Passenger side, best friend’s ride

Scrubs get better photos
By T Martin

Last November, I was invited to chaperone neighborhood youths on a field trip to Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. Though I suspect the invitation was a direct message to me, the purpose of the trip was for the children to get a tour of the college and some lunch afterwards. And though I wasn’t particularly interested in the tour, I found a number of interesting photos at the college, as well as in the trip itself.

Not getting out as often as I’d like, the trips to and from the college were my “breaking free” from the confines of North Philly for some different photos. I had asked ahead of time whether the trip was worth my lugging around two very heavy cameras. I was told that cameras were not necessary, but could come along I felt I wanted to bring them. Vague answer, so I opted to take them. Was I glad I did!

Be steady and patient
I spent most of the trip with a camera in hand, either pointed out the front windshield or hanging out the passenger window. Scrubs might not get any love from TLC, but they get awesome photos and have a lot of fun taking them. What will you need in order to capture compelling images from a 1988 15-passenger Ford van? Good, sturdy equipment; steady handling; and mounds and mounds of patience. If you’re shooting film, bring along plenty of rolls and be prepared to build a heap of it by the day’s end.

Wait it out
The 300mm zoom and the bumping along at good speed provided the combination of factors that blurred this picture just enough to give it a slight “oil painting” feel without help from Photoshop.

This photo was taken using the Canon EOS 10D equipped with a 100-300mm Quantaray zoom lens, set at maximum focal length. Oddly, this lens must be set at the widest aperture when shooting on this camera; otherwise the camera returns an error and won’t shoot until the camera is turned off and then back on. So I shot at 1/500th of a second at f/5.6, using ISO 400.

I took about eight pictures in this series. In the end it was this one, for which I waited longest, that captured my eye.

Be inspired
Another good thing about hanging out the window of a moving vehicle is that when there’s a close call, you see your life flash by your eyes, and it makes you think of other people in your life. On my Allentown trip, I thought about family members, so some of my shots were taken as if my assignment were to bring them these pictures later.

Think of me
My younger brother is a guitarist, and I thought he’d get a kick out of seeing this inflated, guitar-wielding cat in front of a car dealership on Route 309. He was impressed that it was shot through the front windshield of a fast-moving vehicle on first try.

I lost him on what impressed me, though: The photo was taken using the Canon again with the same lens, but at 123mm, 1/1500th of a second at f/4.5 and ISO 400. Blah.

Another thing that gave me pleasure in reviewing this picture is the fact that the sunglasses the cat’s wearing are BELOW his ears. I know it’s just a “cartoon” rendering of a cat, but I was very curious as to what was keeping the shades up on his head. But… curiosity killed the cat, and the shades weren’t really bothering anybody.

I also took some of my own advice to novice photographers and experimented with the camera once I got to the college. I looked for artistic shots that really shattered my people photography routine. Still thinking of family members, I wanted to photograph artistically, but with elements that would ignite some conversation once I brought the images home.

Wow! Cool! What is it?
I though specifically of my sister, a student photographer at Community College of Philadelphia, when I took this picture. I even told the van drive that I couldn’t follow the group on the college tour until I had photographed this walkway just right for her benefit.

I shot it three times; the first one was portrait-oriented, and the next two were landscape. It was this final shot that made the biggest impression on her. She liked the lines and geometry, what she describes as the juxtaposition of it all.

This image was made using a Nikon D100 equipped with a mediocre 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6D zoom lens at 45mm. I had to use 1/500th of a second at f/11 with ISO 400 to burn out details in the shadows in the left of the picture.

Look for fresh photos
The trip home provided still more great photos to share later. On the way to Allentown, I had used the Canon EOS 10D with a Quantaray 100-300mm zoom lens. For the trip home, I turned image capturing power over to the Nikon that was so faithful during the tour of the college. (Truthfully, I had gotten used to its feel in my hand and didn’t want to disrupt the chemistry.)

On the way home, still on Route 309, I concentrated on capturing scenes that I saw on the way up, but might have missed because we were moving too fast or because the focal length of the camera prevented a really good shot. At one point, I was taking a picture out of the side window when one of the children yelled from the back of the van, “Yo, look, he’s taking a picture of that duck!” Everybody back there started laughing. They were either impressed or in utter disbelief that I found the duck interesting. In either event, I didn’t know what they were so excited about. I didn’t see any duck.

Ducking the scene
The second of four photos taken at this spot, this scene is one that I don’t remember passing on the trip to the college. I don’t know where my attention might have been before, but here was this photo opening itself up to me.

Using the Nikon D100, I captured this image at 28mm, with just 1/250th of a second at f/8 and ISO 400. The first shot had lens flare from the sun, but this one was clearer because the van was moving and our position under the sun changed slightly.

The next two shots in this series were shot at 200mm, but didn’t include the whole scene. For those shots, I captured the duck that I finally saw just seconds before they went into my blind area.

A social photographer to the core, I looked for more people elements on the way home. Though I had captured some car photos for my auto-emphatic brothers, some boat pictures for my own folly, and some more scenery that would later be framed and hung in my office, I couldn’t resist a few of the people I saw, either in their cars or in the nearby sandwich shop. One photo of a new Thunderbird provided both elements – a stylish new car and people enjoying a meal inside a roadside restaurant.

Working people in
I didn’t have a hard time shooting this. I took about three shots of it before the scene was out of view from the passenger window. (Maybe I should have followed the driver’s advice and shot from the roof of the van, where he wanted to nail me after a few hundred photos.) Everybody gets a “men at work” photo at some point in their lives, and I had to get mine.

The photo was taken with the Nikon again, this time at 200mm, using 1/2500th of a second (fast enough?) at f/7.1 to burn out details in the faces and bodies and to produce the silhouette that converted very well to black and white in Photoshop. I used ISO 400 for this photo as well.

Getting away from social and promotional photography for just one Saturday that November gave me the energy to start looking for more creative photos even in areas that I’d already shot a number of times over. I also experimented with shutter and aperture priority settings during the trip, helping me master more controls on the cameras for those “in a pinch” situations when that knowledge proves essential. Finally, I let others I know – in the van and back home – inspire photos as we moved along Route 309. Of the hundreds of photos I downloaded when I got home, less than 50 were taken during the tour of the college; my fun was in the trip, hanging out the side of a good friend’s ride.