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Try 1/15

I generally don't get caught up in the "rules of thumb" that get bantered around, but here's one that I find a good starting point: use 1/15 second shutter speed when panning with motion.

This image is 1/13 second and I'm panning on the oarsman's head (which is why he is in tight focus). Look at the oars, the background and the water: we've got clear motion in them, which is the effect I was going for. Is it enough motion? No, I don't think so. On review, I'd probably go down to 1/8 or even 1/6.

But here's the thing: the longer the shutter speed the harder it is to keep the pan properly aligned on something, so you'll start losing the clarity of the oarsman's face. That's why 1/15 is such a good starting place for these experiments: most people can learn to pan smoothly through a 1/15 second exposure. From there they can use the camera's LCD to judge whether they need more or less motion.

When I encounter motion I want to smooth pan through that's anywhere from a fast walk to about 25 mph, I'll therefore usually start my experimentation with 1/15. Slower than a fast walk requires longer shutter speeds, faster than 25 mph and you have to start thinking about shorter shutter speeds.

Longer shutter speeds increase the likelihood that your pan isn't smooth enough but will improve the motion blur if you get it right, while shorter shutter speeds are easier to pan but may not provide enough blur so that it can be distinguished from "sloppy camera handling."

This is one of those photography types where it pays to have some repetitive action you can practice on over and over. Moreover, it's one of those things where you want to do some serious post shooting analysis. My analysis for the Grand Canyon? For most of the river's minor rapids and ripples (as we have here), 1/8 is probably the right shutter speed for me. Only at the really big and fast rapids did 1/15 work the way I wanted it to (plus the boats are doing up/down motions in the big rapids that adds a degree of difficulty to the pan!).
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20 comments
 
A good reminder to slow it down sometimes. It certainly adds flavor and implied motion that would otherwise be missing at higher shutter speeds!
 
Thanks for the tips. I've been trying this with my horses for a while.
 
thanks for the tip! I have experimented with motion and panning. I need alot more work on that! This is a great tip for me to practice with, thanks!
 
Reminds me of shooting fish in an, um, aquarium...
 
Needles to say. also 1 of 15 is maybe a keeper :-)
Keep practice this! Thanks for the share.
 
Thom can you elaborate a bit on the effect of the length of the lens, my experience that it will also play into the motion blur...
 
Do you turn image stabilization off completely or use one of the modes that allows panning?
 
Haven't done much with panning; gotta give it a whirl. Go Thom, making lazy jerks like me add new thoughts to my process. :D
 
Camera, lens, focal length, aperture please :).
 
+Eskild Lund Sørensen It's not just lens focal length, but camera-to-subject distance (and subject to background distance) that you have to consider. More focal length or less camera-to-subject distance or more subject-to-background distance means that the background pan gets more exaggerated. Still, I don't want to get too bogged down in that. The teaching point was about 1/15 as a starting place.
 
+Doug Livezey On Nikon bodies, VR is allows privy to panning, at least if you're reasonably smooth on the pan. I will tend to use VR on pans, therefore.
 
+John Clare Sorry, but I don't believe that's the right approach to learning. After asking hundreds of students what they learn from that data, I'm reasonably convinced that most learn nothing. Indeed, they tend to immediately think that these are magic settings of some sort. They're not. My teaching point is about the key setting, and that's really all you need to know. For example, aperture. I could have used more ND or less ND and changed the aperture with the same shutter speed. Why would I do that? For the same reasons I'd always choose an aperture. There's nothing special about this image in that respect.
 
+Thom Hogan i think you are right. the data alone, most people memorize and it goes in one ear and out the other if they don't. the people need to learn what happens when you vary the parameters - for instance, shooting a range of shutter speeds and showing the effects, but then still people memorize. it's the totality of conditions that determine what settings to use and that means shooting and thinking all the time to learn from that. i find most people are too lazy to think that hard about their photography.
 
Point taken, and I respect and appreciate it. 
 
When photographing racing cars and roadracing motorcycles, very often I was using 1/speed-of-the-vehicle as a start, though slower shutter speeds can produce even more blur to give the impression of even faster speed. Sometimes trailing shutter flash can create an interesting effect with the pan, depending upon the lighting situation. Nice to see you covering this one.
 
+Gordon Moat Another way to look at it is how fast a shutter speed you need to completely stop across frame motion. From my Nikon Field Guide:

person walking: 1/125
person jogging: 1/250
swimmers: 1/250
slow-moving vehicles: 1/250
sprinters: 1/500
normal car traffic: 1/500
galloping horse: 1/1000
skier/skater: 1/1000
race cars: 1/2000

You need at least three stops and usually more (as many as five or six) to get full effective blur from those numbers. So taken the other way, 1/15 is three stops slower than 1/125 and six stops slower than 1/1000.
 
It's very difficult to give out a defined shutter speed, but I guess you need something as a starting point? Panning really depends on focal length, subject distance, speed of the subject, stability of the subject in motion, and also whether the subject is moving with your arc of panning or opposing your arc.

I'm a motorsport photographer and experiment with very low shutter speeds. It really is more worthwhile mentioning specific technique and little tips and tricks of what you do with your stance and with your eye in the viewfinder than suggesting a shutter speed.
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