April 30, 2019

What is a Pan Shot and How to Use One

The pan shot is one of the most blue-collar and adaptable camera moves. It needs to be in your repertoire.  

On your first day of film school, they're going to hand you a camera, give you a tripod, and tell you to pan. It sucks. The tripod you use won't have a fluid head and nothing you do will make your pan stable or engaging. If that happened to you, then the pan shot might have left a bad taste in your mouth. But I'm here to free you from your pan shot angst. 

Today we're going to to go over the pan shot camera move, learn how to use it effectively, and set you up with a few more camera shots to try out. 

Let's do it. 

Pan Shot definition 

A pan shot or panning shot is when you turn the camera on a fixed head. It is a technique where you follow a moving subject, and you can shoot this with a slower shutter speed to create a feeling of speed or action.

The history of camera panning: 

Panning is almost as old as the moving image. In the early days, it was incredibly hard to move the camera, so people used pans all the time to convey movement through a scene. 

What is a whip pan? 

A whip pan is a type of pan shot in which the camera pans so quickly that the picture blurs into indistinct streaks. It is commonly used as a transition between shots, and can indicate the passage of time or a frenetic pace of action.

whip pan
This whip pan shows the passage of time. Credit: FStoppers

Why would you use a pan shot?

The pan shot, aside from definitely being your first assignment in film school, can help you follow a subject, transition time, or reveal a plot point. 

Pan shot examples 

All great filmmakers use the pan. There's no such thing a shot that's too simple. If you're making a movie or a TV show you need the pan camera movement in your life. You can use them subtly or you can let them define the style and voice of your movie, like they do in Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson's style is always a hot button issue. I love how he uses the pan to be both lyrical and humorous. There are times when I think I get enough whip pans from him, but when he's firing on all cylinders you disappear into the story and feel like his pan work not only controls your point of view but makes you feel like his story is a roller coaster. 

Pans can also be more utilitarian, like this one from Band of Outsiders.  

This pan is just a way to show movement and follow the car. It seems so simple and average but it keeps us in the story and I bet that director made their day. 

If you want more complicated pans, check out Damien Chazelle's work. Aside from using the whip pan, Chazelle combines pan shots with dolly moves and tilts. It all feels technical and aesthetically clean. Chazelles' movies are usually about control. Control of the tempo, or your love story, or even of tragic life events that send you to the moon, and nothing feels more controlled than a pan on sticks. 

What's next? Learn all your camera shots and angles

Have you ever been overwhelmed at the possibility of every camera angle, framing, and shot type available as a filmmaker? Us too. So we provided a cheat sheet with definitions for you. Click the link to learn more!     

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