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White-clad carreiros guide visitors down a steep toboggan run in Funchal, Madeira. (Photograph by Ken Johnson)

Photo Lesson: Conveying Motion

In addition to being longtime contributing photographers for Traveler magazine, my wife Sisse and I are frequently invited to join National Geographic Expeditions trips as photography experts, interacting with guests aboard the National Geographic Explorer.

On a recent trip to the Macaronesia Islands—composed of the Azores and Madeira (both belonging to Portugal), the Canaries (which is under Spanish rule), and the independent country of Cape Verde—we had 25 passengers sign up for a photo workshop with us. We gave them assignments, or themes, to explore throughout our journey—including how to recognize and use light, how to interact with strangers and convey personalities through portraiture, how to tell a story and capture a sense of place through photography, and more.

Each day, we met to discuss the results of their efforts, with Sisse and I providing feedback and suggestions on how to improve. And each day there was a standout photograph that seemed to illustrate the lesson we had intended to teach—so much so that we thought it was worth sharing with the rest of the Nat Geo Travel community. Here’s lesson number one.

> Assignment: Conveying Motion

One of the stops on our journey throughout Macaronesia was to Madeira, an island of astonishing contrasts—from the hustle and bustle of big city life in Funchal to the tranquil primeval woodlands that cloak the dramatic volcanic cliffs and canyons of the interior.

While in port at Funchal, we took the opportunity to try out the famous toboggan run that starts at the top of Monte, a 2,000-foot-tall mountain that presides over the city. You get there by taking a ride up to the peak with a cable car that provides eye-catching views over the city. The run, which starts just behind the Nossa Senhora do Monte Church, gives visitors a chance to whiz down winding, narrow streets in giant wicker baskets, steered by two white-suited guides, or carreiros.

Always looking for a new and different angle, photographer Ken Johnson placed himself in one of the baskets to capture the daring experience firsthand. Setting his camera up properly to use a slow shutter speed, he was able to convey the speed of the run. The narrow street in the photo also enhances this sense of motion.

What makes Ken’s image so special is that the couple in the wicker basket in front of him are sharp while everything else is slightly blurred. He was able to achieve this effect because both baskets were traveling at the same pace and because he employed a very slow shutter speed to compensate for the overcast weather conditions that day.

> Camera Settings:

  • ISO: 64
  • Lens: 24mm
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter Speed: 1/13th second

Cotton Coulson and Sisse Brimberg are contributing photographers for National Geographic Traveler magazine. They are based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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