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Pan for the Gold

By Mike Pasini, Editor
Imaging Resource Newsletter

Even wily veterans can find themselves beginners sometimes.

It happened to us recently (we aren't wily enough, apparently) at "the barn" where we'd gone to observe a riding lesson. While we practiced pronouncing "dressage" (like "triage") and tried to tell a trot from a canter, we got it into our head to take a picture of horse and rider in mid-jump.

"There's no law that says your camera has to be still when you take a picture."

We snuck down to the fence (I can't remember the technical term) and hid behind a large weed (ditto). Relying on the discretion of our digicam's soundless shutter, we composed the nearest jump in our viewfinder (too bright for the LCD), confident we wouldn't spook the well-trained horse with landing on its mind.

We thought we were ready.

But a test shot of Rider No. 1 revealed we didn't have a clue. Nice shot of the top bar and the standards of the jump, but there was an unrecognizable blur streaking across the picture. It was, you guessed it, the horse. It had been moving.

The Photography 101 solution to this problem is to use a faster shutter speed. But with an automatic camera, the only way to do that is to make the sun a lot brighter. Which we didn't have time for. Our rider was up next.

Did we mention we're wily?

As Mia directed Brandy the Palomino to trot, jump, canter and cruise the course toward our jump, we remembered to pan Brandy with the camera. In other words, we kept the camera moving with the moving subject.

There's no law that says your camera has to be still when you take a picture. Sure, camera shake is the leading cause of blurry pictures, but when the subject is moving, you can get a much sharper shot by moving the camera along with the subject.

First, we took our measure of the jump, depressed the shutter button halfway to lock the exposure and focus, then picked up Brandy a jump away. We tracked the horse in our viewfinder and pressed the shutter just before the apex of the jump (trying to time it like, well, a trained horse).

The standards were blurred, the top bar too, the mountains behind were a streak of blue -- but Brandy and Mia were in focus.

We felt like wearing a horseshoe wreath of flowers home.


This article is reprinted from The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter,
Beginner's Flash Column, published May 19, 2000