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Old April 7th, 2006, 05:08 PM   #1
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Smooth Panning Technique?

Like I said in my last post my footage absolutely stinks!!!

I have been meaning to ask this question for a while now but never got around to it until now (after seeing the footage from my last project).

Are there any 'secret tips' or techniques that the pro's use to pan smoothly?

I have a Sony VCT1170RM Tripod - the tripod is nice and sturdy but I am unable to get smooth panning of shots (and I don't think it is the tripods fault).

Whenever I pan a shot I seem to go slowly and smoothly into the pan but as soon as the subject appears in the viewfinder I find myself sort of speeding up the pan and then have to slow down (or rather try and try and try again just to get one smooth pan.

Any 'tricks of the trade' that I can use to break this awful habit?


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Old April 7th, 2006, 06:53 PM   #2
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practice...lots of practice. This is a physical thing you are doing while your mind is occupied with tons of other things. Like any sport, musical instrument or martial art, you must take the time to develop muscle memory. Record your practices, pick them apart, talk to yourself outloud while you do this as well, use this to critique...this is practice...screw up and learn from your mistakes.

Try different grips on the handle, different arm positions...I've found that I can get good pans by keeping some tension on the pan and using the back of my hand to push against the handle...when I grip, I get bad pans too. Lock off the tilt part of the tripod unless you need to adjust that, then keep tension on that as well.

Hope that helps.
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Old April 7th, 2006, 08:02 PM   #3
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I saw someone post a recommendation to loop a really big rubberband around the very end of the tripod handle and a single index finger and slowly put the handle through the pan. I guess the theory is that the rubberband acts link a shock absorber for the small jerks and lurches. Haven't tried it, so I can't say if it'll work.

One thing I do know is that it is easier for untrained muscle movements to perform finesse maneuvers over larger distances than small ones. So it should be easier to get a smooth pan by extending the length of the tripod arm. If you are going to pan 60 degrees and your handle is 12" long, the end of the handle will have to move 12" from start to finish. If you extend the handle to 24", then the end handle will have to move 24" to accomplish the same 60 degree pan. Now there are some obvious factors that indicate a point of diminishing returns, like if you have the handle so long you have to walk the handle to perform the pan, I'd think that wouldn't be as smooth as one conducted from a stationary position. But I'm just speculating.
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Old April 9th, 2006, 10:03 AM   #4
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I don't know that paticular tripod, but the inexpensive Sony tripods I've seen in the past (less than $100) were pretty awful. Unfortunately, you get what yoy pay for. If at all possible, go to a store in person and play with some better tripods. I think you'll see a world of difference. I think the decent ones start around the $250 range (like the bogen/manfrotto 501 head) and go up to around $400 depending on the legs. Then there seems to be a bit of a gap until you get to the $800+ range where you will see a very noticeable improvement in quality, especially if shooting at the telephoto end of the zoom range.
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Old April 10th, 2006, 12:16 AM   #5
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I don't know if this will help you but it helped me.

Put the pan at it's end so you feel comfotable then move the camera to the start. Now when you do the pan you are unwinding. It helps keep you out of the way. Also, sometimes if I'm panning real slow, I will keep my arm holding the tripod handle stiff and move my body. It's a bigger mass moving the camera head. It seems to work for me.

I hope this makes sense. If not, let me know.

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Old April 10th, 2006, 11:15 AM   #6
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Inexpensive tripods are getting better but for the most part they require quite a bit of compensation to achieve smooth moves. A true pro head (several thousand on upwards) is "invisible" in that it provides just the right amount of resistance but will not introduce unexpected jerks into the image.

What you describe is more of a brain/hand coordination concept though--learning to "lay back" and let the pan just happen without forcing it or rushing to get the subject into the frame is indeed a learned skill that is less mechanical and more mental. Practice will indeed help with this. It's a bit like driving a car through a tight space--early on one is terrified of hitting things but once you get that sixth sense about the parameters of the vehicle you can fly through a squeeze without slowing down!
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Old April 19th, 2006, 12:37 PM   #7
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I had the same problem. Try to forget the tripod head arm. Grab one leg of your tripod as high up on the leg as you can close to the bottom of the tripod head. This gives you a solid point to pull or push from. Next while holding the tripod leg firm extend your thumb to the tripod head and push or pull with your thumb. making a good pan is all about how close you can get with what is moving the head(hand, arm,thumb) to the head. You can also take both hands and grab the tripod head and turn. I promise the tripod arm is to far from the axis of the head to make a good pan, think about it your not turning the head your moving the have something between you and the head, take out the middle problem, the tripod arm.
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Old May 8th, 2006, 07:04 AM   #8
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I do a great deal of panning in my current video work (following a speaker who simply will not stay still for more than twenty seconds at a time).

I would not recommend moving the tripod head directly--that's what the arm is for. I crank the tension way up, lock off tilt, and use one or both hands at the full extension of the arms to gently move the tripod. It helps to have a heavy tripod (so you don't worry about its stability), and a decent fluid head is a must.

If you have a decent tripod, just practice slow pans on your own time until you get a feel for it. It takes time, and I've still got a ways to go myself.

Good luck!
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Old May 8th, 2006, 08:42 PM   #9
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It's a hands on thing.

I dont know about that tripod, but from looking at the pictures... I'll try my best.

That rubber band trick works relatively well, I still keep a set of craft-bands in my run bag (good for keeping things up too), just be careful not to snap the guy next to you if ever doing a multi-network setup, on a platform.

Moving on, plant your hands on the base, thumbs upward, and push in a rotational direction with your thumbs on the head. This works very well if the fluidity of the head is consistent... or you can completely loosen the pan so that it takes little effort to do so. I've done this trick with a 2x extender, full tele end of a ENG lens, workst nicely with practice.

Practice is the key in this tricky buisness.
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