Last Updated on October 21, 2017 by

In this third edition of our ongoing photography series, I want to give some tips about a recurring situation when taking shots on the move. Travel photography is about being at the right place at the right time. But sometimes you might not have the time or the budget, so some good photography spots of your trip might only be presented through the window of a moving vehicle. Be it a train, a boat, a tuk-tuk or a pickup truck, being on the move should not be an impediment to get the most out of your trip. While it’s unlikely to score an award winning picture while going 90 km/h on a speedway, with a bit of practice and a few tricks you can produce decent pictures.

Choose your spot

When you are determined to take pictures during a ride, the first thing to consider is where to place yourself to get the best shot. There are four main positions to take pictures from in a vehicle: front, rear, left and right, and unless the transportation allows you to move around while on board, you will have to pick one or two that would get you the best results. For example, if you are going to cruise along a city with narrow streets, you will have little chances of getting anything useful from the sides of the vehicle since everything will be passing by at high speed. Also, if you plan to take photos during a long bus trip you should probably consider the direction you are going and the time of the day before choosing your seat to avoid taking pictures against the sun.

Shutter speed: The faster the better

This is the most important setting to take into account for this kind of shots. If you are taking a picture of something that is passing you by at 50 km/h, anything slower than 1/500 seconds will most probably produce a blurry picture. When shooting in bright daylight, you can still use 100-200 ISO at speeds higher than 1/1000, so set your camera to shutter priority mode and don’t be shy with the wheel. Better to be safe than sorry.

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Let there be light

High shutter speeds need good light conditions; the brighter it is when you are on your ride, the better your pictures are likely to be. So unless you are planning to get some psychedelic light trail pictures from the incoming traffic or the street lights, don’t expect to get good shots on a night bus.

Choose your lenses

While you are moving, objects closer to you will appear to pass by faster than objects that are far away. That is why it is far easier and more rewarding to take pictures of things that are far from you. A teletype lens (70-300mm for example) seems more fitting for this kind of situation. If you don’t have one or don’t want to use one, there are plenty of pictures you can take while on your ride that don’t require one, just remember to roll down your window since short focal lenses might try to focus on it instead of what’s outside the vehicle.

Servo focus mode

When shooting moving objects, it is important to consider that their distance to the camera might be changing while you are taking the shot (this is specially important when the objects are moving away or towards you – front and rear of the vehicle). This means that the little girl that was perfectly in focus when you half pressed your shutter might be completely blurry by the time you actually take the shot. Thankfully your camera probably has a mode that will help you overcome this problem: the servo focus mode.

With this mode on, the camera’s auto focus will be constantly running while you are shooting to make sure the subject is focused at the time of the shot. There is a catch though, your camera doesn’t really know what you are taking a picture of so it will sometimes focus on other things therefore blurring your subject. This is why it is important to fix your AF point before shooting in this mode so you can more or less control where the focus will be. Some cameras offer an hybrid mode that lets you focus first and then activates the servo mode if it senses that your subject is moving.

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Photo bursts

Even if you follow every rule and get all the settings in place, keeping the frame and composition during a bumpy ride can get really frustrating, specially if you are using a teletype lens. Also, your targets are passing by at high speed and you could miss a great shot by a split second. This is where the continuous shooting mode of your camera comes in handy. Chances are that your camera can shoot several pictures per second, so be sure to use this function.

To summarize, these are the suitable settings for shooting on the move:

Shooting mode: Shutter-Priority AE (TV in Canon or S in Nikon) with a high speed selected (1/800-1/1000 should do for most cases, but don’t be afraid to set it even higher if you are going fast or on a bumpy road).

Drive Mode: High-speed continuous shooting (or just continuous shooting depending on your camera model, it is usually represented with a symbol depicting a stack of frames).

AF (Auto Focus) Mode: Servo focus (AI Servo in Canon or Continuous/AF-C in Nikon) with fixed AF point (I usually use the center point but any point would do) or hybrid mode (AI Focus in Canon or AF-A in Nikon).

ISO: I usually leave it on automatic because forcing it to 100 might produce poorly exposed pictures in dark areas. Most DSLRs have an ISO limit setting for the automatic mode to stop the camera from choosing high ISOs that will fill your pictures with grain.

If you found this guide useful, have any question or you want to share other tricks that I might have forgotten, feel free to use the comment section below. Happy travels and happy shooting!