When he wanted to convey the feeling of flying down a tree-lined country road, instead of shooting from the passenger seat, Peterson laid flat on the car’s roof and shot at 1/15 sec., which blurred the trees and gave the image a sense of movement.
When you’re tracking or panning a subject, the slower the shutter speed, the more blurred the background becomes until it’s just streaks of color and tone. You can effectively pan at 1/30 sec., but for more creative results, try slowing down to 1/15, 1/8 or even 1/4 sec. The more busy and colorful the background, the better the panned subject will look in front of it. Experiment with different shutter speeds and check the blurs you’re getting on the LCD. This is a great advantage for digital shooters because you can try out speeds and see the results immediately to know if it’s the right shutter speed.
In Times Square, Peterson panned a white stretch limousine against a lively backdrop of colorful neon signs at 1/15 sec. Moving his camera from left to right and at a diagonal, the limo stays relatively sharp against a streaky background, creating an image with a sense of movement and speed.
On a rainy day, he panned a busy sidewalk of pedestrians carrying bright umbrellas and walking by colorful newspaper stands. He handheld the camera at 1/30 sec., aimed directly at the sidewalk and followed his subjects. The resulting photograph is full of energy and life.
Peterson also suggests vertical panning the next time you go to an amusement park or a playground and find yourself near one of those “free-fall” rides or a seesaw.
Paint With Shutter Speed
Spinning, zooming and even jerking the camera to capture motion while using a slow shutter speed takes you a step further into the realm of the abstract. Set a correct exposure that allows you to shoot at 1/4 or 1/2 sec. At the moment you hit the shutter, twirl, jiggle or jerk the camera up and down, side to side or round and round.
A flower garden is probably the best place to try this technique. Peterson photographed one at a shutter speed of 1/4 sec., and as he pressed the shutter, he rotated the camera in a right-to-left circular motion as if he were drawing a circle. At the same time, he used his other hand to zoom out his 12-24mm lens. He repeated the same technique, but changed the exposure to ƒ/22 at 1 sec. to make an even more abstract composition.
Instead of a classic fall shot of a tree’s colorful leaves in sharp focus, Peterson used a 1/30 sec. shutter speed while looking up at the tree with his wide-angle lens and spinning on his heels as he hit the shutter. Harbors, fruit and vegetable markets, and big crowds also make for good subject matter with this approach, as well as low-light photography where shutter speeds can range from 2 to 8 sec.