Photos from a vibrating vehicle


I recently had the good fortune of taking a Caribbean cruise. I was able to get many excellent pictures using the standard good picture-taking techniques that I advocate. But on some of the shore excursions, I was challenged as I attempted to take shots from a moving tour bus. I really shouldn't say I was challenged, because from experiences I have had in taking pictures as a passenger in a moving car, I knew what to do. The techniques are similar.

At one point in Honduras, we passed by a banana plantation. I was fascinated by the way the bananas seemed to be growing upside down on the trees, and wanted to capture this on film. Since we were traveling at a speed of about 35 miles per hour on a very rough road, I had to plan my strategy.

As usual, I was using an ISO 400 film. This allowed me to manually set the shutter speed at 1/2000 on my SLR. I chose a wide angle lens for two reasons. First, the plantation was quite close to the road and I wanted to include as much of the trees as possible. Secondly, a wide angle lens will diminish the effect of vibration, and a telephoto lens will magnify it. With a compact camera, you might not have adjustable shutter speeds, but you might still be able to use the wide angle lens as a means of reducing the effect of vibration.

Because we were traveling in a tour bus, I was able to open the window, which I would also have been able to do if I were a passenger in a car, but if this were not the case, I would have been faced with another challenge: the window glass. Under those conditions I would have held the camera as close to the glass as possible without touching it. Holding the lens against the window will add to the vibration. Placing the lens close to the window will reduce vibration, avoid reflection from the window, and diminish the effect of any dirt on the glass.

Another trick that will reduce vibration is to hold the camera slightly away from your face, and your elbows away from your body so the camera seems to be floating. Your hands should grip the camera fairly lightly, just enough to keep the camera from falling to the floor. Also, your arms and elbows should touch no part of the vehicle - not the arm rests or the window sill or frame.

Not a problem when traveling by car, but the bumpiest part of a bus is right over the tires, so try to sit mid-bus, in a window seat, of course.

If you are using a compact camera on which you cannot control shutter speed, blur can be reduced if you pan the camera slightly as the picture is taken. This requires a little preplanning because you will have to look ahead to determine the precise point at which you want to take the picture. Get in a comfortable position so you can pivot your body without touching any part of the vehicle. When panning, anticipate a little so you can begin squeezing the shutter release just an instant before the point at which you want to take the picture.

If you have a single-lens reflex, the panning technique works well if you are shooting something quite close to the road, as I did with the banana trees.

Another factor when traveling by bus is that usually you will have to shoot through tinted windows, if the windows can't be opened. This is of little significance when using print film because a photo lab can correct the tint if it is objectionable, which in most cases it is not.

Incidentally, the banana plantation pictures turned out as sharp as they would have if I had been standing on the roadside.


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