P2 – Nighttime attempts at panning

“We don’t see like that, and it is only through the way in which a camera works that this very particular way of smearing parts of an image becomes visible.”
– M. Freeman, (Freeman, M., 2010, p160)

“That distortion would be almost impossible to create intentionally. Things like that just don’t happen.”
– E. Pastorino Diaz (Higgins, J., 2013, p68)

“…but in the realm of photography, what is reality other than camera effect?”
– Rodrigo Alonso (Higgins, J., 2013, p69)


I hadn’t really given panning much thought, it always looked so difficult (it is!) so I have kept away from it: I admit it, I was scared of it.
Thinking back to some of the wonderful artists I discovered while reading up about ‘movement’ in the photograph (Ex. 3.2) and thinking again about the impossibility of trying to capture movement within the frame (just cannot happen, as argued here) I thought I would revisit that impossible task again, just for the fun of it (I was walking around aimlessly the other night and it just popped into my head to shoot some traffic).

What did I do?

While wandering around I had originally been shooting with a 25mm F/1,4 prime (coz that’s how I like to roll) and had started off with that. I didn’t enjoy the fuzziness of that lens (it is a very cheap CCTV lens) for this panning idea so switched over to the Olympus 14-42mm kit lens (28-85mm Eq.) which yielded arguably better results.
The shots started off in my car which was too lazy so I eventually got out of it. Then I stood back from a main road and, after locking focus, I started shooting and panning anything that moved. I held the camera to my face as I was using the viewfinder to capture the shots. I discovered a useful technique of not closing my left eye while composing/panning so I could still see the moving vehicles as I was panning (this was discovered thanks to the OM-D’s screen/EVF going black during exposure).
As can be seen from the series of shots below, I slowly began to (kinda) get the hang of panning the camera in time with the passing traffic, including background effects to try to add to the frame, and also testing out a variety of shooting angles to see what happened.

First attempts

As mentioned above, these were taken using the 25mm prime; quirky and fun – but not inspirational. I was inside the car at this point (parked, I’m not mental) which wasn’t very conducive to variety of framings or viewpoints. I was just playing around, seeing what would happen; I didn’t get that ‘jump’, that adrenaline kick from these snaps so I got out of the car.

Second attempts

With these shots, apart from switching to the 14-42mm kit zoom lens, I also set the camera exposure to just over a second to around a maximum shutter speed of 3,2 seconds with some quite interesting results. The shorter shutter speeds i.e 1,3 seconds seemed to produce better results (at least within the then developing idea to capture cars and their trails as they drove past me).

Third attempt

Using the zoom’s 28mm equivalent view I tried to include some more surrounding details within the frame such as, light trails and darker texture above and below the passing vehicles. Some half-decent results, but possibly losing the subject (being the cars) within too many trails and effects; evidently it wasn’t what I was looking for (whatever it was I was actually looking for – but that was the whole beauty of this series of photos: the splendid unpredictability of the unknown).

Fourth attempt

Finally, I moved to another viewpoint (I suppose I was getting into the mood for it now) and I believe these shots have produced the best results. There seems to be more suggestion of movement as well as some really pleasant trails, tones and effects around the cars themselves – including all the frame and all its content within the overall message that I was trying to portray. Which was? I think, I wanted the cars to be submerged within the ambient lighting, creating a more dynamic, full, artistic (why do I still hesitate to use that term?) and creative manner.
The six ‘missing’ stills from the above contacts were taken out (by my software) as I had moved their position to view them and to create the following sequence which I feel is (one of) the successful products from this pleasant evening’s shooting.

Destruction sequence

This purely fortuitously, serendipitously discovered sequence works well for me and I feel it is the best thing to come out of this mini project. The images seemed to jump out at me when I was editing and looking through them for selection.
I think the closer focal length works (between a 44-84mm range) as does my closer position just off to the side of the road itself. I especially like the ‘firey mess’ from shot 3 to shot 6, something that happened purely by luck as I unsuccessfully tried to pan the camera to catch the (much quicker than expected) cars.
This little sequence might work better with a no-car shot to open and close the sequence, just to add a beginning and end to it, emphasizing the seemingly infinite repetition that it would imply? Or possibly just a final ’empty’ shot to bring the chaos to a close?


Reading through some interesting chapters in Maria Short’s Context and Narrative has possibly made me think a little more about stories and the narrative aspect of photography, the content, and what it is saying. Perhaps this ‘ability’ to see a sequence (or story?) is something that is currently being developed and tweaked within my photography (which has possibly always been around, as well as recently played with when researching ‘movement’ within the frame here) and thus why it (the sequence of shots) seemed to jump out at me?
As interesting as all that speculation may be, I have to be honest, this panning lark still doesn’t excite me beyond its own effect. The “Destruction sequence” of shots is certainly fascinating and, however much I try to, I can’t convince myself that this is because of the novelty of the panning experience itself, but is more likely down to the fortuitous discovery of the hidden sequence, which, of course, is no less enjoyable of beneficial.

Future considerations

How about giving this a go in the future with some new ideas?
I’m thinking:

  • try out some filters
  • day time shots
  • different weather conditions (rain?)
  • not just cars
  • tell a story using panning
  • more adventurous viewpoints
  • use a model/volunteer to add a human element
  • longer shutter speeds
  • use a tripod
  • plan the shots more

2 thoughts on “P2 – Nighttime attempts at panning

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