Ask Lonely Planet: How do you take a photo from a bus window (and much more)?

Advertisement

Want to know about travel photography but have been too scared to ask? Look no further as Lonely Planet photography expert Richard I’Anson answers our Facebook members' most pressing questions about taking photos on the road.

Q. Do you have any tips for taking photographs through a bus window (eg tour buses)? I always seem to get a great focus on the window itself - especially if it's raining! - Lesley

A. My immediate response it to say don’t bother, not if you’re hoping to get half decent pictures anyway. However, if you have no choice, try some or all of the following depending on the camera you are using:

  • Set the fastest shutter speed possible (aim for 1/1000)
  • Select a standard to short telephoto lens or zoom setting around 50mm–100mm to frame out the foreground
  • Switch to manual focus and focus on infinity
  • Place the camera as close to the window as possible without resting on it to eliminate potential reflections from inside the bus
  • Turn off the flash if you’re shooting through a closed window ie. glass.
  • Look ahead for a potentially clear viewing spot
  • Don’t hesitate – with all moving subjects, whether it’s you that’s moving or your subject, you’ll be more successful if you adopt a 'shoot first and think later' policy.

Q. How do you photograph lightning strikes at night? - Kate

A. You’ll need to mount your camera on a tripod, use a cable release and turn off the flash. With this set up there is no need to increase your sensor’s ISO rating so you can use your preferred settings and capture maximum detail and sharpness.

Avoid setting up in a brightly lit place where extraneous light can enter the lens and overexpose the image. You’ll rarely have time to study the LCD screen and analyse the histogram so vary the length of your exposures to increase success rates. The trick is to make sure you’ve got your lens focused on the right part of the sky. It may take a few flashes of light to figure out exactly where that is. A wider focal length setting will cover more area of sky and increase your chances. Generally speaking, much more interesting and dramatic pictures can be made if several flashes of light are recorded on the one frame. If there are lengthy delays between strikes use the B (Bulb) setting which leaves the shutter open for as long as you wish. Trial and error is called for, but if you’re using a DSLR or a compact with manual exposure options this procedure should result in successful pictures:

Related article: Landscapes: seeing the big picture
  • Mount the camera on a tripod.
  • Set the shutter speed to 20 or 30 seconds or the B setting.
  • Set the aperture to f16.
  • Switch auto-focus to manual.
  • Set the focus on infinity.
  • Turn off the built-in flash.
  • Frame a part of the sky where you anticipate the lightning will be seen.
  • Release the shutter with a cable release and allow several strikes to trace their paths on the sensor.

Q. It is often said that the gear doesn't matter, but how can you take a good picture if your lens or camera doesn't help you in low light or in long distance, for example? What's your advice for a photographer that has photography in his blood, loves to travel but prefers to invest money in travels for seeing the world instead of in photo gear (and can't invest in both in the same time)? How can the pictures still be amazing with only the contribution of the photographer and almost no help from the lenses ? - Oana

A. I agree that a good photographer can take good pictures of just about any subject on any camera with any lens. Great pictures are the result of matching an interesting subject with the best light, pleasing placement of the elements and exposing the sensor to just the right amount of light that translates the way you see the scene onto the sensor.

It is how the photographer handles this combination of technical and creative skills at a particular moment in time that produces unique images. No camera will make creative decisions for you, or get you to the right place at the right time. However, matching your gear to the kinds of shots you want to take and the kind of travel you prefer certainly makes photography more enjoyable and more productive.

The majority of subjects we encounter on our travels can be photographed with focal lengths ranging from 24mm to 135mm, in other words with one zoom lens.

If wildlife is your thing then this won’t be adequate (unless you can get really close to your subjects). If your budget is limited then you’ll have to accept that you may not get all the shots you want, but if you’re willing to work within the limitations of the gear you own there is no reason at all why you shouldn’t be able to take good shots of most things you come across, even with entry level cameras.