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3 Tips to Maximize Your Road Trip Photos



Road trips have been hailed as one of the greatest pastimes ever, and something that everyone should do at least once in their lifetime. It is a great way to experience a lot in a short span of time, and as a photographer, there will be many opportunities and moments awaiting your perspective. Sometimes preserving your creative spin in the midst of all the new discoveries, can become sensory overload and feel overwhelming.

Here are three tips that can help you make better photographs on your journey and maximize your road trip.


1. Plan, plan … plan?

Most successful photo sessions involve a level of planning, this is no different for road trips. The plan does not have to be detailed, it can start out with some basics, such as final destination and must-see places/events, then you determine what should happen daily. Research your routes, note interesting things along the way, and make a priority list. Keep in mind that when traveling you are subject to the unforeseen, such as inclement weather, or places inaccessible for one reason or another, so be ready to switch to Plan B.


As a light chaser, planning should include knowing when the most flattering light will hit your must-see locations or subjects (e.g. sunrise or sunset), and getting there on time. Thankfully there are now many smartphone apps that will help you plan for the golden hours, work out directions, as well as drive times (and distance) between destinations.


The last part of planning is building flexibility into your days. Sometimes even the best laid plans end up with hiccups and delays, and you still need to make the most of it. The main objective of any road trip is to have fun, so build in a little flexibility, and who knows, you could find something worth exploring, or maybe you will be forced to get creative when you least expect it.


2. Gearing up

So with your destination(s) planned, it’s time to figure out what gear you need. The last thing you want to do is lug around everything you own, in fact, quite the opposite – you will want to travel light. This is why knowing your destination is key to packing. Will you be driving through amazing scenery? If yes, then you may want to pack a wide-angle lens. If wildlife is your focus, you may decide on a telephoto zoom, which is also great for capturing portraits of people in their natural environment, without being too obtrusive.

Note: Good advice, when it comes to portraits, asking permission is a nice approach.



It all depends on what your end game is, and what lens (or two) you will be using the most. There will always be regrets over what you left behind, such as that one photo that would have been awesome if you had packed a fish-eye or macro lens – but think about the extra weight, and whether of not it’s justified for the duration of the trip.


If you really want to travel light, a mid-range zoom is a great compromise and a good broad spectrum lens to have during your journey, so research your surroundings and decide if this could work for you. A tripod is a safe bet if you plan to do any night photography, but use the same rule and take it only if you need it.


3. Road trip story

When you shoot with a story in mind, it can make your photos take on a life of their own. Are you documenting something specific along the way, such as small towns or diners, breath-taking landscapes, or the road itself?


There are many different ways to tell a story, and your objective and style will dictate the way you tell yours. If your destination includes places that are prone to lots of tourists – decide how this fits into your vision. Do you make them a part of the photo (i.e. use their presence for a sense of scale) or would you prefer the location desolate (which probably means rising early to beat the rush). What story are you trying to tell?




Road trips are fun, and are a great way to make memories with hundreds of photo opportunities. Planning goes a long way, and will help you determine which gear to travel with, and what photos will make up your story line. So whether you are journeying to a National Park or just venturing out to a new place – a journey that spans two weeks or just two hours – know before you go, have lots of fun, and make awesome photo memories.

What other important tips would you add for fellow photography road trippers?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Nisha Ramroop is an I.T. chick and Project Manager with a passion for photography, currently living in the beautiful Trinidad & Tobago. She鈥檚 a published writer and photographer who spends most of her free time traveling and exploring. See more of her work at Nikophotography.

  • Ed Papp

    One other really useful technique if you are travelling and cannot stop is to have your camera set for high resolution, use a mid range telephoto lens and shoot at a minimum of 1/1000 sec with enough ISO to have a mid range f stop. Then you can take pictures even out of the side window of moving vehicles in situations when you are unable to stop , do not have enough time to stop, or there is something happening that will not wait for another opportunity. With the high res the framing is not as important so you can point and shoot as you can crop to your heart’s delight later.

