Travelling around a country or continent means lots of time spent as a passenger on various modes of transport, and you’ll find yourself moving through countless rich photographic opportunities. Find out how to capture this sense of movement.
Look out the window of a train, car or bus and you’ll see the landscape rush by, so all you have to do is point your camera towards the scene to catch some of this motion. The idea is that as you speed by the countryside, the foreground will appear to be moving faster than the background because it’s closer to the lens. The background, such as mountains or buildings, will remain sharp, while the foreground, which could be grass or fields, will be transformed into a rush of colour. Obviously, don’t attempt this if you’re in the driving seat!
Getting the right amount of blur requires a bit of experimentation and the settings will change depending on the speed of the vehicle. If you’re on a train, attach the lens hood or use your hand to reduce reflections from the window – make sure the lens hood or your hand is close to the glass but try not to touch it as you’ll pick up the vibrations. A good trick is to use a tripod to get your camera close to the pane and add stability. If you’re in a car you can roll down the window to reduce glare and increase clarity – just be sure to hold your camera tightly, wear the neck strap and keep the camera inside the car to keep yourself and your camera safe.
Put your camera into its aperture-priority mode and set ISO to its lowest native value, usually 100. Focus on something in the distance such as a mountain and lock the focus. Close down your aperture until you get a shutter speed of between 1/20sec and 1/80sec. These shutter speeds are usually fast enough to take sharp shots handheld. But because you’re moving, the foreground will be blurred. Take your shots when the vehicle is up to speed for smoother, more predictable results.
Your camera’s metering will vary the exposure as you drive past different landscapes – some will appear darker and some lighter. When you’ve got a rough exposure in aperture-priority, it’s a good idea to go into manual mode. Input your aperture value and then set the shutter speed to between 1/20sec and 1/80sec. It takes a bit of trial and error to get the look right depending on how fast the vehicle is moving. Be sure to shoot in RAW and then if the exposure is a little off you can correct it easily in post-processing software.
Panning is a technique synonymous with wildlife and sports photography, but it’s just as good with travel subjects such as cyclists and Tuk Tuk taxis. Unlike the above technique, panning requires you to follow a moving subject.
Set your camera to its shutter-priority mode and choose a shutter speed between 1/5sec and 1/30sec. The camera will now automatically change the aperture to get the correct exposure. If you’re shooting in the day, set an ISO of 100 or 200, but if you’re shooting in the evening choose a value of around 800 to compensate for the lower level of light.
To pan with traffic, pick a road with constant traffic that is up to speed – stop-start traffic is not ideal. With the vehicle moving at a constant speed it’s easy to predict where it will go. Change your autofocus mode to its continuous AF mode (AF-C or AI Servo).
When you spot a moving subject, frame up on it and half-press the shutter to focus. Keep the shutter half-pressed and follow your subject through the viewfinder, keeping the active AF point over them to continually keep them in sharp focus. When the subject is about to go by you need to fully depress the shutter and keep following the subject until the exposure is done.
Check the shot on your camera screen. If there’s not enough motion, choose a slower shutter speed. If there’s too much blur, set a slightly quicker one. Keep trying until you have the exact amount of blur you’re after. It takes a bit of patience to get right, but gives you some very dramatic travel shots.
Dan Mold is a professional travel and wildlife photographer and a regular contributor to Practical Photography and Digital Photo. He has recently returned from an epic adventure around Asia and Australia. See more of his work here.