Tips for photographing from a car

(Nowhere near as exciting as my last post of photo tips, but more practical, perhaps?)

I like to think I’ve picked up some skills in taking acceptable photographs from a moving vehicle, considering that Kyrgyzstan is so vast that I’ve found myself zooming past some amazing landscapes for five or more hours at a time. Sometimes it’s best to accept that a good picture is too difficult to take in these conditions, and you don’t want to alienate other passengers by stopping the car to get out and compose a proper shot, but other times it’s best to take the chance. If you have a constantly changing scene in front of you, why not try to capture it? A few minutes later and it could look completely different.

So here are a few tips I keep in mind when photographing from a car/marshrutka/whatever, illustrated with some not-so-wonderful examples of photos I’ve taken from inside cars.

1. Sit next to a window. This is obvious; you’ll have an infinitely more difficult time getting a usable shot if you’re crammed in the middle and have to navigate your lens past someone’s face. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the front seat because the windshield often gets streaked with dirt more quickly than side windows. If you can, having the option to roll down the window helps. Tinted windows can be good and bad – if the sun is super bright, a tinted window will act as a polarizing filter, but if the tinting itself is too heavy or is old and peeling, then it makes photography more difficult.

2. Don’t hold your camera too close to the window. Even the littlest bump in the road could damage your lens, or at the very least, bruise your face (I speak from experience on that one).

3. Pick equipment and settings with speed in mind. You’re racing past your subject; you’ll want an open aperture and fast shutter speed to get a crisp shot. Also, if you have a lens with good autofocus speed, use that one.

4. Stay open-minded about post-processing. Chances are that you’ll likely want to increase brightness, since keeping your shutter speed fast enough to snap a sharp photo could leave you with a darker-than-normal photo. Also, considering the sad state of most roads in Kyrgyzstan, I pretty much always have to crop and straighten my photos. It’s not always the best photography advice in normal circumstances, but when photographing from a car, I’ll usually take a wider shot, giving me more options for how I can crop the final photo.

5. Watch out for obstacles in the front of your frame. Sometimes I’m so focused on something off in the distance that I don’t spot objects in the foreground. Positioning your camera so that you’re not capturing the edge of the road and whatever happens to be growing there can really help you avoid that “zooming by in a car” look. Things that are closer to you will move faster, and I find that the junk on the side of the road always looks blurry and can ruin an otherwise decent shot. Also, watch out for the window itself, which could have stickers or marks on it.

6. Lower your expectations. Not every shot will be good, but you might end up with some surprising ones. For example, when I took the picture above during my first trip to Kochkor, my camera’s autofocus was acting super slow, but I ended up with a shot that, although completely out-of-focus, had a nice painted effect that I liked.

Obviously, none of this applies if you are the driver. Womp womp, hand the camera off to someone else (or stop the car, you’re in control!).

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