individual streams or splash.  It conveys a continuos stream of water and adds a softness to the image.

1/10 sec

2                       1/10 sec

Photo 2.  Very similar to Photo 1 as to be expected with a small difference in shutter speed.

1/13 sec

3                       1/13 sec

Photo 3.  Still a good deal of creaminess but there is some slight definition of the individual streams of water beginning to appear.

1/15 sec

4                         1/15 sec

Photo 4. Very similar to Photo 3, again I would expect this given the small change in shutter speed.

1/20 sec

5                         1/20 sec

Photo 5.  A little more definition beginning to appear as the creaminess reduces.

1/25 sec

6                         1/25 sec

Photo 6.  Rather than creaminess I would call this blurring of the movement and individual streams of water are better defined.

1/30 sec

7                        1/30 sec

Photo 7.  Still plenty of blur but not significantly different from the previous shot.  Again, the difference in shutter speed is small.

1/40 sec

8                          1/40 sec

Photo 8.  A slight reduction in blur.

1/60 sec

9                      1/60 sec

Photo 9. Reduction in blur creating more of an impression of the power of the water.  The movement is still not sharply frozen.

1/100 sec

10                         1/100 sec

Photo 10.  I was expecting to see some sharpness at this speed and my initial impression was that the turning point had been reached.  However, when zooming in on the screen it was evident that it was not sharply frozen.

1/160 sec

11                   1/160 sec

Photo 11.  There is a definite improvement in sharpness now but still not optimum when zoomed in.

1/250 sec

12                      1/250 sec

Photo 12.  I would expect there to be a significant improvement in sharpness at this speed.    Indeed, when viewed in comparison mode with Photo 11 in Lightroom there is a significant improvement in the sharpness of the frozen movement of the water.  Also the bubbles and splash are well defined.  However, again in the zoom mode I do not see the sharpness that would define this as the transition point.

Clearly I have not picked a spread of shutter speeds where the transition to sharply frozen movement is clearly defined and I should have explored shutter speeds greater than 1/250 sec.  In conclusion, therefore, I do not think I have found the shutter speed which clearly defines the transition to sharply frozen movement as this exercise set out to do.  However, a number of lessons have been learnt; my planning for this exercise fell short in that I had not thought through the range of shutter speeds to be used – more research of photographs of this type of scene would have provided the clues ergo taking the advice to build up a folder of photos for future reference; it is difficult to assess photographs on the camera LCD monitor, particularly in adverse conditions, so better to take more shots across the range of settings to ensure the required spectrum is captured. However, I have also learnt some more functionality of Lightroom for comparing shots.  As regards the “creamy water” issue, I am still inclined to the view that some take it too far but I guess it is a very subjective aspect of a photograph and what one is trying to convey.