The title of this post draws inspiration from a photography book I came across a few days ago – Carrying Cambodia, by Dutch-born photographer Hans Kemp and Irish man Conor Wall. The book features pictures based on a common theme, as you can expect from the title: the culture of carrying and transportation in Cambodia. And it’s definitely a book I’ll buy when back home.
When it comes to carrying goods, animals and people, in Cambodia there are no limits in terms of space, comfort and safety. For example, the other day we went on a tour (certainly the worst money spent on this journey) to the Bokor hill, near Kampot, and 22 of us we were asked to jump on the back of a truck that would take us on top of the hill. When we looked at the space available we said “no way we’re going to fit in there!”, but hey, in the end we did. Sure enough it wasn’t the safest or most comfortable thing to do, and, because the road was unpaved and full of potholes you should have seen how we kept jumping on our asses!
But enough with carrying and transportation. Without wanting to repeat or copy any idea, I just had some fun trying a few panning shots in the last few days, without paying too much attention whether I was photographing any particularly surreal carrying scene (although I caught one or two borderline situations).
But what does panning mean?
Panning is a photography technique that allow you to render a sense of fast motion. This technique is particularly powerful when photographing cars, motorbikes, trains, etc. but in a broader sense it can be applied to anything that moves. See Wikipedia here.
How do you take a panning shot?
If you google panning you’ll find a number of articles explaining you how to take a panning shot. For me the easiest way to go is:
- Set the camera auto focus (AF) mode to ‘servo’ – I don’t know about compact cameras but all DSLRs should have this AF mode. When you’re in servo mode, your AF system keeps following your subject and adjusting continuously (as long as you keep your subject within the AF area – the dots – in your viewfinder.)
- Set your camera to Aperture Priority and set your aperture and ISO to the values that give you a sufficiently slow exposure. Think of this: if the shutter speed is too high, then you’ll freeze all the motion and ‘kill’ the panning. So, base your judgement on the available light. For example, in morning daylight if the sun is strong, try to put the aperture to 18, 20, 22 or higher, depending on the lens you’re using. It goes without saying that your ISO speed should be 100 (or 50 if your camera goes that low). Wikipedia says that “The exact length of exposure required will depend on the speed at which the subject is moving, the focal length of the lens and the distance from the subject and background.” – but you don’t want to make any calculation, so the easiest thing is to try different settings until you find the ones that work for you in that situation. In these shots, for example, I’ve set my aperture and ISO in order to obtain shutter speeds varying between 1/15 and 1/60.
- Point the camera to the moving subject and focus on it – to do this, press the shutter half way.
- Follow your subjects motion with your camera, keeping the shutter pressed half way, and keeping the subject within the autofocus area.
- Press the shutter. You should press the shutter while following your subject’s motion, so don’t stop your movement as you press.
You may have to try a few times before you become familiar with this technique. The best place to try panning and train yourself is a busy street. Keep in mind that given that you’ll tend to use slower exposures than you would normally use in the same light conditions, you shouldn’t have any expectations on the overall sharpness of your subject. The main thing, in my opinion is to obtain enough contrast between the subject and the ‘panned’ background.