Pan in the Can

The British Touring Car Championships event at Oulton Park on Sunday gave me the opportunity to try to perfect my panning technique. I’m getting better but still find this very hard to get right and my success rate is still too low for my liking.

The idea is to snap a fast-moving object (in this case a racing car) while following the car’s motion with the camera so that the car comes out sharp but the background blurs, emphasising the car’s speed. A slower shutter also produces motion blur in the wheels, which is good. The point is to produce a picture which generates excitement through visual clues to the car’s motion. If the car looks like it is parked on the road then you have failed.

The difficulty is that to get the background suitably blurry you have to keep the shutter speed relatively low, which makes it hard to get the car really sharp. This picture was taken with a shutter speed of 1/200th at a focal length of 75mm (full frame equivalent of 112.5mm) which would be ample if the car were at a standstill. With the car and camera both moving it is rather harder.

Some people seem able to go down to shutter speeds of 1/80th or even slower and still keep the car sharp. All power to them. The problem I had was that I was at a vantage point where the cars were both getting closer to the side of the track and accelerating, so that to keep focusing on the same bit of the car as it moved I had to speed up the panning motion of the camera very dramatically and at exactly the right time. It becomes a tricky hand-eye co-ordination job and I always was useless at ball sports.

If you look closely at the Formula Renault car in the picture above you will notice that the rear part of the car is reasonably sharp but the front part less so. This effect was noticeable in a lot of pictures. I wondered if this might be something to do with depth of field but I’m inclined to doubt it. I’m putting it down to the relative motion of the front of the car being greater (because it is nearer the lens) with the result that 1/200th is not enough to freeze it whereas it is enough to freeze the back of the car.

Here is another effort, this time teenager Carl Stirling in the Ginetta G40.


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