Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, 1/8 sec @ f/32, panned
The more I photograph, the more I love experimenting with different ways of seeing my subjects. Making photographs that move beyond the obvious is more interesting to me, and I think it’s a way to put more of myself into my photos. It’s okay to give yourself permission to experiment, break some rules, and create something unique and original that expresses what you bring to your art! One of my favorite techniques is to make photographs while moving my camera vertically and using a slow shutter speed. Some people call this vertical panning, some call it intentional camera movement; I say call it whatever you'd like—I call it fun!
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, 1/4 sec @ f/32
Deliberately moving your camera during an exposure can result in stunning abstract photographs; it's a wonderful way to see and capture your subject differently! It does take some practice and is often hit or miss as each photograph yields such different results.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, .4 secs @ f/14
Panning (or Intentional Camera Movement)
To get the best results from panning, find a subject that includes pattern, line, color, shape, or contrast. Make your pans with shutter speeds generally between 1/8 and 1/30 of a second, depending on the effect you want to create and the speed of your panning movement. I suggest that you start at 1/15. If you cannot get a slow shutter speed on a bright day, try adding a polarizing filter or neutral density filter to see if you can slow things down. Shoot either in manual or shutter priority mode. Look for subjects with strong vertical lines, such as trees, flowers, tall grasses, buildings, or fences—anything where you can follow those lines with your camera. Check for any distracting elements in your composition (as you would when making any type of image), then recompose to avoid those if necessary. Once you have chosen your subject, made your composition, and selected your focus, aim your camera to the top of the scene (I usually try to eliminate any visible sky by aiming just below it). Start moving the camera downward in a quick and fluid straight motion, and click the shutter as you move the camera to the bottom of the scene. If you find it easier to start at the bottom of the scene and move up instead, that’s fine—there are no rules! Shoot many variations as no two will be the same. If you want more detail, use a shorter shutter speed. If you want less detail, try a longer speed. Find the look and speed that works for the story you want to tell.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, 1/15 sec @ f/20
Be prepared to shoot many frames for this technique and to delete many photos. No two will be the same and you’ll be deleting images as you experiment with your shutter speed and camera movement. I do this handheld, but if you are more comfortable using a tripod, just loosen the head so that you can move it.
Top: Canon EOS 20D, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, 1/6 sec @ f/36
Left: Canon EOS 5D, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, .4 secs @ f/32
Right: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, .3 secs @ f/22
Think beyond trees; you can pan buildings, other landscapes, and smaller scenes. Just look for a frame filled with line, shapes, or color. This is a great method to try on a windy day when you're not going to get subject sharpness, or with a subject that isn't in prime condition. Blur is not only very forgiving, but it's also a great way to create photos when you aren't feeling very creative; panning gets you out of that slump!
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, 1/10 sec @ f/32
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, 1/4 sec @ f/32
Once you get the hang of going straight down or up, vary your technique a bit. Try making a curved motion, diagonal, zigzag, or a choppy motion. Experiment; this is fun! Add a little curve or a wiggle to that vertical motion for a different effect.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM, 1/25 sec @ f/18
Try moving the camera horizontally, too! I love doing this when photographing subjects with strong horizontal lines like bodies of water, beaches, and large fields.
Canon EOS 5D, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, .3 secs @ f/22
Want to pan with your iPhone? There's an app for that! Slow Shutter Cam is simple to use and you can easily set the timer to control the shutter speed. I generally set mine to Motion Blur, Medium Blur Strength, 2 seconds. All the photos below were made with the Slow Shutter app.
To add an impressionistic look to your photos, make multiple exposures while moving your camera either in an arc or vertically, moving the camera with each exposure. (Note: You'll need a camera with a multiple exposure function for this.)
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, 1/250 sec @ f/11
Check your camera's manual to see where the Multiple Exposure setting is located in your menu, select that function, choose the number of exposures (I often use 3, 5, or 7), then find a subject with lots of line and color and start shooting! For the arc movement, I usually place my focus point off center, but it you like a more centered swirl, that's fine too. Rotate the camera (I generally go clockwise) with each exposure, turning the camera just a bit each time you click the shutter. The results are different every time I do it, but to me, that's part of the fun!
Left: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM, 1/1250 sec @ f/6.3
Right: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF180mm f/3.5L Macro USM, 1/1600 sec @ f/8
I also use this technique with my Lensbaby:
Left: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Lensbaby Composer Pro, 1/800 sec (no aperture value)
Right: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Lensbaby Velvet 56, 1/25 sec (no aperture value)
By moving the camera up or down as you click the shutter, you can create a very different effect:
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, .3 secs @ f/16
AvgCamPro is an app that makes multiple exposures on the iPhone. You can control the number of photos and the shooting interval in the settings to create images similar to the ones below.
As you can see, there are multiple tools available to create painterly photos, and odds are you already have access to some of them. It doesn't take much—just a willingness to explore and play. I hope this inspires you to get out with your camera to try something new!
Kathleen Clemons is an award-winning photographer, instructor, speaker, and workshop leader from the Coast of Maine. Primarily a nature photographer, Kathleen is known for her creative use of natural light and unique compositions. Named by Lensbaby as the "Georgia O'Keeffe of Flower Photography,” her work is represented worldwide by Getty Images and other agencies. With a background in education and a passion for both photography and instruction, Kathleen teaches others how to improve their photography skills and to see beyond the obvious. See more of her work and learn more about Kathleen on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.