  • Niko Ph么to

    Thanks for your contribution Ed 馃榾

  • S. Wright


  • S. Wright

    I meant to type; Great post. Definitely inspires me to do some travelling and photography. Thank you!

  • Niko Ph么to

    Thank you kindly 馃檪

  • dabhand

    Accept that restricting your shooting to ‘golden’ and ‘blue’ hours (especially if the weather doesn’t comply) will seriously limit your opportunities so broaden your experiences and try new genres / approaches outside those hours and learn the necessary techniques.

  • Niko Ph么to
  • Amy U

    Great things to consider. I usually come back with some OK shots but maybe next time will be better.

  • Amy U

    Great things to consider. I usually come back with some OK shots but maybe next time will be better.

  • Kenny B.

    Can you tell me what lens you used to photograph the building on the corner (3rd image down) and whether you’re using FX or DX? I am searching for a wide angle lens, and that is the field of view I like (not fisheye or too distorted).

  • Niko Ph么to

    Looking forward to seeing what ya got Amy 馃檪 Thanks for your kind comment …

  • Niko Ph么to

    Hi Kenny, I am a Canon user 馃檪 with some Nikon familiarity
    In that shot, I used a 16-35mm lens (@16mm) on a Canon 5DMk3 body, which is a full frame camera (the equivalent of FX to answer your question).
    There is some barrel distortion at the wide end, which is more obvious if straight lines are close to the frame border – very slight considering it’s an “ultra-wide” lens.
    The distortion decreases from 20mm up.

    It’s become my favorite landscape lens over the years 馃檪 Hope this helps …

  • Kenny B.

    Yes it does! Thank you very much!

  • Rob

    I have a few extra toys in the car to cover for the unknowns. When having a hike, I always at least bring a monopod. It makes a great walking stick and can sure help steady things up a bunch

  • Niko Ph么to

    I like that one Rob 馃檪 thanks for sharing …

  • Raden Adams

    Hello there, Nisha! Another wonderful and informative article that I thoroughly enjoyed and it very much applies to my photography style. If that’s what you would call what I do? I mostly travel the country roads surrounding our house and property in my Jeep with my four dogs as I live in a very rural area of Mississippi. We have been here since the 1850’s and I am surrounded by timber company property, a nature and wildlife preserve, a beautiful river that is a Federal Nature Preserve and numerous old historic towns. So, once again you are spot on with some very helpful tips and much needed inspiration! If we aren’t out hiking or walking around some little historic town, I do shoot a lot of my photos out of the window of my Jeep and have taken some of my best shots this way. I do have a question for you about what bag or backpack you use or like. I am in need of one and I just haven’t really found one that I like just yet. I need to adhere to your tip on carrying less gear as I usually have 2 or 3 cameras, all Nikon D7100’s with 3 varying lense with me while riding around. I mean, my big telephoto lens, a 150-500 mm, that I use a lot for birding and other wildlife is no good when I drive up to some cool old house, barn or something like that so I have a Nikkor 18-200 mm already mounted on another camera to capture this kind of shot. Then, I have another mid-range Nikkor 70-300 mm mounted on another camera. When you are driving around and exploring somewhere you just don’t have the time to constantly be changing lens or you will miss a lot of opportunities for great shots, plus I hate having to change lens frequently as dust and dirt always finds its way into your camera sensor sooner or later. When I hike or walk around, I do usually try to just carry two cameras with me that will cover what I need. So, I really need a pretty big photo backpack that I can load up and carry with me while riding around but still be comfortable when I get out and hike. Any ideas? Something rugged and hopefully not much over $200 dollars. I have the Manfrotto 055 Prob tripod that I would like to attach to it. What bag do you use when you hike the Smokey Mountains? I have enjoyed all of your previous articles as they are very informative and helpful to me with my type of photography. I applaud your courage, ambition and talent for living your life on your own terms while traveling around all over the dang world and meeting lots of cool people and so many more incredible things that I can only imagine that you have done. Makes me stop, think it over and kind of wonder how much fun you surely have had on your travels. I very much appreciated your very kind and sweet reply to me last month on your fantastic article about the NIK plugins that I have close at hand for a quick referral and tutorial and I am using them much more now than I was and its all because of your article. Again, your tips on speeding up your workflow in Photoshop is also a great read as I am still struggling with it but with all the improvements to Lightroom, I rarely need Photoshop.Thank you and I look forward to more of your great articles, tutorials or whatever you publish because they all seem to be written just for me and the way I truly enjoy photography. Plus the software help is always much needed. You take care.

