In a previous blog post, I wrote about motion in lights in amusement rides. There are still plenty of opportunities to visit a local county or state fair, traveling carnival, or amusement park before they start winding down for the year. Another technique I like to try when shooting rides or lights is to pan with the subject firing the shutter as the ride moves and attempt to match my panning motion speed with the speed the ride is moving. This effect allows for sharpness in some parts of the subject and motion blur in others.
A carousel or merry go round is a great subject to experiment with. I am told for what it’s worth that the difference is just directional. Carousels go counter clockwise, merry go rounds go clockwise. Hmm.
Anyway, remember that you will truly be shooting in three dimensions. The subject is moving toward you, in front of you and away from you, and possibly up and down on a pole. You will need to shoot lots of different images to get just the right combination of sharpness and blur, and centering of the subject in the frame.
For this subject I chose the Tamron SP AF17-50 f2.8 with VC stabilization. After some test shots I determined that the best exposures were, at this carnival, ISO 400, shutter speeds of 1/10th sec and 1/15th sec, apertures at f2.8 and 3.2. Not much difference in exposure. I just played with a slight variance in speed to try with a bit of a difference in blurred and sharp areas. I did leave the VC stabilizer turned on as it works well with panning. See the example images below. Be careful as not all brands of stabilized lenses work well while panning with the stabilizer turned on. You may need to turn yours off. Sometimes a monopod or tripod can be handy to help steady your camera. The VC stabilization helps a bit with camera shake at slow shutter speeds when panning. Also experiment with the follow focus or predictive focus mode in your camera. You may want to turn the auto focus off as it can easily be fooled in these situations and manually focus. I usually will determine my focus point and let the subject come to me, starting to shoot just before and continuing after the focus point, again to allow me the maximum possibility of getting what I want. Amusement rides are great for learning how to pan and shoot. When you are comfortable with the basics of slow shutter speed panning, it’s fun to experiment with all sorts of moving subjects, like sports and even children at play in the back yard. Notice I didn’t say “master.” There are always enough variables in exposure that you will probably always need to shoot a bunch of images to get what you like. But… that’s true of almost all photography. Shoot lots, learn what works, and improve your technique.
Have fun and good shooting.
@ 17mm, 1/10, f2.8 Great motion blur, and f2.8 subject isolation
@19mm 1/15 sec, f2.8 Try to get the horse at the top or bottom of its travel up and down the pole. There’s a pause, so there’s one less motion action to think about.
Don't forget to zoom in or get closer and shoot vertically. Though at 1/15th sec and f2.8 here at 50mm, the background motion blur is unseen.