driving in the Danakil Depression

Most people at one stage in their life will find themselves travelling on some form of public transport through gorgeous scenery. Whether it’s high up through some mystical mountains, or down low passed some stunning seascapes, most people will experience this while on a holiday or backpacking. What most people will also experience is, the frustration of not being able to have a chance to stop and photograph this magical scenery that’s passing them by. They’ll be forced to shoot a snap shot from a fast moving vehicle, and half the time through some dirty unwashed window of the bus. I myself have gone through this more times than I’d like to count. The unfortunate reality is – you’ll never see much of this scenery ever again. So how do we go about doing our best to capture this beauty in the worst photography conditions imaginable?

The easiest answer I could give you would be to, “take your own transport”. That way you’ll get to stop at your own leisure and spend all the time in the world photographing the scenery with your favourite travel tripod. But that’s just not possible for 99% of us, or not possible at all in some locations. So I wrote this article in order for people to know how to maximise their chance of capturing that magical scene on their camera, instead of having to resort to memory only.

I have to note that this isn’t absolutely guaranteed, as at times conditions are just too much against you. But if you do the following, it’ll maximize your chance of coming away with a usable shot, if not a brilliant shot!

Here is some of my favourite examples from what you can achieve while shooting out of a moving vehicle!
Mount Fitzroy, Argentina

Photographing from a Bus
Photographing from a bus

So you want to be able to do this? Ok, follow these steps.

Shoot on manual

That’s right, switch that dial on top of your camera to ‘M’. This is up there amongst the most difficult scenarios you’re going to have to take a photograph in, so you’ll need 100% control over your settings, especially the aperture and shutter speed.

Crank up that shutterspeed

You’re moving quite fast in a vehicle right – so you’re subject is going to be moving quite fast also. The closer what you want to shoot is, the faster it’ll be going. Of course, the further away, the slower. However that bus you’re on is also bumping up and down on those dodgy mountain roads isn’t it!? So crank up that shutter speed to a minimum of 1/1000 sec, but preferably faster to 1/2000 or 1/4000 of a second if possible.

Open up the aperture

Change your aperture to around an f-stop of f/2.8 or f/5.6. The reason I say this is because it’s a fine balance between successfully blurring the marks on the dirty window, and nailing the focus on your intended moving subject. Here’s a few pointers below as to help you choose which aperture to use.

If conditions are dark: Towards f/2.8, because this will allow more light to hit the sensor and keep the faster shutter speed and lower ISO.

If conditions are light: Towards f/5.6, as you’ll already have enough light, and having a smaller aperture will increase your chance of taking a sharper image of your subject,

If your subject is close: Towards f/5.6, because the closer the subject is, the more shallow depth of field will be created and will make nailing the focus more difficult. So up the f-stop to increase your chances.

If your subject is toward the far away: Towards f/2.8, as your depth of field towards the horizon will increase significantly, but a wider aperture will mean any window marks will blur.

The window has excessive marks: Towards f/2.8, as this will allow you to blur the marks on the window even more, hopefully resulting in a crisper result

Adjust the ISO accordingly

This very much depends on the lighting conditions and the settings above. Though as you’ve already selected your aperture and shutter speed. You’ll need to adjust the ISO to get as close as possible to a reasonable exposure. If the lighting isn’t the best and you’re worried about how high of an ISO you’re going – don’t be afraid to slightly underexpose. You can brighten it up a bit later in post processing. A slightly underexposed, but sharp shot, is better than a properly exposed blurry shot. So adjust the ISO accordingly until you’re happy with it.

Face plant the camera on the window*

Basically do what it says. Get the camera as close to the window as possible. I say this because, the closer the window is, the less reflections you’re going to get and the more you can blur out any annoying marks. If you can, put a jumper behind the camera to block any reflections, as these are next to impossible to get rid of in post.

* Hold a finger or two between the window and the edge of your lens ring to prevent your lens from hitting the glass, and to provide a bit of vibration dampening from the car to you. Or on really bumpy roads, hold your left thumb and forefinger a centimetre apart, place you’re fore finger on the window and your thumb on the edge of the lens ring and try to keep your fingers stiff. This will provide a much larger buffer for vibration and prevent your lens from hitting the window.

Of course, if the window is open, or there is no window on your ‘transport’, then this step isn’t necessary.

Practice and prepare

This is extremely important! You MUST practice and prepare for your shot, otherwise you don’t stand much of a chance. If you’re going through some nice scenery, then start practicing on something first before that money shot comes up. Pick a tree, distant mountain, or an any object that’s a similar distance away as you’re scenery is likely to be (I know, it sounds silly. But it’ll be a big help – trust me), and start practicing trying to get a sharp photograph of that. You’ll want to get the feel of this before you hit the amazing scenery. So practice, analyze the results, and tweak as necessary for the environment you’re in.

Fire away!

There’s only one more thing left to do – FIRE AWAY! So once you see your subject, make sure you have done all of the above, half depress that shutter (like above) and shoot!

Here’s some more examples of photographs I’ve taken by using the above method…

Photographing from a car

So hopefully next time you go on that vacation and find yourself in a situation like this, you’ll come away with a few extra shots of your holiday that you can look back on, or even frame on your wall…

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