ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How to Creatively Photograph Action Scenes

Updated on September 29, 2012
A VW Beetle captured using the Panning Technique.
A VW Beetle captured using the Panning Technique. | Source

You must have seen some really great photographs of moving subjects such as the one above that are relatively sharp but also having blurred streaks of slower or stationary elements. The subject pops out amidst a blur of motion. This is a really neat effect that can be produced naturally via a simple principle.

Freezing the motion

Before we get to the technique to create such shots, let’s take a look on capturing moving subjects with regular photographic technique. This regular technique involves you using a high shutter speed to capture a sharp photograph of your subject. You’ll basically be freezing the motion, such as in the case of taking a high shutter speed photograph of a marathoner running the homestretch -- even the very beads of sweat leaving the runner’s body will be frozen in mid-flight. This technique works, and what you will have to do is to compensate for the high shutter speed with a wide aperture, a higher ISO value or a combination of both. Flash may be an option, but in sports this is generally frowned upon as the flashing of light may distract athletes. No photographer wants to be the cause of an own goal or something!

The Panning Technique

Apart from the regular technique just discussed, there’s another technique that is highly recommended when taking action shots. This technique is commonly used by photographers who capture images at racing events. The technique is called panning, and as the name suggests it involves moving your camera across a plane. But not only does it involve such movement, but also using a slow shutter speed. When you use the regular technique of basically holding your camera in one position to take a shot of a moving object with slow shutter speed, your image will turn out with the subject being blurry and possible the other elements of your photograph will be blurry mess too due to camera shake. Obviously, that wouldn't work out very well. This is why you’ll have to use the panning technique, using your camera to follow the motion and speed of the moving object and taking shots along your panning motion. There’s no need to stop the motion -- in fact, you need to continue the motion! What will happen is that your subject will turn out relatively sharp with everything else for the most part motion blurred. That’s the great effect that the Masters use.

Here are the steps:

  1. Set your camera to Shutter Priority (SP or S) mode.
  2. Set your shutter speed to about 60 (1/60th of a second). This is a recommended speed to start off with. Depending on the speed of your subject you may decrease or increase a bit. Take it as a trial and error routine and test out what works best for you.
  3. Set camera to use all autofocus (AF) points.
  4. Use continuous focus (AI Servo in Canon and AF-C in Canon and Sony) as you half-depress the shutter release button.
  5. Use the panning motion and click away as you please paying attention to focusing beeps.

Practice, and change settings to suit your style

Now this is really an easy technique that needs practice. Play around with it and try taking your shots from different angles and you pan away. The good thing about these steps is that you won’t have to worry about your exposure settings too much. With Shutter Priority mode, all you need and can change is the shutter speed -- the camera adjusts the aperture value automatically for producing a reasonable exposure. Although you get a ‘piggy back’ with this, you’ll still need to check if the images suit your style and liking. On a more advanced level, you can also use your D-SLR on full manual, and set both aperture and shutter speed to your desire. You could use the SP route first and get a clue of what settings to start off with, make a mental note of them, and transfer those settings to Manual Mode. Whichever method you use, the real deal is to effectively pan. You can pan horizontally, vertically or whichever direction your subject is moving and capture some breathtaking photographs -- some of which may surprise even you.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • theblackedition profile imageAUTHOR

      Shane Brown-Daniels 

      5 years ago from USA

      Good question unvrso :) Truth is that it's already a task to get larger objects sharp using the panning technique. For a smaller subject such as 'a falling drop of water' it's better to freeze the motion altogether with a very high shutter speed, which can be compensated for with a large aperture. Not saying that it isn't possible, but it's definitely more challenging to do.

    • unvrso profile image

      Jose Juan Gutierrez 

      5 years ago from Mexico City

      I read your hub and liked the panning technique. I think it really can capture great pictures. Does this technique work with other moving objects like a falling drop of water?

      Voted up and useful?


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)