Capturing moving objects is a skill worth acquiring for a photographer. Here are some tips on how to get it right
I’ve spent the past twenty-odd years shooting moving objects. It started when I began assisting and working at Autocar India magazine in my early days as a photographer. It was followed by a long-term association as a freelance photographer with TopGear India magazine.
During this period, I shot many cars and bikes. The trickiest part was shooting them in motion, which is termed a “pan shot”.
A pan shot captures a car in motion by intentionally having only the subject in sharp focus and the background blurred. To achieve this effect, one needs to hold the camera steady to place the subject in a steady frame. This is a skill in itself.
ARRANGING A SHOT
Look for a proper block where the car can stand out from its background. Choose a dull backdrop, such as foliage or a rock patch.
Park the car at an angle you prefer and take test shots to check focus and reflections on the car as well as the background.
Once the frame is composed correctly, lock the focus for that block and ask the driver to drive the car at the maximum speed allowed on that stretch of road.
If the shoot is happening on a public road, then please ask your assistant to stand at the blind corner to check for incoming traffic to avoid any mishaps.
TAKING THE SHOT
One can derive the shutter speed to capture the action in keeping with the chosen focal length of the lens.
If the focal length of the telephoto lens is around 200mm, then the shutter speed can be about 1/100th second to 1/125th second to be able to achieve that blurred effect.
Ideally, you should use a telephoto lens with a focal length of more than 100mm to maintain the perspective of the object correctly. But, such decisions are meant to be taken in keeping with the location – depending on the available space on the roadside, whether the surface is even or not, etc. These little details change the perspective and angle of the shot, and the focal length may differ.
If it’s a flat, even surface and has sufficient space to allow a shot from a longer distance, I would prefer to shoot with a lens that has a 200mm to 300mm focal length.
If the available light is too bright, you can reduce the ISO or use a Neutral Density filter to reduce the light.
In today’s digital photography era, there are many choices to increase or reduce ISO to achieve the desired shutter speed. And if you have good practice with such shots, then you can even go low on shutter speed as per your choice.
The lower the shutter speed, the more the blur. Here, one must take advantage of the inbuilt vibration control or image stabilisation available in the lens.
Presenting some interesting pan shots captured under various circumstances over the years.
Shot for a TopGear India article on bikes at the Madras Motor Race Track. Focal length: 160mm Aperture: f-18 Shutter speed: 1/125
This image was published in TopGear India to accompany a comparison story of two bikes. It was shot on the old Mumbai-Pune Highway. Focal length: 105mm Aperture: f-9 Shutter speed: 1/125
I shot this image at the Madras Motor Race Track for a feature story in TopGear India on the Lamborghini. Focal length: 105mm Aperture: f-9 Shutter speed: 1/160
Another image published with the same TopGear India feature on the Lamborghini, shot at the Madras Motor Race Track. Focal length: 150mm Aperture: f-9 Shutter speed: 1/125
This was shot in the limited space of the city. I had to stand very close to the car to be able to take this shot, so I shot this at a wider focal length of 46mm with a shallow depth of field of f-5.6 and a low shutter speed of 1/50 second, which is not ideal. But I had to skillfully manage with this setting as it was a vintage car and had to be shot on a city road that allows driving only at a limited speed.
This image was shot in a dense forest area on an Amby valley road in the rain. I wanted to capture the droplets of rain, so I used two flashes from either side along with the panning. Here again, I shot at a wider focal length of 70mm with a shallow depth of field of f-5.6 and shutter speed as low as 1/30th second to capture the dark foliage in the background.
You may notice that the water drops have frozen due to the light from the flash while the movement of the car is noticed due to the blur in the foliage.
This picture is dedicated to our late friend, Dhaval Dhairyawan, then the in-house photographer at TopGear India, who was way ahead of his time in automotive photography and was an incredible source of inspiration in my photography journey. This image was an attempt to replicate a visual he had shot earlier, in his memory.