Last year my boyfriend spent his summer holiday in the UK with me. He was here for two weeks, and we passed most of the time with spotting around LHR. One day he came up with an unplanned idea to visit London City Airport. I liked his thought, so I agreed immediately. Before we went there, I tried to find some information on the internet about the available spotter places and the daily traffic at LCY. The weather was really nice, so we stayed there all day long. If I had to choose, I would say, the best part of the spotting was the last 1 hour before sunset, because of the beautiful and special light which is called the golden hour.

What is golden hour?

That period of daytime when the sun is lower in the sky, it’s called golden or magic hour. The rays of the sun have to travel through the atmosphere more than during the day, that’s why shadows and highlights are softer and contrast is lower during this time. Golden hour light is very popular among photographers because it’s easier to work with than middays one, which is harsh. Due to the fact, less sunlight gets through, it allows photographers to use shutter speed creatively.

Like I said earlier, when photographing moving subjects, we can either freeze action by using fast shutter speeds or may capture motion with slow shutter speeds. I thought this time I would try to capture movements with a special technique, which is called panning.

What is panning?

Panning is the horizontal movement of the camera with the moving object. By following the subject, the background becomes blurred while the object stays sharp. This technique is used in those cases when there is some background to blur. When there’s nothing around the aircraft, only the plain blue sky, it’s pointless to slow down the shutter speed. The amount of blur depends on the fastness of the shutter speed, and it gives the shot a feeling of movement and rapidity. Furthermore, the current shutter speed depends on the quickness of the object, which is usually around 1/200 or even less. Bear in mind, the faster the shutter speed, the easier to keep the subject sharp! This technique is a bit difficult to learn, so it needs a lot of practice.

How to do panning?

1. Switch the camera to continuous frame mode, to increase the chance of getting more images to choose from.

2. Set the camera to take as many frames per second as it can, for the better possibility to get sharp images.

3. Make sure that image stabilization/vibration reduction is switched on to reduce the chance of getting blurry images.

4. Try to use darker backgrounds than lighter ones to avoid ghost effect and lines in the picture. Dark backgrounds make the subject more attractive than brighter ones.

5. Panning requires a stable hand and reasonably slow shutter speed. The most difficult part of getting a panning shot right is to learn how to move with the camera properly. Try to hold the camera as steady as possible and stand still in a firm stance, bring elbows close to the chest, and only rotate the top part of the body to follow the subject, to minimize arm movement.

6. Position the camera at the same level as the subject to help to focus.

7. Using a monopod or tripod can increase the chance to get good images.

8. Push the shutter halfway down, and track the subject with the camera. For the best results press the shutter button down when the subject is parallel to the camera. At the beginning I would say, try faster shutter speeds like 1/200 to capture some motion, and practice it as much possible. First, it will be quite difficult to follow the subject with the same speed and create sharp and crisp images. When using too fast shutter speeds, we can either freeze motion or could miss the shot, while using too slow shutter speeds, it results blur in the image. It’s tough, isn’t it? But don’t let it discourage you, keep practicing!

That’s it in a nutshell! The secret is, panning needs perfect synchronicity between the camera’s movement and the subject. I advise to do panning only those cases when we are not going to cry if we miss that shot, as there’s no guarantee that the panning is going to work in every case. It can be a lot of fun, but sometimes very annoying too, if we are unable to achieve what we want. Don’t be unsatisfied when taking 20-30 shots and only one comes out very well. Like I said panning is not an easy technique, but practice and patience makes difference. If all goes well, try to reduce the shutter speed to create images with more movement. Happy shooting!