One of the great joys of travel photography is being able to see people in action.
I’ve always enjoyed spending the first moments in a location just observing, watching people do what they do and not immediately pointing my camera at them. I think it’s sometimes a bit rude to push a lens toward someone before helping them accept you as a part of the human landscape. So I often find a good vantage point and without bringing the viewfinder to my eye, I watch and wait for a while.
Pretty soon when you’re being unobtrusive like this, you become part of the surroundings and you sometimes get better images because you kind of become invisible. Plus, having observed the ways people are moving and doing their usual activities, you might be able to visualize how the images you’ll make in that location turn out. Visualizing and planning images is half the creative process.
Fast Shutter Speed to Freeze Motion
You can speed up the camera by choosing a wide aperture and freeze motion.
The image of the running man in Rajasthan was taken in a darkened hallway. Since it was a low-light situation, I opened up to the maximum aperture for the Nikon 24-70 lens, f2.8 and froze the man’s motion.
Slow Shutter Speed to Blur Motion
Other times it helps to use a slower shutter speed and create motion blur to capture the movement of people.
In the market in Sapa, my favorite town in Northern Vietnam, I spied this man walking in the market alley below the stairs where I stood, and I narrowed aperture in the low morning light so that the swing of his baskets would create the sense of his purposeful walk.
Using Panning Technique to Paint Motion
I’m often experimenting with how to portray motion, and one of the things I’ve learned is that you can use panning technique to suggest movement in the stillness of a photograph. It’s easier when the subject is still, like the trees I had photographed in Zagreb. It’s somewhat a risky composition with people, since you have to make a quick estimate of the speed that they’re moving, estimate the shutter speed that would freeze that motion and create the blur of movement, and you also have to make sure there is a sharp focal point in the image.
In the image above, this farmer was gathering rice stalks that had been cut in the harvest. She had a predictable up-and-down then left to right (from my vantage point) motion, so I decided to use the panning technique and follow her motion while keeping her in focus. The result was an interesting mix of sharp subject and blurry background. It isolated the motion in the photograph and created a sense of the hard work and strength that the farmer does in a rice harvest.
There is so much play in photography, and one of the ways we can play is to experiment with motion!