One Key Trick for Photographing from a Moving Vehicle or Boat

When it comes to travel, adventure, and nature photography, it’s just a matter of time before you’re going to have to get that shot you want out of a moving vehicle.

Here is one key trick to use to get the shot you want, even if you’re moving pretty quickly.

For starters, let’s talk about why you have to make special considerations when moving quickly and trying to photograph.  Basically, it all comes down to shutter speed, or how fast your camera’s sensor (or film) is exposed to the light of the scene.  When your shutter speed is too slow, your camera is capturing everything that is happening during the time the shutter is open.  Even if you think 1/100th of a second is fast, the amount that you move during that time can be significant if you’re zooming around in Asia on your longboat or bouncing around in a safari vehicle in Africa.  Believe it or not, you may have moved several feet in that split second, which means that the photo will be blurry at a slower shutter speed.

The good news is that if you can ensure that you take the photo with a fast shutter speed, you’re going to get the shot no matter how fast you may be traveling.

So, how do you ensure a fast shutter speed?

The first and simplest way is to find that little “running man” in your camera’s settings.  This is the “sports” setting, which is designed to capture fast moving sports action.  In this case, you are the fast moving action, so this setting still works perfectly to freeze motion, just as if you were trying to freeze a soccer player running down the field.

What this does is prioritize all your other camera settings to maximize for the fastest shutter speed possible.  This often means the camera will choose the aperture and ISO settings as a way to help you quickly get what you want.

Because every camera is a little different, I’m going to put a generic image here of what the running man/sports setting looks like.  But, I’d recommend checking your manual or googling your make and model for where to easily set your camera to “sports.”

camera menu

The second, slightly more complicated, but more precise way to set a fast shutter speed is to set your camera to “shutter speed priority” mode.  This is usually denoted as a Tv or S on your camera’s dial (some basic point and shoots may not have a dial, but this can be found within your camera’s menu system).

Once you’re set on this Tv or S setting, you tell your camera how fast you need to shoot at.  There’s a little bit more room for error on this technique, if you’re not used to custom shutter speeds. But, this is an excellent way to learn more about your camera and photography in general.  Experiment a bit!  Click here to learn about using custom shutter speeds: Our Shutter Speed Page.

As a very general rule, you’d want to set your camera to at least 1/1000th of a second shutter speed.  If you are moving slower, you can go slower (1/500th of a second maybe?) and if you’re moving faster, you need to set it faster (1/2000th of a second?).  There is no easy way to calibrate the “required” shutter speed based on how fast you’re going – this is something that really just comes with practice.  But these suggestions are a good starting point.  However, the good thing about using this method is that if light is limited (remember from our shutter speed page, the faster the shutter speed, the more light you need to get a properly exposed photo), you can push the envelope and get just the right speed for the available light.  Again, though, this is accomplished through practice.

Madagascar countryside

Here’s an evocative scene photographed from the car window while driving through the countryside of Madagascar.  Not too bad for an impromptu shot out the window!

The great thing about learning and mastering this “moving vehicle” technique is that it applies to a wide variety of situations.  Perhaps you’re driving through the countryside or a scenic national park, and you just can’t quite pull over safely to take a photo – set your camera for a fast shutter speed and shoot out the window.  Really, it works!  Now, if you’re going 60mph, you may need to shoot at 1/6000th of a second, but you’d be surprised how often this actually works out.

So, next time you’re cruising through the waterways of Costa Rica or roving through the tundra of Churchill, Manitoba, and there’s a shot you need to get, I hope this tidbit of information proves to be helpful!

Go forward and give it a shot,