Panning fast moving cars at Motorsport events with Jason Nugent


1.Go to the track.

Shooting a nice pan of a car racing by is as much luck as it is technique, some days. There are times when I’m nailing them, and then there are days when I can’t seem to do anything right.  It’s probably related to my massive coffee intake.  In any case, you’ll get a chance to practice more if you go to a motorsport event a track, compared to something like a stage rally.  At track events the cars will come by over and over again, giving you lots of opportunity to practice and try different things.


ISO 100 1/80s f/8 200mm


2. . Drop your shutter speed, and then drop it some more.

A pan is all about using a slow shutter speed.  Slow shutter speeds blur the wheels, and if you nail the focus on the car and track it nicely, you’ll get a sharp car moving against a blurred background.  How slow you need to go often depends on what you’re shooting.  For nicely blurred backgrounds at the track, shutter speeds slower than 1/100s will do the trick, to start.  Keep going lower as your technique improves.

ISO 400 1/20s f/9 24mm


3. Use an ND filter if you have to. 

Because you’re trying to shoot at a slow shutter speed, you may find yourself wondering how you can do that when it’s bright out, and you don’t want to also make your aperture really tiny, and you’ve already bottomed out your ISO.  A one or two stop ND filter will let you drop your shutter speed even further without forcing you to compromise on other camera settings.

ISO 100 1/30s f/8 70mm


4. Try to be as side on to the car as possible.

When a car is moving around a corner, and you try to pan it, that’s called a “three quarter pan” and while it can look very nice if you nail it, realize that the front and the back of the car are often moving at different speeds relative to your position, and sometimes getting the car in focus is tricky.   If this is the sort of shot you want, try tracking just one part of the car, like the driver’s eyes if you can see them, or the number or logo.  One of the things I love about stage rally is that cars are often very sideways on corners and you can pan the the shot and you’ll only see the front of the car in the final image.

ISO 100 1/100s f/10 32mm


5. Experiment!

Seriously, when I shoot rallies or other motorsport events, my photographer friends and I often have “1 second challenges” where we try to pan with a 1 second shutter speed, or even slower.  The results vary, but after a while it all starts to look like fine art and it’s a great way to have fun and hone technique.


ISO 31 1/10s f/16 170mm






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