Panning in its most basic form, is moving the film plane in sync with a moving subject. This synchronization nullifies the movement of the subject as far as the camera is concerned so we have effectively, frozen a moving subject. This is a very old technique and for it to be effective, as far as rendering a sharp, frozen moving subject, it must be practiced on a continual basis. I’m talking about a minimum of once a week in order to make it a took in your arsenal that will serve you whenever you need it. This is basic, human, muscle memory training which is what panning boils down to in its most simplest terms. These days of being “stuck” inside, you can’t let this skill you’ve built up slip away.
But just capturing a sharp image cannot be an in point to our photograph. Panning is a technical tool that is reduced to this and what the world needs is not more technically perfect photographs, what it needs are more with passion. We must push our craft past that to panning becomes a means to art. These photographs of a B-17 are an example of what I’m talking about. The sky was a great blue and it had great clouds all being brought to life with gorgeous light. Shooting handheld with a D4s / 200-400 and D5 / 180-400 the shots are no accident. I put myself in position so when the aircraft make their passes, the gesture of their flight is set against that sky, the color making the clouds pop out with the light bringing it all to life. Yes, panning is why they are sharp but moving past the technique and to the art, panning is what brought all those elements to life in the photo. Push your technique and get out and practice even if it’s with cars so it is the building block to your art and then your photography will take life. Panning is more than a technique, panning is art.
Been cooped up for a while, looking for something you’ve not photographed inside your house? Yeah, cabin fever can really put a damper on the old creative juices. But you can’t let that happen, you gotta keep moving photographically forward. Perhaps while social distancing (driving around in your car by yourself) find that subject you’ve seen a million times and though it could be a photograph, it never has been, yet. The one thing it was missing was, light. Now might be the time to visit that subject with a longer lens at times of the day you’ve not seen it before. Like this photo, I headed out during a thunderstorm to see if the clouds would break in my favor to spotlight the hangar. Tucked away in the corner of nowhere, MT, this grass strip hangar has long caught my imagination but never my camera. Finally, the light worked in my favor and I made a click. While I think I could do better, I’m happy to finally have made at least one click. It will be easy though for me to improve, because it’s just around the corner!
Most air-to-air photo missions are all about the plane, less the pilot, and always about the moment. But this was my first where it was all about the flower! I have a well-earned reputation for not being a posey shooter. So when I received the request for a very specific photo mission over yellow flowers, I did a double-take! I love a challenge and working outside my comfort zone (the flowers, not the planes) I embrace but as always, what was in my mind wasn’t what transpired.
450 Stearman captured by D6 / 70-200f4
The Palouse in WA is green and gorgeous with many hills blanketed in yellow from the blooming Canola plants. From the road they appear vast, they even do flying overhead on a commercial flight. Yeah, not so much at 1500AGL doing 120knt indicated. We headed out with five aircraft to capture that brilliant yellow for a background which in the brief sounded pretty simple. Armed with the D6 / 70-200f4, I stared through the viewfinder wondering what I was going to do. Once in the air it was obvious to me that the time over the biggest Canola field would be less than 30 seconds. They aren’t very big or wide! The first pass was a bust as the yellow didn’t fill the background but I still managed to make some clicks. Next pass we went from corner to corner of the field providing the greatest coverage and for one or two clicks, the Canola filed the background. It was definitely a learning experience that next year, we’re going to do a whole lot better!
Harvard & P-51D Mustang captured by D4s / 70-200f4
Many are getting ready to take to the skies again with their camera and an aircraft in their viewfinder. Light is a big part of making a successful air-to-air photo mission. How can you get ready for that flight now while still down on the ground? Breaking it down to its most basic parts, you have a cylinder moving around a light source. In that travel, there is a time when that cylinder looks good and times when it looks bad. This goes for both the path of the light and the quantity of the light. You can mimic this on the ground and teach yourself to see the light that you can pass along to your pilots.
Head to your local hardware store and purchase a foot long piece of aluminum pipe. Get a piece of flat aluminum and attach it to the pipe. You now have a plane muck up you can teach yourself to see the light with. Like a little kid, “fly” that cylinder around in the light at all times of the day and look at the light on the cylinder (it will only work if you make airplane sounds BTW). Take your camera and shoot video of the plane at arm’s length and then look at that light. You will start to see when it’s better and when it worse. Once you have an idea, take photos of that cylinder and process them. What works for you, your story, your client, your passion. You can teach yourself to see the light on the cylinder!
The weekend is almost here, the weekend when many can get back out and shoot! Whether you have been working 9-5 or Stay at Home, in either case, your basic skills might need sharpening, now’s the time to sharpen! You know what I’m talking about, I’ve mentioned it a few thousand times before. Hand-holding and panning, practice the rest of the week so you’re ready to go this weekend. Watch Basic Handholding and Panning videos I’ve posted to remind yourself. Then go out and do some practice by really pushing yourself!
This is perfect for those of you with kids at home, all you need are two kids and a tennis ball. Now, set your camera to the settings you prefer (I use Shutter Priority 1/60, AutoAreaAF), put your kids about 30-40 feet apart and have them toss the tennis ball between them. Now, you FOCUS and get SHARP images of that ball going back and forth. Simple! Do this for 15-20 minutes every day and you’ll be ready for the action this weekend.
PS … remember to make your gear purchases at Bedford Camera and mention the discount code MOOSE for special pricing. Additionally, you will have free shipping on orders over $99 and most likely no sales tax.
When it comes to aircraft, I learned from the get-go that angles are everything! I think about it so much, I have 1:16 models in the office that I stare at all the time as the light changes. I have them at eyelevel so I think how I would see the aircraft lying on the tarmac. It’s made a difference in how I shoot.
I grabbed these P-47 images to illustrate my point. Shot with the D5 / 24-70f2.8, I simply moved around at The Jug looking how the morning light was changing its imposing stance. Do I have a favorite among the three here, you bet. You might too and that’s the point.
It’s real easy when out on the line to see one shot and with all the stimulation, go with that first “wow” view. I’m going to encourage you to walk around because you just might find a better shot. Simply put, check the angles!