Saturday, March 29, 2014

Panning For Gold (by guest blogger Cindy McCaffrey)

Panning for gold, in photography, is a technique that requires practice. Learning any skill calls for practice if you are to become accomplished in it.

Panning needs an awareness of the activity around you, knowledge of what might happen next by studying behavior, being familiar with your equipment, and a bit of luck… being in the right place and being ready for whatever is coming your way.

This series is an example of all of the above. [Photos appear in the order in which they were taken.] We were on the rocky beach in Homer, Alaska looking the area over. I was photographing an old sea otter, as he was just off shore, and the hills across Kachemak Bay when a flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) started a flurry of active fishing. They noisily caught my attention. I walked over a ways (not easy on the rocks) to have better access to them, and disconnected the camera from tripod rather than take to time to set it up on the rocky, slanting shoreline. With the camera now in good position I captured a few images of the flock activity and then singled out one gull to follow. 

When panning, it is necessary to follow the subject within your lens while moving to keep the subject in focus and in the frame. It is best to use spot focusing and a steady, smooth motion, whether your camera is tripod mounted or being hand held. 

·      Use a long lens 200 mm or longer.
·      Center your subject and fill the frame as much as possible.
·      Move in sync with your subject, moving left to right or right to left, not with the subject coming toward you or moving away from you.
·      Use Shutter Priority (Canon – Tv; Nikon – S)
·      If you have a fast moving subject, you can use a fast shutter speed to freeze motion. For a slower moving subject you can use a slower shutter speed to blur the background to show speed and motion. Adjusting the shutter speed determines how motion is portrayed. When panning, a slower shutter speed of 1/30 sec. or slower will blur the background.
·      Use continuous auto focus (continuous for Nikon and AI Servo for Canon).
·      Center your auto focus point and track the subject all the way while filling the frame to the extent possible. Follow through as if you were swinging a baseball bat by continuing to pan even after you have tripped the shutter.
·      Shoot with your subject directly in front of you.
·      Use short bursts (3 to 5 shots at a time) of continuous drive mode. 

Some cameras have a higher burst rate than others. Set your camera for the highest rate you have and practice. Remember the shutter speed determines how motion will be portrayed. See what you prefer in different situations.

[Editor’s Note: Notice that even though these images were taken in quick succession, Cindy chose to crop them slightly differently in post-production. It is best to crop each image for maximum impact, as Cindy did, and not lock yourself into the same cropping ratio unless necessary to fit a particular layout.)  

Cindy McCaffrey bio:
Cindy received a Brownie box camera for Christmas at about the age of 10. She photographed family, friends and vacations in NC and used various equipment through the years as technology evolved.  Five years ago, she and husband Bob attended the Wilmington International Exhibition of Photography (WIEP) and decided to visit the club sponsoring the exhibition. Delaware Photographic Society was welcoming and willing to assist new/intermediate photographers improve their skills. I have learned more of the technical and artistic techniques in photography from these generous, skilled photographers, and from photo tours and workshops with Awake the Light and others.

Shutter Speed 1/4000 sec. (last shot 1/5000 sec.).  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 1000.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS USM, set at 400mm.   Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld

TODAY’S QUOTE: “More gold has been mined from the thoughts of men than has been taken from the earth."  -- Napoleon Hill


  1. Not only is there a lot of good information in Cindy's PANNING FOR GOLD article, but it also demonstrates her instruction with remarkable Bonaparte’s Gull photographs (just been encourages by local/Delaware professional photographer Kevin Fleming at the Coastal Camera Club Rehoboth Photo Conference to us that term rather than pictures for images). Thanks, Cindy, for the lesson on panning! I will take notes and try everything you've suggested.

  2. Thank you for the comment. Enjoy your panning and I hope you get gold.

    We also enjoyed the Coastal Camera Club presentation in Rehoboth Beach. The photographs presented were beautiful and the information enlightening.