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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