Panning in film: What is a pan shot?

Panning in film

Panning in film is an essential part of a filmmakers arsenal. It’s one of the most dependable yet versatile camera moves, but it will elevate your film to the next level. Using a fluid head you can get a versatile shot that engages the audience. 

You can show the audience something extra using a pan shot to create suspense and action. In today’s article, we look at panning in film, the reasons to use a pan shot and the best pan shot examples in film. 

Let’s check it out.

What is a Panning Shot in Film?

A pan shot is a technique where the camera is turned on a fixed head whilst following your subject. Panning in film is usually shot with a slower shutter speed to create an element of quickness to blur the picture slightly. 

It’s perfect for action in film.

What is a whip pan? 

A whip pan is a pan shot where the cameras panned so quickly that the picture is blurred into streaks. It’s usually used as a transition between two shots and can be used to indicate frantic periods.

What are the reasons to use a pan shot?

Here are a few examples of using a pan shot in your film. Panning in film is used for multiple reasons, from establishing a shot to revealing bits of information; the pan shot is incredibly versatile. 

Here are a few reasons when you would use a pan shot:

  1. Establishing a shot. Establishing the location in your shot. It’s perfect for showing the audience the location of the shot and showing the wider perspective of it. For example, if your character was lost in a desert, you could emphasise the size of it using a pan shot. 
  2. Revealing key information. When shooting your film, you can use a pan shot to reveal specific information to the audience. An example of this would be if your main character were searching for a specific item to save their life; a pan shot could reveal to the audience where it is. This can be used to create tension and build the atmosphere of the scene. They could be incredibly close but then start to look elsewhere. This will evoke emotion from the audience
  3. Following the action and movement. Panning in film allows you to track the movement of your subject. You can use it in exciting action shots where your following a car chase, or to simply follow your lead actor briskly walking to their destination to deliver some devastating news. Whatever the movement is, a panning shot can capture the emotion and help the audience understand where they’re heading to.

hat is a film treatment and how to write the perfect one!

The different variations of camera movement:

Here’s a list of the core camera movements you’ll find. As well as panning in film, there are other camera movements to consider, not just a pan shot. 

Here’s a quick overview of the key camera movements:

  1. Pan shot. A pan shot is a type of camera movement where the camera pivots on a single point, while the base of the camera stays still. The movement of the camera is horizontal.
  2. Truck shot. A truck shot is a horizontal shot that simulates the movement you’d get when using a dolly. This is where the entire camera will move horizontally either by hand, on a gimble or using tracks.
  3. Tilt shot.Is the vertical movement of the three. It’s where the base of the camera remains fixed, but the camera pivots vertically.

Check out our shot list here and improve your shot composition.

How to do a pan shot in film

Here’s how to do a pan shot. Panning in film is a versatile shot that’s been used through out the years. It’s a great way to establish the location and give information off to the audience. 

To do a pan shot, simply:

You will need a camera, a tripod or a fixed base. Then to complete the pan shot you will need to set the shutter speed to a lower setting to ensure you capture the speed of the panning. 

Once ready, follow your subject and move the camera horizontally either to the right or left (or, you could do both – experimental!). Do this quickly and smoothly to capture a crisp, dimensional pan shot. 

Use panning in film wisely. It can be used for key transitions when the story’s arc starts to turn, and you want to show how agonisingly close the protagonist [link] is to find the item that will save their life. 

Using a pan shot in film is an excellent resource and one you must add to your shot list.

Panning in film: Pan shot examples

Here are a couple of examples of a pan shot from popular films. My favourite personally is Wes Anderson’s use of panning in the film: Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s used in a comedic manner and brings depth to the film. I find them hilarious.

Make sure you take some inspiration from these and map these pan shots out in your latest storyboard.

Here are a couple of examples to get your creative mind flowing: 

Grand Budapest Hotel

See how they use panning in the film to help build the comedic feel. Great work from Wes and the crew. Here’s another example:

Band of Outsiders

This is still a relevant example despite being 60+ years old now—a great way to display to the audience what’s happening using a dynamic panning shot. 

We hope this article on panning in film was helpful to you. Let us know your thoughts in the comments. I look forward to hearing what you want to see us write about next!

Happy filmmaking!

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Jay Neill

Jay Neill is the founder, owner, and managing editor of iFilmThings and believes everyone should have access to the film resources they need to plan their filmmaking project, which is why he’s dedicated iFilmThings to helping all filmmakers.

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