Shooting action isn’t always about freezing the action. There are times when you want to convey a sense of motion so the viewer can get a feel for the movement and flow of an event. Two techniques you can use to achieve this effect are panning and motion blur.
Panning has been used for decades to capture the speed of a moving object as it moves across the frame. Panning is achieved by following your subject across your frame, moving your camera along with the subject, and using a slower-than-normal shutter speed so that the background (and sometimes even a bit of the subject) has a sideways blur, but the main portion of your subject is sharp and blur-free (Figure 5.6). It doesn’t work well for subjects that are moving toward or away from you. The key to a great panning shot is selecting the right shutter speed: Too fast and you won’t get the desired blurring of the background; too slow and the subject will have too much blur and will not be recognizable. Practice the technique until you can achieve a smooth motion with your camera that follows along with your subject. The other thing to remember when panning is to follow through even after the shutter has closed. This will keep the motion smooth and give you better images.
Another way to let the viewer in on the feel of the action is to intentionally include some blur in the image. This isn’t accidental blur from choosing the wrong shutter speed. This blur is more exaggerated, and it tells a story. In Figure 5.7, a fast shutter speed would have resulted in cars obscuring the building. As it’s a night shot, you probably wouldn’t see much detail, either. The long shutter speed brings out the stationary lights on the buildings and makes the passing vehicles blurs of light.
Just as in panning, there is no preordained shutter speed to use for this effect. It’s a matter of trial and error until you have a look that conveys the action. The key to this technique is the correct shutter speed combined with keeping the camera still during the exposure. You are trying to capture the motion of the subject, not the photographer or the camera, so use a good shooting stance or even a tripod.