Blurring photos to perfection with mobile Pan Blur

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Panning with a moving subject creates a heightened sense of motion and visual interest


A popular hashtag on Instagram is #bluronpurpose where the images have blurring for creative purposes. Using a panning blur technique you can freeze the action of a moving subject while blurring the background adding visual interest and accentuating the concept of motion. While this technique is often used by professional and amatuer photographers using camera’s where they can manually control exposure settings like shutter speed, the same results can be achieved with the camera phone in your pocket.

Most of the latest camera phones do a pretty good job in low light. Although equipped with flashes they are often underpowered and the results are not always the most flattering. Shooting with the flash turned off can still work out since many of these cameras automatically change the effective ISO (or ‘film speed’)  and slow the shutter down. The issue with slow shutter speeds is that you may get blurry photos. The blur may be caused by moving subjects, involuntary camera shake by not having the camera held steady by still hands, some sort of brace or tripod. While you could look at this as a limitation, I see it as a creative opportunity.



Pan with subject parallel to camera


I have found that despite these limitations and lack of camera settings control, the camera phone is a fantastic tool for employing the creative technique of pan blur.  A pan blur resulting in an image with a blurred background and a sharper subject may denote speed as mentioned above, but it also may just be the technique that saves those old blurry images in the low light you ended up deleting.

For me, mobile photography provides a great opportunity to perfect this technique. The first important point, as with all photography techniques, is that practice makes perfect and since you are able to review your work immediately and do not have to to pay and wait for film you can really try this with great vigour. The second element is that camera phones are really light and easy to hold therefore quite easy to pan. They also have relatively large viewfinders (compared to old SLRs) and they usually have a handy grid to use to align your moving subject.



A busy background makes for a nice effect when panning.


For best results, try on subjects moving along a plane parallel to you and practice depressing the shutter button lightly and moving the camera in one fluid movement. Try using the the volume button shutter technique on the iPhone for a more stable pan, grasp and movement. I use the viewfinder grid of the camera app (iPhone) to ensure my subject stays in the same spot in my frame as I pan. This technique is not easy, but after enough tries you will start to get the hang of it and when you ‘nail’ a shot the results are extremely pleasing.


    • It’s best to have subject moving parallel to your camera to towards or away from
    • Busy backgrounds offer nice texture when blurred
    • Keep camera level
    • (iPhone) Turn on the grid in Settings > Photos & Camera
    • Move your body (waist) keeping your arms steady and movement smooth without up and down movement
    • Practice the pan before shooting to get the motion steady and fluid
    • Be patient, shoot lots of frames, practise practise practise


Article contributed by Rory Tucker, a Technical Director from Canada who often moonlights as a passionate photographer and loving father. You can connect with Rory via Instagram @rorytucker


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