Is there a trick to panning when shooting cars?


No longer a newbie, moving up!
Jan 12, 2012
Reaction score
Corpus Christi, TX
Can others edit my Photos
Photos OK to edit
So I was out trying different shutter speeds to get the best back/foreground blur, and keep in focus on the car, and the sweet spot is 1/45 f/27 @ ISO 160. This was the clearest shot I got out of probably 40. Is there a trick to it? Would a tripod help, or hender? Different settings? Or is it all just practice, practice, practice?

Caddy by xj0hnx, on Flickr
Your 'sweet spot' will only work when the cars are moving at a certain speed and you're a certain distance from them. Move closer or further, or the cars change speed, you'll need a different shutter speed to achieve the same result.
Good to know, I didn't change spots, but their speeds are pretty much always going to be constant right there because there's a speed hump. I did zoom in some for a few though, don't know if that would effect it, didn't seem to much. I'll play around with distance tomorrow when the sun comes back up. I'll probably get my lense back from my sister, it's a VR so that may help a little.
I like panning too, once you get it a few times you'll know by instinct the shutter speed/distance, and how fast to pan the camera. My friends and i like to get a little crazy knee-dragging our bikes so sometimes i shoot pics

Unless you have one of the more sophistcated VR that have a panning mode, turn off VR it gets confused by panning/

I use a Monopod to keep any up and down movemnt away and just get side to side , I've used 1/100 but was closer with a telephoto lens
For the best results panning, you have to be pretty much perpendicular to the path of the car travel. That way, the portion of time that the shutter is open, the car is not moving into or out of the depth of field (focused zone). If not perpendicular, then it will either be getting nearer or further away at 88' per second, if travelling 60mph times some sine/cosine function of the angle. Unless you're far enough away to be set at infinity focus, it could easily move out of focus while the shutter is open.

I've also seen, but never tried, a zooming pan, where the car (or train, truck, plane) is coming toward the camera and once they 'hit' the focus point, zoom out(wider) at the "right" speed to keep the car in focus without having to refocus. Again, I believe the car would have to be at infinity focus distance for this, as well.

Whether panning horizontally or linearly with a zoom, expect most of the pictures to be failures. But practice makes perfect, and an oval race track could provide a lot of opportunities for on-the-job learning! I trashed lots and lots of slides learning to zoom in the film days. But with digital, the only cost is your time!
I love the bikes to. And sometimes you get lucky and catch the guy on the curve behind your subject ;)


The key, as has been mentioned, is to practice. It's actually fun practicing on the street. People think you are shooting radar and will slow down for you ;)

As long as you have a decently small aperture depth of field is normally sufficient for the short time that the shutter is open. Keep the shutter speed low enough that the background, wheels, etc. are blurred. Also, as with golf, the follow through is very important. Keep following for a second or so after the shutter trips.
Last edited:
As with most eye-hand coordination things, it takes practice to get the flow right, and to time the right point in the sweep to take the image. Also not to jerk the shutter - that'll throw off a good smooth pan.
Many years ago I shot photos at a local stock car track, and a good many were panned. I was using a film camera with manual everything (except motor drive), and never had much of a problem getting the shots. Don't recall what settings I used, but suspect 1/60th or so with ISO 400 film. No image stabilization in those days! Many of the shots were actually taken when the cars weren't going very fast, doing the start up lap or during slow downs. When people saw the photos, they often remarked that the car must have been going really fast, as it appeared that way.

The big thing is to pre-focus at the spot in front of you, then follow the car as it approaches, trip the shutter, then keep the camera following the car as the shot is taken.

Here's one from 1980 - 32 years ago:

All Nikon VR lenses that I am familiar with have automatic panning detection...I have not had a problem with leaving VR on, and in fact, I think VR is the best thing to happen to panning since autofocus!!!

The "secret" is not to pan too fast, or too slowly, and to track the moving target at the same,exact speed, and to continue swinging at that speed when the mirror is up,and the viewfinder is black...and THAT is very difficult for many people, unless they have a lot of practice under their belt.

There is no magic speed: how a pannign photograph turns out depends on distance to subject, angle of travel of subject in relation to camera, and size of object in frame as per distance/focal length combination. Panning can be done at high speeds, medium speeds, and slow speeds...loooong, slow pans at say, 1/3 to 1/6 second have a lovely look to them on some subjects. Kind of an impressionistic, "feeling-type" effevt is very common on slow-speed panning. Slow of course, is relative: on bicyclists at 30 feet with a 50mm, slow is 1/4 to 1/8 second; on hydroplane boats moving at 140 MPH, "slow" can be 1/125 second with a 300mm lens from 80 meters...

Some people like slow, blurry, motion-filled, "squiggly" panning shots, at times....others wanna' see the tires blurred, but the sponsor's decals really depends. Subject matter and artistic intent and end use of the photos are big issues in panning; panning is a way to convey or express motion, movement, speed, action, etc. There is NO SECRET SET OF SETTINGS!!!!

I used to shoot a LOT of panning shots way back in the 1980's. One secret I have used for a long time is not to look through the camera, but to look right over the top of the pentaprism, and shoot with with both eyes open, and not even looking through the camera. This is ONE area where a camera with a full-time optical viewfinder can really help the novice shooter....with a d-slr, when that mirror goes up, MOST people's natural inclination is to slow down the pan...which is not that big of an issue as long as the mirror comes back down "soon", and the panning time is not "long" or "slow". DIGITAL CAPTURE has made taking panning shots easier than ever before!!! A person can shoot, review, and evaluate the speed/distance/lens length in SECONDS, rather than waiting days for slides to come back!
Awesome, thanks for the tips. Rephargotohp, thanks, I hadn't thought about a monopod, that might actually help a lot.
My friend, I am here to tell you that yes there are tricks to panning. it all depends on what you are trying to pan and relative distance. you can move along the subject at the same speed or you can follow it with your camera or you can rig up the car/subject. as far as the settings go...well, theres no secret set of settings just as DERREL mentioned. best thing to do is get out there and try every single way you can think of.


Most reactions