Having Fun with Swish Pans

We recently received a fun tip from Prince R. Makaya, a reader from Nairobi, Kenya. He accidentally discovered the use of “outtake” footage from a program he shot [see In Box, page 6 in this issue], and we thought we’d expand on that tip.

Swish Pans have been around since the beginning of moving images, and in the 1970s, many news shooters used this technique to separate shots when they were editing tape-to-tape news clips, because they didn’t have access to effects. (They also called it “shooting the rushes.”) The music videos of the 1980s brought the technique back to mainstream, along with the “flash frame” technique, which was originally a no-no and later became an editing style.
You can spend a day collecting your own Swish Pans at various locations, or simply capture on the fly during ordinary shoots. We’ve been using this technique for years and now have five tips to help you create your own transitions.

1. Patterns and Color

Think about patterns when you swish. A colorful or textured background makes the best swish pattern. If you’re editing a collection of colorful clips together, your swish might be saturated with one color, to make the transition smoother. Shoot wallpapered walls, patterned floors, colorful maps, flowers in a garden, items hanging from a booth at a craft show, crowds of people.

2. Sweep the Scene

Zoom your shot in as much as possible. Experiment with making the shot clearly focused or in soft focus. The idea is not to show what the subject is, but just to create a “tease.” Sweep your shot quickly from left to right, or up to down for about 2 to 4 seconds, but using only the few frames in the middle of the swish when you edit in your transition.

3. On the Road

Zoom your shot in as much as possible. Experiment with making the shot clearly focused or in soft focus. The idea is not to show what the subject is, but just to create a “tease.” Sweep your shot quickly from left to right, or up to down for about 2 to 4 seconds, but using only the few frames in the middle of the swish when you edit in your transition.

4. Theme It

Think “theme” when shooting. From your car, shooting fences, telephone wires, yellow lines on the road and rows of corn can all signify Road Trip. Swishing across the tops of trees (with the sunrays making split-frame appearances), across whitewater caps or rows of tents in a campground can signify Summer Vacation. Shoot the marquee lights at a movie theater up close for your Movie Review show. One of my favorite swish themes is for holidays: panning across a row of bright orange pumpkins for Halloween, across bright twinkle lights hanging from the roof at night or the shiny ornaments on a decorated tree for Christmas.


5. Focus, Then De-focus

When shooting musical events, I’ll shoot a focused shot of one musician for a few seconds, until the end of a riff, then quickly pan across or down the stage, blurring the shot. When editing, instead of cutting the shot right before the camera moved, I’ll cut it less than half a second into the swish. Then I’ll edit the next shot with a similar shot. This time, though, the shot begins with a blurred scene that pans across the stage to be framed up correctly on the next musician. It’s harder to pull this one off, because you have to go from a blurred moving shot to a still, focused and framed shot. But it’s pretty nifty when you dissolve the “A” shot and the “B” shot together, it’s seemingly seamless!

A final tip: When you insert the 4-to-6-frame swish clip on your timeline, experiment with a short 2-to-3-frame dissolve going in and out of the shot, to make the swish appear seamless. Have fun: swishes are creative ways to make transitions without needing to rely on the same ol’ software transition. But as with all effects, use them in moderation.

Jennifer O’Rourke is an Emmy award-winning photographer and editor and Videomaker’s Managing Editor.

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