Social Distancing Street Photography From Inside My Vehicle

· 2.April.2020

The world has changed quickly since my last article. Even when I was in Hong Kong in January-Feb at the height of their Covid-19 outbreak, people could still move freely about in the city, albeit with a face mask. Today much of Europe, North America and other parts of the world are instructed to stay home and socially isolate. No in-office work, no restaurant dining, no school, no unnecessary travel, and no hair-cuts!! Although much of my work can be accomplished from my studio, it’s difficult to review camera gear without wandering outside.

Fujifilm Canada recently sent me the new GF 45-100mm F/4 R LM OIS WR to review, but how could I review this huge lens indoors? Then I remembered my previous article where I photographed from inside the Hong Kong public transit system. I decided to rehash this project with one slight modification; I would photograph from inside my vehicle to respect the new social distancing norm. Follow me as I drive around Vancouver with the Fujifilm GFX 50S + GF 45-100mm f/4 and X-H1 + XF 10-24mm F/4.

GFX 50S + GF 45-100mm @ 100mm. 1/4th sec f/11 @ ISO 2000. Provia

Vancouver is not officially on lockdown, but people are encouraged to avoid all unnecessary social contact. The public transit system is still operational, and restaurants are allowed to offer take-out or delivery options. However, most non-essential businesses, public buildings, parks and beaches are now closed. There are still cars on the street, but it’s 10% of what you would normally see. With so few people out and about, I could with good conscience still photograph empty streets and still maintain social distancing. However, I decided to completely isolate myself inside my car and photograph around town after dark to avoid any chance of physical human interaction.

GFX 50S + GF 45-100mm @ 70mm. 1/4th sec f/8 @ ISO 2000. Provia

Like my bus photography project in Hong Kong, I wasn’t trying to make my images the same way as my normal street photography. I wanted my Vancouver vehicle street photography project to leverage the perspective from which I was photographing from. I wanted my images to look like I was capturing it from inside my vehicle. The easiest way to do this was to photograph at night to get as much random reflections from my windows. To bring it up one more level, I made sure I went out when it was raining, adding more serendipitous reflections, flare and haze. Again, if I was going to shoot from inside my car, I made sure this confinement would be a strength and not a weakness, allowing the vehicle to become part of the visual aesthetic.

GFX 50S + GF 45-100mm @ 60mm. 1/125th sec f/4 @ ISO 6400. Provia

In terms of safety, I did not photograph when the car was in motion. This would be both unsafe and illegal. Please pull over, put the transmission into park and engage the emergency brake. It’s okay to leave the engine on if you want to keep warm, but I recommend to turn it off so as not to transfer shake into your image and to not pollute by idling too long. This is where I would have loved to be inside a Telsa. However, because it was raining, after turning off the engine, I did turn the car back on so I could still use the window wipers. I tested the amount of rain I allowed to remain on the windows, and would reset by re-wiping and then start counting how long before it got too blurry or kaleidoscope-like.

GFX 50S + GF 45-100mm @ 60mm. 1/4th sec f/11 @ ISO 1600. Provia

Another tip is using the steering wheel as your tripod. If you are photographing through the front windshield, place your camera on top of the steering wheel, and use the tilt/telescope feature to adjust the height. If you are shooting through the driver’s side window, use your left hand and push it up against the window for stability, and then place the lens on top of your hand. You can change the lens distance from the window to change the amount and type of reflection you get in your image, as well as adjusting the aperture to control the type of flare. The smaller the aperture (or larger the aperture number) the more star-bursts you get from your light source. If you don’t like to shoot through the window, then open the window enough so you can rest your hand and lens at the top of the window ledge for stability. Wearing gloves helps with grip and dampening. Although I didn’t bring my super clamp and magic arm, this is another way to stabilize your camera when photographing from inside your car without using a tripod.

GF 50S + GF 45-100mm @ 74mm. 1/30th sec f/8 @ ISO 3200. Provia

Let’s talk about my gear for this project. The new GF 45-100mm f/4 lens was great to photograph from inside my vehicle. Because it’s a general focal range zoom lens (approximately 35-80mm equivalent) , I could easily zoom out or crop in, depending on my scene. Having 5 stops of stabilization was helpful, but I still found I was shooting between ISO 1600-6400 most of the time. Because the GFX 50S has good high ISO performance, this was not a problem for me. Although this lens is probably too big as a normal street photography lens, the size and weight didn’t make any difference for this project since I was shooting from inside my vehicle.

X-H1 + XF 10-24mm @ 14mm. 1/15th sec f/5.6 @ ISO 3200. Provia

The other kit I had was the X-H1 + XF10-24mm f/4 R OIS. The XF 10-24mm gives me a 15-36mm equivalent focal length, so there’s no overlap between these two lenses. In addition, both lenses are f/4 and the X-H1 also gives about 5 stops of stabilization, so I could lock in the exposure for both cameras and not have to worry about what the settings should be. Yes the GFX 50S has better high ISO performance and better dynamic range, but the X-H1 is smaller, lighter and the XF 10-24mm has a wider field of view, so hand holding my images was easier. The shutter cycle is also much quicker on the X-H1 due to the smaller sensor-shutter, so shot to shot the X-H1 was more natural and fluid. This helped when taking images in sequence. Having these two cameras with complementing zoom lenses really helped to shoot quickly and efficiently. Ideally it’s better to move yourself to get the shot instead of zooming, but it’s not so easy moving my vehicle to find the perfect frame or distance to my subject. Having zoom lenses is beneficial for this style of photography.

X-H1 + XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 24mm. 1/10th sec f/4 @ ISO 1600. Provia

In conclusion, I enjoyed this project and I’m happy with the results. There were many advantages photographing from inside a vehicle. First, I could listen to music and not worry that it would be too distracting or put me in danger (I don’t recommend people photograph with headphones on while walking the streets). Second, it’s still cold and very wet in Vancouver, so I could shoot for hours and stay warm and dry the entire time. Third, I could hit more locations in one night versus walking or biking, especially with free parking (Vancouver has stopped enforcing parking meters) and almost no traffic.  Fourth, I enjoyed the challenge of learning a different way to photograph, especially when there are formidable constraints involved.  Finally and most importantly,  I can photograph while still socially isolating and distancing to keep myself and others safe during this pandemic. With my windows rolled up and driving around in the middle of the night, I can happily photograph and feel safe and comfortable. I hope to continue photographing in this manner during this time. Everyone stay safe, thanks for reading and happy shooting!

X-H1 + XF 10-24mm @ 20mm. 1/15th sec f/4.5 @ ISO 640. Provia

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