This is a technique that will probably take a lot of practice, and a lot of trial and error to get the exact type of effect that you are going for. After much practice, the picture to the left is what I came up with, something that I feel successfully illustrates the technique. How do you accomplish this? Just follow these steps and practice, practice, practice.
Set camera to a constant focus mode (not “One Shot”). I use a Canon, and my focus mode is called “AI-Servo”. This basically means that you can lock the focus on a subject, and the camera will hold that subject in focus for as long as you hold the focus button down. This is a necessity, as the subject will be moving, and thus changing the focus plane (if you were to lock on in a “one shot” type mode.
Set your camera for continuous shooting mode. Most DSLRs have a continuous shooting mode that allows the photographer to simply push the shutter release, hold it down, and take several pictures in a row (until the camera’s buffer fills up). Make sure you are in this mode, as the action will pass far too quickly for you to be able to re-acquire focus, and push the shutter release again.
Set camera to a slower shutter speed that you would normally expect. For this shot, in order to freeze the subject, one would expect to set the shutter to 1/250 or greater, especially on such a bright day. However, to achieve this effect, I set the shutter speed to 1/25. This slow speed is compensated for by moving the camera as you will see shortly.
Set the aperture for a good exposure. Because you are concerned about the shutter speed, you must set it first. Then, the exposure can be balanced by altering your aperture and ISO. I like to shoot with the lowest ISO I can get by with, so on this bright day, I set my ISO to 100. To get a good exposure, I then set my aperture to f/10. Because of the slower shutter speed, most likely you will have to stop down the aperture to be able to get the proper exposure.
Set your feet. Now that you have the right settings programmed into the camera, there is a need to get the physical aspects of the technique right. Start by getting a good solid base under you. Again (I know, I sound like a broken record…slow shutter…slow shutter…slow shutter) because of the slow shutter speed, you want to eliminate as much of the possibility of camera shake as you can. So, make sure that you position your feet a comfortable, and stable distance apart, pointing toward the area you intend to snap the picture.
Turn your body at the waist toward the starting point of your subject. While keeping your feet stable, twist at the waist, and get your focus set on the subject. The more room you have before the subject hits the target area, the better. This will give you time to lock your focus on the subject, and start shooting photos.
Follow through. Lock focus as quickly as possible, and then press the shutter release, holding it down as your subject passes in front of you. If you chose the correct shooting mode, your camera should fire off in quick succession. I get about 3.5-4 frames per second. Swing at the waist with your subject remaining at your chosen focus point (in your viewfinder) through the entire exercise. The best shots should occur when the subject is directly in front of the camera. You have to remember to keep moving the camera at the same speed that the subject is moving, so that they will be sharp within the frame when they are directly in front of you. Keep swinging (and shooting) with your subject until they pass completely through your desired shooting field.
That about does it. Review your photos and see if you have accomplished what you set out to do. If they don’t look right, try adjusting your shutter speed. The shutter speed will depend on what you are photographing, and how fast it is moving, not to mention other variables such as distance from the camera. So, there will be a bit of trial and error until you get it down just the way you would like. Keep practicing until you get just the effect you are working on.
I use my kids as test subjects for various techniques, and sometimes they get a bit silly as they work with me. I was working with my daughter practicing this technique a few days ago, and had her running back and forth in front of me. While I was improving, I didn’t have everything fine tuned yet, when she decided it would be funny to try and make faces at me as she passed by. So, for your viewing enjoyment (and to see some of my earlier stages of practicing panning) I give you one from the “blooper reel”. Enjoy.
NOTE: You can click on all photos in this post to see larger versions!