Panning for Photos In Vietnam

November 22, 2013 13 Comments »

panning photos vietnam
Vietnam’s 2-wheeled traffic is the perfect place to practice panning.

I stood on the street corner early one morning in Saigon with my camera.  As the next wave of motorbike traffic sped by, I was ready – the camera viewfinder was up to my eye, and I was ready to get in sync with the traffic whizzing by me.  I’d catch a motorbike through my viewfinder and move with it, essentially twisting until I could no longer keep up.  Then, I would twist back around and find another one to follow.  Many of the riders looked at me perplexed, trying to figure out what I was doing swiveling back and forth (maybe a new dance?), but there was a good reason for doing this twist – I was practicing my panning.

In photography, it’s great when you can connect with your subject, but when it comes to panning, you must be in complete sync with your subject.

Panning is when you move your camera in synchronicity with your subject creating a beautiful blurred motion background and a clear, crisp, in-focus subject.  Now it’s not just about movement and keeping up with your subject, it’s the settings on your camera that make this possible.  And in my case – lots of practice.

This is your chance to shoot at slow shutter speeds, When I’m shooting motorbike traffic I normally stick to 1/20 – a setting where I can normally get a lot of blur from moving the camera – but still be able to get a clear subject.  However, my image-stabilized lens does help quite a bit.  You may want to start at 1/60 and try to get the hang of it.  The slower the shutter speed, though, the more blur you get in the background – it’s addicting, I’m warning you.

The picture above with the girl in the yellow raincoat is panning and moving with the subject, However the picture below is simply a picture shot with a low shutter speed and creates the opposite effect.

motorbike in motion vietnam
Blurred motion shot – not moving with your subject.

I love panning photography in Vietnam because the motorbikes seem to go at a pace that I can keep up with and get some great shots.  Plus, when capturing Vietnam motorbike traffic, you never know what you are going to get. They carry all kinds of crazy stuff on the backs of those bikes!  In Saigon  – a city of millions of motorbikes, you don’t have to wait long for one to come by – you can get a lot of practice in.

So go to your favorite corner, set a focus point in the middle of the frame, and bring down your shutter speed (use shutter priority mode, normally represented by either an “S” or the letters “TV” on the mode dial on the top of your DSLR camera), loosen your twisting hips up, and start to follow some subjects. As you follow the subject through your viewfinder, when they get to the focal point you chose, then you snap the picture.  I normally continue to follow them after the shot just to keep in the flow of things.

Here are some of my best panning shots in Saigon.  I hope you go out and try some for yourself!

Panning photo saigon
The HCMC opera house is in the background.
baby on board bike vietnam
A slower bike caught in the traffic with a little baby on board. Typical Vietnam.

A cyclo ride in Saigon, Vietnam

panning photos vietnam
A couple commuting to work.  The shutter was so slow it caught her brushing her hair back.
panning pictures saigon
A colorful panning shot!
Ho chi minh city panning photos
Panning in Saigon
panning photo vietnam
This was one of the first I ever attempted, and it’s one of my favorites. It’s not super crisp – but I love the wave and the green background of the grass.
HCMC panning photography
Since all of these motorbikes were in a line going the same speed starting from a red light – I was able to get all of them in pretty good focus!
motorbike photos saigon
Rounding the corner
motorbike pictures vietnam
Carrying a heavy load!
panning photo
Zipping along!
vietnam rainy season photos
Taking cover from the rain!

Discover the best camera bag for travel – organized by travel style

If you want more information and tips on panning – then check out these articles:

The Art of Panning

Tutorial video on how to do Panning

Now get out and practice!  You can share your attempts on my Facebook page if you’d like!


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