PANNING (quick, somebody get me a BOWL!)

Warning: Learning new photography techniques may cause nausea.

As a photographer becomes more and more committed to their craft, they are willing to endure certain “discomforts” in order to capture that photo that serves as their badge showing they have put in their time (and paid their dues) to learn a new camera technique.  Before I was able to capture the following photo (MY proof that I at least get the gist of “panning”) I had to pay my dues as well. Allow me to share the steps that led up to the moment I clicked on the shutter. What is panning? Panning is a camera technique used to show movement of a subject within its surroundings without blurring the subject itself. (Note to camera enthusiasts: sorry, this is NOT an instructional post, but you’ll still learn something anyways).

The photo on the left was taken at the playground at my daughter’s school. The idea for the photograph struck me one night at dinner (unfortunately AFTER I had filled my tummy), as I recalled an online article I had seen with a similar photo as an example. Remembering that my girls’ school had the type of merry-go-round I needed to pull it off, and with only a couple more hours of available daylight, I grabbed the camera and the kids and headed to the school.   Unfortunately, once I got there, I was reminded how SMALL the merry-go-rounds for SMALL kids were. This added a degree of difficulty to my efforts, since I needed to create a sufficient amount of distance between myself and my subject to capture enough of the background. Even worse, the smaller circumference, when set in motion, caused a slightly higher centrifugal force to be exerted upon me than anticipated. From the moment I ran and jumped on for the first round of shots, it was pure determination that got me through the rest of them (determination had to do, seeing I didn’t bring along any pepto bismol).

The challenges aren’t always solely on the one behind the camera, however. The subjects also find themselves having to endure several shots under different directions and poses before something works. For instance, this photo was being taken with the intention of submitting it to a music-themed gallery at a local music school, so my daughter had brought along her dulcimer (a small lap guitar of sorts with a beautiful sound…look it up). Luckily, for her, this provided her with a fixed object to focus on as my other daughter kept the wheel a-spinnin’. However, my model still had to patiently test out different spots on the carousel while I tried to keep my balance (and keep my dinner down) in order to get a properly composed shot. By this, I mean both of her hands needed to be showing AND be in a position that implied the instrument was in use, her head needed to be at the proper angle to catch the wind just right, and I needed to not only capture all of her plus enough of the background, but do it from the right angle and distance, in focus, and at the right shutter speed, all without falling off of the ride myself!

The following line of photos shows snippets of our queasy progression.

Even now, with the photos safely off my camera card, edited and on their way to the printing shop, I still feel a bit of vertigo when I look at them, like those pointillist images at the mall you have to stare into for a few minutes before “seeing” what the hidden image is. Despite this, I will always be willing to put up with minor distractions such as this if I think it will add another quality image to my portfolio. On to the next technique…

Oh, that’s right, I did say at the beginning of my post that you would learn something, didn’t I?

Well, if you haven’t already, here’s something to ponder…

Oftentimes, a photo is seen simply for what it is, and though it may be seen as a beautiful photograph, only a few viewers put thought into what went into capturing that shot in the moments beforehand. (This is where I’m tempted to go off on my rant about copyright and copying photos online, but I’ll reserve that for a future post). This is what I love about juried galleries. Not only is your work sure to be given a close look-over by competent artists in your field, but also, if you’re fortunate to get your image past the jury and up on the wall in that gallery (I’m happy to report that the one at the top of this post made it through), you will have many more eyes looking at it with a deeper level of thought. I hope that by sharing a little of our behind-the-scenes you might now look at the photos you see with a deeper consideration as to how the image came to be, whether it be online, in somebody’s scrapbook album, or an art gallery. Want some practice? Many galleries are free and open to the public, and often in the most surprising places. Give one a visit and support local artists, they’ll surely appreciate it! If you’re a new camera enthusiast wondering if you’re getting it right, I highly recommend putting your work in front of a jury. You may not make it through at first, but it’s a great motivator for perfecting your skills until you do.

And if you STILL haven’t learned anything, heed this advice:

Wait at least two hours after eating before venturing out to practice your panning!

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