The camera pan: camera work in the film

Camera panning: What sounds relatively easy in theory can be all the more difficult in practice – because a good panning is not just made quickly. For this reason, in this article we will take a closer look at the topic of panning, how to do it correctly and what to look out for.

What is a camera pan? (Definition)

A camera pan is a stylistic device when recording film material for feature films, documentaries or videos.

Panning moves the camera (pans) across a scene or shot to give viewers a view of what’s happening. The camera does not change its point of view.

Attention: A camera pan does not correspond to the natural viewing habits of humans. Instead, people perceive their environment as a kind of succession of individual image sections that are cut close together.

The types of camera pans

There are different types of camera panning: slow camera panning, accompanying camera panning, fast camera panning and tear panning.

A special type of camera panning is swaying.

Slow camera pan

The slow camera pan serves to bring the viewer closer to the surroundings. Since this type of panning corresponds to human observation behavior, it can be used to show this behavior on film.

However, you should be careful not to pan too slowly.

Accompanying camera pan

The accompanying camera pan accompanies the movement of objects or people. The object or person remains in focus while the background blurs with movement.

The panning speed depends on the speed of the object or the person.

Fast camera pan

The fast camera pan can be used for various reasons. The use is often very closely linked to the plot of the film.

Fast pans can emphasize sudden reactions from protagonists or serve to record entire scenes without editing.

Tear pan

A special feature of the camera pan is the tear pan. In the process, two image objects are panned very quickly, so that the space between the beginning and end image is literally blurred. The snap pan is used to simulate the natural visual behavior of humans and to switch very quickly between two image objects. In this way, the simultaneous occurrence of two actions in the same scene can be clarified.


When swaying, the camera is alternately tilted to the right and to the left, giving the viewer a disorienting impression.

The use of swaying can have various effects: For example, the movements of a boat on the high seas can be shown or the intoxicated states of a protagonist can be conveyed in the subjective camera.

The planes of the camera pan

The camera pan is divided into three different levels: horizontal pan, vertical pan and diagonal pan.

Horizontal pan

The horizontal pan is used to show landscapes that cannot be shown otherwise due to the given image section. In addition, the movements of people or objects can be tracked.

A special form of horizontal panning is the 360° pan. The camera moves completely around a protagonist. This can have different effects, depending on the facial expressions and gestures of the person. In most cases, the 360° pan is used to show a person’s feelings of happiness, but also states of anxiety. Go for more info.

Vertical pan

The vertical pan is used to capture large objects such as churches or tall buildings that cannot be shown otherwise due to their height.

However, you can also show people with a vertical pan, for example by starting with the pan with the feet and ending with the head. In this way, a certain tension is created for the time of panning, since you only see the protagonist’s face at the very end.

Diagonal pan

The diagonal pan is the combination of a horizontal pan and a vertical pan. It emphasizes the lines in the picture and conveys tension.

Pros and cons of panning

Panning has various advantages and disadvantages that vary depending on the situation and scene.

Here are the most important advantages and disadvantages of panning at a glance:


+ A camera pan opens up the cinematic space in one direction (horizontally, vertically, etc.) and can direct the viewer’s gaze.

+ By panning, landscapes, objects or people can be displayed that cannot be shown otherwise due to the given image section.

+ A snap pan (a quick camera pan) mimics the natural human eye response, conveying excitement and action.

+ A good camera pan can create a certain amount of tension, since the viewer can only see the final image of the pan at the end.

+ Camera pans can help shape the speed and rhythm of a scene.


– A good camera pan requires a lot of patience and practice.

– Panning without a tripod is very difficult (especially in the telephoto range) and can quickly become “amateur” if done poorly.

– Panning does not correspond to the natural human viewing habits and can therefore be irritating for viewers.

– Too many pans should be avoided. Instead, it makes sense to cut individual still shots (with different shot sizes) together.

Correct panning in three steps:

For those who want to pan properly, these three steps can be very helpful:

1. Basically, you should only pan from the tripod. In addition, you should practice panning dry, ie you should pan the camera once without recording it.

2. A still image of at least 3 seconds should be recorded before and after the panning. This allows you to decide later in post-production when the pan should start and when it should end.

3. When panning, pan at as constant a speed as possible and complete the pan calmly. If you shake the camera pan, it’s worth re-recording it!


A camera pan is an important stylistic device in the production of a film and allows the filmmaker to portray objects or people that could not be shown otherwise.

Also, a good pan shot can create a certain amount of tension, such as slowly panning a person from their feet to their heads.

Nevertheless, one should not forget that a camera pan does not correspond to the natural viewing habits of humans and can therefore also have an irritating effect.

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