  • Raden Adams

    Hello Ed, Your tip is very interesting and something that I will try as I am always shooting out of my window while driving around or on my way somewhere. I always have my camera with me and it is rather tricky most of the time when you happen to see something and need to shoot quickly. I have shot in full manual for so long that I really have to be in complete control of all my settings, control freak, and I do have to change some setting very quickly and frequently sometimes. I usually do have my settings similar to what you are recommending as the lighting or subject does change so fast and quickly that you almost need to have a point and shoot mode but I don’t like Program or even Aperture and Shutter priority modes that much. I like the fact that you can use Exposure Compensation with either mode but how do you control the shutter speed while shooting in Aperture Priority? Shooting raw really helps to correct some things in editing. Anyway, what you are describing, shooting quickly while driving, applies to me spot on and I am always interested in learning better methods. I bought a bean bag for my window and that is a neat little addition. Thanks and take care.

  • Hi Niko, I too am an IT/project management person, and it sure helps for planning road trips! My wife and I took our first big road trip last year, visiting 5 US national parks in 18 days and driving nearly 5,000 miles. We’re hooked, and have done two more since, visiting another 5 national parks neither of us have yet seen! She is not the photographer nor the navigator that I am, so she does most of the driving as that is what she enjoys while we’re out. We make a great team, as I love to shoot out the window!

    My best tip is for people who can travel with a partner like Becky & I, is to refine the art of shooting through the windshield. You MUST have a polarizing filter to reduce the glare, but at a shutter speed of at least 1/250 or better at least 1/500, you can get some awesome shots! Our first trips have been mainly to see the highlights of as much as we can, and then we’re heading back to the places we liked best. Shooting while moving means you miss some shots, but it also gets you a few that don’t come unless you’re actually ON the road. What’s interesting is that I’ve actually gotten pretty good at making some good images to tell our story in some of the worst light, learning new color and split-toning techniques in post.

    You can check out my road trip journal (what I have so far) on my blog, Thanks for the inspiring post!

  • Niko Ph么to

    Awww Raden, I can’t believe I missed this post. Thank you for all your kind words. Camera bags must be all photographers nightmare at one point or the other lol. I have several since I haven’t myself found one that meets all my needs. I am always thinking I need something that can roll up or expand when needed because what I have (mostly Lowepros) are usually configured for the day. The plus side of this is that I have to think long and hard about what I really need and sometimes it forces me to be creative. So short answer, I wish I could advise you on camera bags, but I will search on DPS and see if I can point you in the right direction 馃檪
    Oh and being a little birder as well, I am quite jealous of that 150-500mm 馃榾

  • Niko Ph么to

    Hey Lee, sorry I missed this post earlier. Good tip about the polarizer. I have shot a few through the windshield as well and you are right that there are some “on the road shots” not to be missed.
    I usually try to get out the car as much as I can, but I have missed a lot along the way as you have described can happen. I will try your tip on my next trip 馃檪 Cheers! Oh and I read some of the blog…very cool!

  • You inspired me to get my old Nikon out from the box and began to create smth new! Your post helped me to understand more about photography.

  • Raden Adams

    Hi there, Thank you for your reply and I already have a couple of really cool canvas backpacks that I am installing with some padded inserts. What I really need and have already ordered are some good camera + lens body bag or pouch for protection while riding around and with quick and easy access. You take care.

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