Practical advice for shooting on the go.

Sometimes I have to get off my soapbox, stop pontificating, and give some practical, easy to use advice.  Sometimes some of the best pictures can be obtained from a moving vehicle, whether it’s wildlife if you’re on safari, or the everyday goings on of the people you’re passing as you travel from one place to another. In the developed world, you’re flying by at 100 kph, and the problem is horizontal motion. In Africa, the problem is exactly the opposite, the up and down motion. For those who haven’t been to Africa, it’s probably impossible to express exactly how much up and down motion there is, so I’m not even going to try, except to say that sometimes it’s hard to even get the camera lens out the window without damaging either the lens or yourself. However, it’s an easier problem to remedy than the problem of moving too fast, and here’s why. When you are traveling at a high rate of speed, the perspective is constantly changing, meaning that the closer an object is to where you’re shooting from, the faster it appears to be going relative to you. It’s therefore hard to get a good picture where the foreground elements of the photo do not exhibit motion blur.

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Woman walking in the blazing sun with umbrella, taken from a moving vehicle.

On the other hand, when you are moving relatively slowly but have lots of jarring, your only problem is to try to freeze your own motion because the perspective outside the vehicle is changing relatively slowly. Now I’m writing this assuming that the reader has at least some knowledge of camera functions. There are several ways to freeze motion when traveling in a rocking, jarring vehicle.

The first is to shoot with image-stabilized lenses. These lenses have floating elements inside them that counteract the motion of the person shooting the picture. This is where a lot of confusion comes in. Many people think that an image-stabilized lens freezes the motion of the subject. This is absolutely not true. If you take a picture with too slow a shutter speed and your subject is moving too fast, it’s going to be a blurry picture. It does, however, take some of the blur out caused by your own motion.

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A man thatches his roof with new reeds. Photo taken from a moving vehicle.

Another method is to shoot with a high ISO setting on your camera, even in bright daylight. I often shoot in bright tropical sunlight with an ISO of 640 or 800. High ISO pictures can have some additional noise (grain to some people) in the photo, but I’d rather have a noisy picture than a blurry one any day. Along this same line, if you shoot with a larger aperture (smaller aperture number), you will also achieve a higher shutter speed, which will in turn freeze motion. When shooting from a moving vehicle, I try to shoot at shutter speeds of between 1/2000 and 1/8000 of a second. Speeds like this will stop almost any motion, no matter how awful the road is.

Using these methods, some of my favorite pictures from Kenya and South Sudan have been taken from the window of a vehicle.

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A boy looks in the window of a polling place shortly before the referendum for independence in 2010. Photo taken from a moving vehicle.

Oh, one other thing. If you want to get any pictures, you’re going to have to use an slr camera. Point-and-shoot cameras have come a long way, but they still tend to have limited controls, large amounts of noise at high ISO’s , and annoyingly, still a bit of shutter lag. This means you’ll press the shutter button, and in the time between when you press the button and when the picture is taken, you find you’ve taken a picture of something entirely unintended.

Finally, take lots and lots of pictures, because no matter how good you are, there are going to be a lot of rejects. But in that pile of rejects, there will be those few gems that totally make up for them. So keep shooting.

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Abandoned northern Sudanese tank in the road. Taken from a moving vehicle.

 

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