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Photos from a vibrating vehicl (12/14/2008)
By Tom Hirsch

I recently had the good fortune of taking a cruise in Australia. I was able to get many excellent pictures with my digital camera, using the standard good picture-taking techniques that I advocate. But on some of the shore and water excursions, I was challenged as I attempted to take shots from a moving bus or boat. 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 Sydney, we were in the vicinity of the famous opera house, with our cruise ship in the background. This was the setting for a great shot. But I was aware of two potential problems. First, the opera house, the ship and the clouds in the sky were all white, creating a potential exposure problem. The second problem was that the tour boat was traveling at a rapid rate of speed with a great deal of vibration, and I wanted the best shot possible. I had to quickly plan my strategy.

For the exposure problem, I set the exposure compensation dial to plus two. I figured that if this setting overcompensated by overexposing the shot, this would be better than any amount of underexposure. For the motion problem, I set the camera on the shutter speed setting, and selected a shutter speed of 1/1000. As we approached the scene, I took several shots, and one of them was the picture I had in mind. The resulting photo is mounted and displayed on our living room wall.

While on a bus tour in Christchurch, New Zealand, we passed a corner where several people were playing chess with chess pieces more than half the height of the players. I was aware of the vibration in the bus, so I compensated for it. First of all, I was able to quickly open the window of the bus. The camera was already in the shutter speed mode, so I set the shutter speed to 1/2000 and let the aperture fall where it may. Because the effect of the vibration would be enhanced if I used the window sill for support, I held my arms above the sill. The resulting picture was tack sharp, and the composition was pretty good, but not quite display quality.

Another trick that will reduce vibration when you’re riding in a vibrating vehicle 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’re using a compact camera on which you can’t control the 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 chess game.

Another factor when traveling by bus (and in a commercial plane) if the windows can’t be opened is that quite often you’ll have to shoot through tinted windows. This is of little significance when using print film because a photo lab can correct the tint if it is objectionable. With a digital camera, you might try using one of the built-in White Balance filters. If you know that you’ll be facing this problem, take a few shots through the window with a variety of filters so you’ll know the best one to use.

The idea behind all of this is that when shooting from a moving vehicle, you should get pictures that are as good in all aspects as they would be if you were standing on solid ground. 


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