Monday, August 30, 2010

Drive By Photography

The automobile is an intricate part of modern American civilization. Many of us spend a great deal of time in one, driving either to and from work, or as part of our job. It’s also a major part of a hunting, boating or fishing trip, because you need a way to get to the blind or the lake.

If you pay attention you may reap an additional benefit from the drive; a great deal of wildlife can be seen from a slow-moving vehicle. A car, truck or minivan makes an ideal blind. Although wildlife probably associates your vehicle with human beings, they may not have an immediate fear, giving you the chance to approach fairly close.

Since various laws dictate no hunting from a vehicle, you may wonder what advantage there is to viewing wildlife from a vehicle. A lot of hunters use this opportunity to study wildlife through a telescope or binoculars. Another way to take advantage of your time behind the wheel of this movable blind is to carry a camera. If you’re observant, you may be able to take a few minutes out of your drive to capture quick, quality nature photographs.

Stopping on an Interstate highway or a busy two-lane paved road to snap a picture of a Canada goose is not recommended. However, Michigan is blessed with mile upon mile of little used paved and gravel roads, which offer great scenery and plenty of places to stop that pose no danger to you, or other traffic. Many of them provide an excellent chance to spot subjects worth capturing on film or a digital sensor, such as a pheasant crossing the road ahead of you.

If you love to see nature at work, and want to capture some of it with a camera, travel the back roads whenever possible. Spectacular wildlife sightings abound. When you came around that curve and saw those deer grazing in a bean field, did you think about getting them on film? Stop! It’s possible to get a nice photo in just a few minutes.

You don’t have to limit yourself to larger wildlife, either. While you’re stopped look for a bird perched on a nearby tree limb. Stop the vehicle a few yards down the road, and approach slowly. You may be rewarded with a frame-filling image.

Wildlife photography doesn’t have to be complicated. All the photographs which accompany this post were taken in just a few minutes’ time while stopped by the side of a road. The maximum amount of time spent on any one of these photos, from the time the subject was spotted until the trip was resumed, was about five minutes. Most were taken in much less time. The secret? Use your automobile as a blind, and be prepared.

If you see a flight of Canada geese soaring overhead while stopped at a stop sign with no traffic in sight, your camera does you no good in a camera bag. By the time you get it out of the bag and brush any dirt off the lens, those geese are a half-mile away. However, if your camera is on the seat beside you, covered with a cloth to keep any stray dirt away, you have a much better chance of getting that beautiful v-shaped flight on film.

Remember, the object here is quick, quality snapshots. If you have a manual camera, take a meter reading periodically, and set your shutter speed and f-stop accordingly. In this way you won’t have to check the reading when you stop, just focus and shoot.

Of course an automatic camera makes things easier. Set your camera to shutter priority, with whatever shutter speed you feel most comfortable with for quick shots. The higher the shutter speed, the less chance of camera shake, which will cause blurring. An even better way is to set the camera to aperture priority. With the aperture set wide open - the lowest number - the maximum amount of light will be allowed in, and the camera will fire at the highest possible speed to negate camera shake. While standard photography discipline states the use of a tripod is advisable, it’s usually not possible from inside a vehicle. The photos accompanying this post were all taken hand-held, from inside the vehicle.

When photographing from inside a vehicle, turn the ignition off whenever possible, to prevent vibration. Rest your left arm on the door, with your left hand supporting the lens, or use a bean bag or rolled up shirt on the door frame. Another method is to keep your left arm pressed against your side, resting against the seat back. Use the highest shutter speed possible, compose and shoot. When taking this type of photo, you may have to sacrifice some depth of field. Since wildlife is the objective, a telephoto lens is essential.

Travel by automobile is a necessity for most of us. Take advantage of the situation.
Drive-by photography can be rewarding.

Note; Text and photos are Copyright Bill Diller 2010

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