I‘ve had my Canon G9 camera for almost 2 years now. While I’ve put up a fair selection of photos taken with it from my sojourns in India, I’ve rarely shown much of what do with it for the rest of the year, when I’m in Dubai. The truth of the matter is, I probably take more photographs during the 30 days I spend in India over the year, than I take during the remaining days of the year I spend in my adopted home. Most of the time there just isn’t that much to photograph that meets my tastes. But it is also true that while my India trips really push my photographic skills, it is during my time in Dubai when I do my more considered experiments with using the camera and what it is capable of.
Most of my time with the G9, while I’m in the UAE, is spent inside a car. Weekend drives are my photographic laboratories to capture as varied a series of subjects as this little country has to offer, without suffering the heat and sand that prevails outside through a large portion of the year.
Taking pictures from a car is far from the ideal set-up. It doesn’t let you get close to your subject, and you’re often trying to hit a very rapidly moving target as you zoom past, but like I’ve mentioned about street photography from a bus, it does have its advantages and unique perspectives.
On the road
The road itself can be a very attractive subject when you’re on the move, because the road is rarely a straight and boring strip of tar. More often it twists and turns, hugging the contours of the landscape and creating a mesmerising line that disappears into the distance in front of you.
The front wind screen also happens to be an attractive target for your camera when you’re in a car; It’s large and wide, giving you a wonderful viewing angle, and more than all the other windows it is designed to have the minimum of reflections, which can ruin a photograph.
The buildings you come across on your travels are always interesting subjects for photographs. Taking pictures of architecture while moving can be tricky because angles and positions change so quickly. With my first digital camera, the Olympus C400Z, the limitation was most often its slow reaction time to shutter release. Anticipation and timing comes into play no matter how quick your equipment is, but the Canon G9 is certainly a big improvement in the timing department. It’s no SLR, but it performs admirably for what it is.
In a similar vein to architecture, industry has always fascinated me as a subject of images. It has all the magic of architecture, often with grander scales and even more detail to capture, in the form of conduits and mechanisms all laid bare to see.
One challenge with industrial subjects is that they are usually placed a good distance from the road. While some very dramatic shots can be achieved with a wide angle view of factories and landscapes, it is useful to be able to frame more details with a good telephoto setting. The bump up to a 5x zoom on the G9, from my old 3x zoom on the C400Z, is a welcome addition for subjects such as these. The extra focal length helps target more interesting compositions rather than resorting to wide shots for lack of choice.
Everywhere there are roads, there are signs. Signs on the road, and also next to it, can be interesting elements in photographs, but they are a challenge to capture when they are small.
Some signs you can freeze by panning the camera as you drive by, but most often you will get some blurs unless you are in bright sunlight. Thankfully, signs are plentiful at traffic lights and junctions where you get the chance to slow down or stop for a few minutes, and that provides the perfect opportunity to properly compose a sign into your shot.
The G9 has quicker focus responses, which is an immense plus in situations like this. The separation between road signs and the background is often dramatic and easy for the auto focus to get wrong. But by aiming at the sign, half-pressing the shutter release to focus and then recomposing the frame before taking the picture, you can achieve the sharp results you need.
Dubai is the construction capital of the world. There is almost no photography possible in the city without showing some bit of construction in the frame, so when you can’t avoid it, it makes sense to embrace it. Construction sites and machinery make for strong images, and the fact that they are often found very close to the road you’re driving on gives you a ring-side seat for the best shots.
An SLR would perform better under the circumstances, but the G9 does a fairly good job of focussing within the narrow time frame when you’re in just the right position to take a shot of something next to the road, or even something hanging above it as you drive by.
In photography, clouds are almost cheating. I say that because it is quite difficult to take a bad picture of clouds, but that’s not to say it can’t be done. Clouds do provide an almost infinite collection of good compositions, but capturing them well, and with a certain amount of your own style put in, is still as challenging as any other subject.
While taking shots of the sky from inside a car, reflection on the glass can be a big problem. Not only can they show up in the frame and ruin the shot, they can also confuse the auto focus and give you a fuzzy image. The G9’s manual focus setting is fairly easy to get into, and setting the focus to infinity takes a few quick rotations of the settings ring at the back. This can be quite convenient for taking those tricky sky shots through glass windows. The rest is up to finding the interesting composition and waiting for the right moment to click.
You generally ignore them, unless you’re trying to avoid barrelling into one, but the other vehicles on and around the road can also make good photo subjects. You can have them zooming past as a blur, or frozen with a quick shutter and some smart panning.
Either way, with the right light, even the most boring car or van can be a striking visual element. Strange or unusual vehicles help add that little extra, of course, but even your bog-standard white van in the right context can look great.
A classic subject for all forms of art, landscapes seem like an easy subject, but they are almost always a tricky one to make interesting. There is the traditional idea of what we consider a landscape, wide angle images showing plenty of land and sky, but there are many variations you can make to that rule.
One interesting alternative is to try out landscapes shot in portrait orientation. It might sound counter-intuitive, but it’s often the best way to capture some subjects. The Canon G9’s zoom helps greatly in narrowing down the field of view to interesting features some distance from the road, while still keeping the image in landscape territory. Since these scenes are often rushing by, the G9’s built-in optical stabilisation is a boon, getting rid of all the minor vibrations and hand movements to provide crisp shots of even the most complex natural scenes.
Man on the street
We gravitate towards images of people, but sitting in a car in Dubai, people are a bit hard to come by. Not being the most pedestrian-friendly place in the world, people at close quarters are a rare sight unless you enter crowded market areas, not quite the usual destination on weekend drives. But go to the right out-lying areas or near public places and you can get some good shots from a distance.
One opportunity for photographing people at close quarters on the roads in and around Dubai are the many construction and road workers constantly toiling on the ever present construction sites. On one hand you get to see them busy in a variety of positions and activities, but on the other hand what you end up with is images of hard hats and uniforms, anonymous and iconic.
Most people shots, while out on a drive, invariably involving panning the camera very rapidly to keep them in frame. The stabilisation feature mentioned before is very helpful in this (the Canon G9 even has a special panning stabilisation feature that only works in landscape orientation, which I rarely use), but the surprise feature of the camera that helps is its relatively heavy metal body. The weight helps steady the hand and avoid mistiming while making smooth panning movements.
Even while on a drive, sometimes you need to stretch your legs. And when you get away from the concrete jungle that is Dubai, you take what little natural solitude you can get and you like to savour it outside the confines of your car. The desert is ever present in this region, and while its lands are fast being taken over by human development, vast tracts of virgin sands still remain in places. These areas are great for some close up photography.
My Olympus C4000Z was a difficult act to beat when it comes to macro shots. Its lens went up to an astonishing aperture of F1.8, a brilliant thing for those dramatic macro images. Thankfully though, the Canon G9 is no slacker in that department either. Its aperture is not as wide as the Olympus, but it makes up for it in weight and balance, and with a brilliant LCD screen, which makes taking properly framed macro shots even in bright sunlight pleasant.
Those are some of my observations about using my Canon G9 camera on the road. I loved my Olympus, but the G9’s improved performance means that I now take many more usable pictures on the move than I ever did before. Then there is the fact that the G9 saves in RAW, which I have been using for a while, and the benefits of which I have not even begun to scratch the surface of.