Panning (camera)

Example of a panning technique photo (shutter speed: 1/80)

In cinematography, panning refers to rotating or pivoting a motion picture or video camera horizontally from a fixed position. This motion is similar to the motion of a person when they turn their head on their neck from left to right. In the resulting image, the view seems to "pass by" the spectator as new material appears on one side of the screen and exits from the other, although perspective lines reveal that the entire image is seen from a fixed point of view.

The term panning is short for panorama, suggesting an expansive view that exceeds the gaze, forcing the viewer to turn their head in order to take everything in. Panning, in other words, is a device for gradually revealing and incorporating off-screen space into the image.

Panning should never be confused with "tracking" or "travelling," in which the camera is not just pivoted but is physically displaced left or right, generally by being rolled parallel to its subject.

In video technology, panning refers to the horizontal scrolling of an image wider than the display.

For 3D modeling in computer graphics, panning means moving parallel to the current view plane.[1] In other words, the camera moves perpendicular to the direction it is pointed.

The technique also has limited applications in still photography.

In other disciplines, this motion is called yaw.

Using Panning in Still Photography

Panning shot of a chicken running, at a slow shutter speed of 1/40 second
Panning of Hawker Sea Fury FB 10 at Hahnweide, shutter speed is 1/125 second

When photographing a moving subject, the panning technique is achieved by keeping the subject in the same position of the frame for the duration of the exposure. The length of the exposure must be long enough to allow the background to blur due to the movement of the camera as the photographer follows the subject in the viewfinder.

The exact length of exposure required will depend on the speed at which the subject is moving, the focal length of the lens and the distance from the subject and background. An F1 car speeding along a straight might allow the photographer to achieve a blurred background at 1/250 second, while the photographer might need to go as slow as 1/40 to achieve the same amount of blur for a picture of a running man.[2]

The faster shutter speed allowed by fast moving subjects are easier to capture in a smoothly panned shot. With slower moving subjects, the risk is that the panning motion will be jerky, and it is also harder to keep the subject in the same position of the frame for the longer period of time.

To aid in capturing panned pictures, photographers use aids such as tripods and monopods, which make it easy to swing the camera along one plane, while keeping it steady in the others. A low budget option is to tie a piece of string around the lens, then to drop the other end to the floor and step on it to pull it taut. This will allow a little bit more stability and allow for smoother blur.[3]

See also


  1. "3ds Max Pan View".
  2. "Pan for better action pictures". Illustrated Photography.
  3. Langford, Michael (1986). Basic Photography. Focal Press. ISBN 0-240-51257-X.

Media related to Panning at Wikimedia Commons

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