Studying Motion


Using a line on the basketball court as a path, I zoom towards my students as they prepare to pan with their cameras.

Every basic still photography class studies motion.

As before, I borrowed my son’s razor scooter. This time I added a twist–I used my black backdrop as my cape.


Notice the difference in the blurriness between the 2 shots. Both were taken with a 50 mm lens. The top picture was taken at 1/30 sec @ f8 with Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT.
Bottom picture was taken with a Nikon 40D 1/50 sec @f10. Too bad, whoever took the top picture cropped off the bottom of the scooter and wheels.(Can’t credit the person because they didn’t name their file with their name, sorry)  Also note how the color looks with both cameras set on “Automatic White Balance.”
The cape was not billowing as much as I would have liked it in part because yours truly was running out of steam racing down the same path over and over again.



I chose a line on the ground to use as my path.

I asked my students to space themselves out on both sides along the line of my path depending on what focal length lens they had.

I went pass slowly to allow them to manually focus on me as I passed directly in front of them.

Once they focused on me, they were told to leave the focus there.

We determined the exposure by shooting some test and checking against the histogram.


The big difference between the 2 bike pictures are the lenses used. The one above was shot with a slightly longer telephoto compared to this one with a wide angle.Which one you prefer in part depends on the body language of the subject in my opinon. In this case I liked the one shot with the wide angle because I appear more animated with my body and I’m standing as opposed to just sitting and cycling.

Then all that was left was the timing of when to release the shutter.

I told them to follow me in their viewfinders, start the panning motion with their elbows locked and as I approached.

Then as I crossed in front of them, I told them to speed up their motion with their trunk depending on how fast I seem to be moving.

The idea is to try to keep me in the same spot in the viewfinder as they panned.

Next time, this might work:

If I have a bunch of balloons on a string, I should tie those to the handlebars.

The week after, I brought a bicycle. That was a lot easier on me physically.

In the analog days, I remember having to shoot rolls and rolls of film to get an idea of what the technique involved. There’s no shortcut to learning this panning technique.

The problem was that you couldn’t tell until you developed your film whether it worked or not.

Those days of pacing around the film dryer are long over. You can now chimp with so much more accuracy, that you can really tell if you got anything right after you take it.

Most of the time my students appreciate my efforts of being the “subject” even if it means I have to look like a clown and act silly.

Every now and then, they’ll be one who gives up because it’s too difficult or worse, they can’t imagine when they’ll apply the technique of panning. There’s always at least one who thinks that because they can’t do it, they shouldn’t bother trying.

Never mind if this exercise was specially staged for the entire class.

I don’t expect all of them to get it but at least the next time they see a picture where the camera is panned at a subject, they’ll know the mechanics behind the picture.

Things to consider

The longer the focal length of the lens the more pronounced the blur.

Your panning movement should depend on how fast the subject is going by and also what lens you are using.

The tighter you shoot i.e the more you fill the frame or your viewfinder, the more pronounced the blur.

If the light is directional as it was for my students in the evening, you might want to only pan in the direction where your subject’s face is going to be lit. I was traveling back and forth in a east-to-west direction.

So as it got late, it became more evident that the best shots were when I was traveling with my face facing the setting sun i.e. east to west.

What about Photoshop?

We wrapped up the lesson on motion with something quite anti-climactic. I opened some static images in photoshop, selected a person in the picture, then inverted the selection and applied a motion blur to the image.

Using photoshop that way is not cheating as much as I’d like to say it is.  I ask my students if they prefer to be outdoors photographing or if they prefer to sit by a computer and “fix” their images.

The choice is theirs to make but in my class, they can’t use Photoshop to create the motion blur for this particular assignment.

Photoshop is not supposed to become your crutch, that’s all.

There are way too many pictures of me on this blog I’m beginning to feel like Oprah Winfrey. She has her own monthly magazine where she’s always featured on the cover. See… you don’t have to rich and famous these days to get your mug out there. Excuse the self-indulgence.

2 thoughts on “Studying Motion”

  1. Hi Serena,
    How nice of you to stop in! It has been a year. I’m glad to see you’ve been busy. I’ve added you to my Blogroll, look over to the right on the 1st column.

  2. Wow, I remember this in class! I can’t believe it has been a year already since I took your class. I remember how much fun it was and how much I enjoyed your challenging us!

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