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Arts & Entertainment

How to Use a Pan Shot When Shooting a Film

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: May 8, 2020 • 3 min read

In filmmaking, a pan shot is one of the most basic camera movements. Even though it’s simple to execute, a pan shot is one of the most versatile shots in a director's repertoire. Whether you're a novice director shooting on your smartphone or a seasoned professional, knowing how and when to use a pan shot is an important skill to hone.

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What Is a Pan Shot?

In cinematography, a pan shot is a horizontal camera movement where the camera pivots left or right while its base remains in a fixed location. The term “pan” comes from the word “panorama,” which describes a view so vast and grand you have to turn your head to see the entire vista. Similarly, a camera pan expands the audience's point of view by swiveling on a fixed point, taking in a wider view as it turns.

3 Ways to Use a Pan Shot When Shooting a Film

There are three traditional ways filmmakers use pan shots:

  1. To establish a location: Since camera panning provides a larger field of view, it's a great way to show the audience a wider perspective that wouldn't otherwise fit into a single static shot. For example, in a scene where a character is stranded on a raft in the ocean, you could pan around the entire horizon to show that there is no land in sight.
  2. To follow movement: You can use pan shots to track moving subjects across the screen. This is a "pan with" shot because the camera pans with the movement of a subject—for instance, panning with a car as it drives off down a street or panning back and forth as a character nervously paces while talking on the phone.
  3. To reveal information: You can use camera pans to call attention to specific plot details or character information. This type of shot is a "pan to" shot because the camera move is not dependent on another moving subject. For example, in a scene where a detective investigates a crime scene, you might show the detective leaving the room, then pan to a specific area of the crime scene to reveal a hidden clue the detective missed.
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What Is a Whip Pan?

A whip pan (also called a “swish pan”) is a quicker type of pan shot in which the camera pans so fast that it creates a motion blur effect. Directors use whip pans to move back and forth between different parts of the same location, to increase the energy in a scene, to transition between scenes, or to indicate the passage of time.

Panning, Tilting, and Trucking: 3 Types of Camera Moves

Tilting shots and trucking shots share similar characteristics with panning shots, but it's important to know how they differ.

  • A pan shot is a camera movement where the camera pivots horizontally on a single point while its base remains static.
  • A tilt shot is a vertical camera movement in which the camera base remains in a fixed location while the camera pivots vertically.
  • A truck shot is a horizontal camera movement similar to a dolly shot in which the entire camera moves right or left, usually on a track.

How to Use Pan Shots in Still Photography

Panning is common when working with film or video cameras, but you can also use it to take still photography. To capture an image of a moving subject, pan the camera to follow the subject for the span of the exposure. This technique results in a blurred background, giving the photo a feeling of movement. Pan shots are an effective way to photograph fast-moving subjects such as cyclists, running animals, and moving vehicles.

If you’re a photographer taking a pan shot, use a tripod or monopod with a swiveling head in order to prevent camera shake. Still pan shots of moving subjects require a slower shutter speed than other types of action photography, and the exact speed is dependent on the focal length of the lens, the speed of the moving subject, and the camera’s distance from both the moving subject and the background.

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