The Art of Panning
By Andrew Evans
One of the key skills an aviation photographer needs is to be able to pan his camera on its subject as it passes, this is an art form that requires some skill, forethought and plenty of practice. This guide will give you some basic pointers on how to get your own technique perfect.
Why is panning technique important? When an aircraft is taking off or passing-by, the key to correct photo's especially at lower shutter speeds is a smooth panning technique. Not only does this limit camera shake by moving the camera in a single continuous movement but also aids the photographer in being able to frame the subject more easily as it passes by.
Everybody's panning technique is different, what may work for one person may not for another. It is therefore important that you take the opportunity to practice to develop your preferred technique at every opportunity you get until it becomes second nature. Whilst every technique is different, there is one key component of panning which is common to nearly everyone's style. That is foot placement and body movement.
Good and bad foot placement can limit your bodies ability to continuously and smoothly move. If you have not positioned yourself correctly, this could result in a ruined photo from two different effects on your image. The first being camera shake from a jerky, unsmooth pan; the second being a badly framed image with noses.etc cut-off due to the photographer having to reposition or pause to take a photo in order to keep balance.
As the aircraft approaches, your initial reaction is to face square on to the subject. Whilst this is fine for the initial approach photos, as the aircraft passes you position you will quickly find that you have to reposition by turning your body and moving your feet in order to keep the subject in your viewfinder. The result? A jerky photo from poor panning technique!
Granted, the first few times you try this technique at an airshow you may feel (and look) a berk however, it will improve your panning. Position your feet and body parallel to the crowd line (or expected flightpath of the aircraft at an airfield) with a comfortable gate to help you balance. Now twist from your hips without moving your feet to face the subject. You now can smoothly follow the aircraft in the view finder by twisting around your hips without moving your feet. Not only does this remove the jerking motion of shuffling your feet but also limits the movement of your lens to a single plain which, helps the effectiveness of any VR technology in addition to limiting any additional camera shake.
As I've said time and time again, practice makes perfect however, if something gives you great results then stick with it regardless of what "experts" and others (including me) tell you!