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Capture gorgeous panned shots without the dizziness

Added on Tuesday 17th of March 2009 12:48 am EST


Adobe Photoshop CS/CS2/CS3/CS4

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows

Taking panned action shots with a camera can take years to master. Moving in sync with the subject matter (sometimes at high speeds) is required to achieve the perfectly panned effect. Fortunately, you no longer have to spin around to capture a panned shot of a circling horse on a race track—you can achieve the shot with the help of Photoshop.


To help you achieve a panned photo effect, we’ll:

       Use an isolated copy of the subject in action so it will remain stationary while the rest of the image appears to move.

       Apply several motion blurs at different settings to capture the full effect of a panned action shot.

       Copy the original image and lower the opacity to create a faint in-focus layer for extra realistic detail.


Sporting events are everywhere. From a big-ticket event like the Super Bowl to a potato sack race at a company picnic, the excitement and fun of a sporting event always makes you want to take a few photos. While you may think you need a zoom lens longer than your arms and a camera body that costs as much as a compact car to get great sports photography, you can use pretty much any digital camera to capture the action.


Tame your technique

Before you try to capture the perfect action shot there are a couple techniques you should know about that create different motion effects:

            Stop action or freeze motion. This camera technique freezes your subject in mid-motion. You can achieve this by increasing your shutter speed to 1/200th of a second or more depending on your subject’s speed. This technique works great for catching a basketball player shooting a basket.

            Panned action. This is a film technique where the photographer moves the camera at the same speed and direction as an object in motion. This creates the illusion of a stationary object with a moving background, as shown in Figure A.



Panning in Photoshop

Because panned action is the hardest technique to master with a camera lens, we’ll show you how to create the effect easily using Photoshop. Photoshop lets you mimic this effect by applying motion blurs and layer masks to any stop-action photo.

First, you’ll need to find a photo for this technique. To follow along with our example, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article and extract the file skatebetty.psd. Then, launch Photoshop, and open the file shown in Figure B. (Images provided by PhotoSpin. Some images modified for educational purposes.)



Isolate your subject

If you’re working on your own image, you’ll need to isolate your subject. To do this, duplicate the background layer to preserve the original. Then, make a selection around your main subject and, with the selection active, click the Add A Layer Mask button located at the base of the Layers palette.

If you’re using our sample image, you’re in luck! To speed this technique along, we created a duplicate layer with a layer mask around the skater girl. We named the layer Girl, as shown in Figure C. This layer will be the part of the image that remains static while you set the rest of the image in motion.



To create new layers and apply blur effects:

1.          Select the Background layer and drag-and-drop it onto the Create A New Layer button at the base of the Layers palette.

2.          Double-click on the new layer and name it Motion Blur 110.

3.          Choose Filter > Blur > Motion Blur to display the Motion Blur dialog box.

4.          Leave the Angle set at 0, change the Distance to 110, and click OK. (The Distance value will vary depending on the size of your image.) Your image should look like Figure D.

5.          Duplicate the Background layer again. This time drag the duplicate copy above the Motion Blur 110 layer in the Layers palette.

6.          Name the new layer Motion Blur 40.

7.          Choose Filter > Blur > Motion Blur, set the Angle to 0 and the Distance to 40, and click OK.



Note: Another quick way to create motion in an image is to use the Radial Blur filter. To find out how to use this filter, read the companion article titled “Create a sense of movement in your action shots” in this issue of Inside Photoshop.



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