Panning Blur & Capturing Motion – Photography Basics

Today’s topic is one of the easier concepts to understand but one of the hardest to get just right.  Thanks to digital photography though, there is plenty of room to play and practice with this one.

Panning Blur as a means to capture motion

Panning blur is simply lowering your Shutter Speed to the point where things blur as you pan the camera side to side. You need to keep pace with a moving object and be able to keep it relatively in focus, thus accentuating the feel of movement.

In practice it looks something like the hippo photo below. Program Mode, 300mm, ISO 100, f/40, 1/8 second, Partial Metering Mode and -1/3 stop Exposure Bias

Panning BlurBy the way, hippos are dang fast.

The trick is to set the shutter speed not too slow, resulting in more blurring than desired. And then track the object as it moves and fire while still moving. Don’t take the snap and stop otherwise your odds of a good shot plummet.

Here’s another example of street scene. Shutter Priority Mode, 28mm, ISO 100, f/3.5, 1/800 second, Evaluative Metering

Hey look! A car! In the street! Boring!

Time to jazz it up a bit. Shutter Priority Mode, 40mm, ISO 100, f/20, 1/13 second, Evaluative Metering

Zowie! A moving car!

Can you see how it is helpful to give a bit of blur to the background while tracking the subject?

Some tricks:

  • Practice! Or just be lucky (or a really good hunter)
  • Experiment with shutter speed. Start at 1/10 and work around from there.
  • You may need to use a neutral density filter if shooting in daylight and the scene is too bright.
  • Drop your ISO to as low as it will go. 100 or 50 if you have it.
  • Realize that objects tend to seem like they are moving faster as they are closer to you and you need to adjust for that.
  • Shoot when objects are closer to you to exaggerate the speed.
  • Bring your library card.
  • If you can, focus on eyes as people/animals/lizards move. An entire picture can be blurry, but if the eye is crystal clear, it sells.

I’d love to see your results on this one. Please give it a whirl with anything at all and post a link in the comments section, if you will.

Keep shooting, we have many more days left!

Want to try this technique for yourself?  Here’s how.


A few examples from around the world to help inspire you to give the technique a try.


Questions?  Pop ’em like Pez in the comments section below. or email me at

Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure, and its companion 40 Photography Experiments, are series written by professional photographer Peter West Carey. The series are designed to unravel the mysteries of photography, helping you can take better pictures. Subscribe here to receive all the updates and bonus material. Your comments are always welcome.

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