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5 Tips to Transform Your Road Trip Photography

Tips to transform your road trip photos

Embarking on a road trip may not initially sound like the most thrilling adventure. Endless stretches of mundane scenery, hours of gazing out the window as the world whizzes by at 70 miles per hour – it’s a recipe for monotony, right?

Well, let me tell you a little secret: Even the dullest car ride can transform into a treasure trove of incredible photo opportunities. With a pinch of planning and a dash of creativity, those seemingly uninspiring countryside views can be the backdrop for photos that’ll make your friends green with envy.

So buckle up, because I’m about to spill the beans on how you can turn those seemingly boring roads into a photographer’s paradise. Get ready to unleash your inner artist and uncover the hidden gems that await along the way. Trust me, your next road trip is going to be one for the photo album!

1. Take the road less traveled

I live about 400 miles away from my parents and siblings, so I find myself hitting the road back to my old stomping grounds a few times a year. The quickest route involves a turnpike and miles of monotonous interstate driving. Sure, it lets me bypass small towns without slowing down every 20 minutes, but it also robs me of some incredible photo opportunities.

You see, interstates and the like may get you to your destination in record time, but when it comes to snapping stunning photos, they fall short. What’s the solution? Instead of taking the quick and easy path, embrace your inner Yoda and seek out alternative routes to your destination. These roads may not be as swift, but trust me, they’re brimming with photographic charm.

Road trip photography tips
Few things say “Midwestern US” like hay bales and rolling hills. You won’t find scenes like this along most interstates and major highways, though.

Grab your favorite mapping app or dust off a good old-fashioned physical map. Look for quaint, two-lane roads that wind through captivating landscapes. As you traverse these scenic routes, you’ll encounter breathtaking sights that the interstate can never deliver!

Road trip photography tips

I was driving down a highway when I saw this dirt road off to the side, so I pulled over and got a picture.

Even better, if you take back roads, you have the freedom to pull over at your leisure without causing a traffic nightmare.

So slow down, explore, and let the road less traveled become your gateway to unforgettable photo opportunities.

2. Plan your photos in advance

When you embark on a road trip, it’s essential to have a game plan for capturing amazing photos. Don’t just rely on chance encounters along the way; instead, be proactive and set your sights on specific picture-perfect moments.

Let me introduce you to the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon – a quirky mind trick that works in your favor. Once you’ve got a particular idea in mind, like photographing tractors, your brain starts playing a game. Suddenly, you’ll spot tractors popping up everywhere, as if they’re waiting for you to notice them.

Now, let me share my experience. During a recent road trip, I decided to focus on windmills. I did my homework and chose slower but more intriguing routes on the map. I was determined to capture the beauty of these majestic structures. To be honest, I couldn’t recall ever seeing windmills before, but I had a feeling the Midwestern United States would surprise me. And boy, was I right!

Road trip photography tips

As the hours rolled by on my drive, windmills seemed to appear one after another, like a magical photo opportunity conveyor belt. I couldn’t help but snap some incredible shots that exceeded my expectations.

Road trip photography tips

You can apply this trick to your own road trips. It’s simple, really. Before you hit the road, pick a particular subject or type of photo you want to capture. Then keep an eye out for those hidden gems along the way. Dilapidated barns, weathered billboards, old bridges, towering cacti, breathtaking mountain vistas, or even dusty dirt roads – these are all exciting subjects just waiting for your lens.

So do a bit of planning. Think about what you want to photograph. Plant the ideas in your mind, and you’ll be amazed at how they flourish into fascinating and breathtaking photos!

3. Time of day is paramount

When it comes to capturing amazing road trip photos, the time of day is absolutely crucial. Let’s face it, sunlight can make or break any type of photo, and the same holds true for those epic shots you want to take on your journey.

Picture this: You’re cruising down the open road, and you have some beautiful landscape photos in mind. If you set out in the morning or evening, your results will often be spectacular – but if you set out at high noon, you can kiss those breathtaking sunrise or sunset pictures goodbye! It may sound like common sense, but understanding how sunlight affects your photos will have a massive impact on your departure time and overall planning.

Road trip photography tips
There’s about a two-minute window for getting sunrise shots like this. Plan your drive accordingly.

If you’re not quite sure what kind of pictures you want to snap on your road trip, plan to hit the road at least 30 minutes before sunrise. Why? Because magic happens during those early hours, and you might stumble upon something truly captivating.

On the other hand, if you already have a specific photo location in mind along your route, make sure you time your trip accordingly. This way, you’ll increase your chances of capturing that spot in the most awe-inspiring light possible.

Remember, time is of the essence when it comes to photography, and being mindful of the sunlight’s influence will elevate your road trip pictures to a whole new level of brilliance. Don’t overlook the power of timing – embrace it and watch your photos come alive!

Road trip photography tips

4. Allow more time than you need

One of the worst things that can happen to a road-trip photographer is stumbling upon a jaw-dropping sight or a famous landmark, only to realize you’re running out of time and can’t stop to snap a picture. Trust me: It’s a heart-wrenching experience. That’s why you should add an extra hour or two to your drive schedule, just to be safe. Don’t let time limit your creative adventures.

If I take the boring interstate to head back home and plan on stopping only once, I can make the trip in about six and a half hours. But that’s not my style when it comes to driving. I prefer taking those less-traveled roads, making pit stops at least half a dozen times for potential photo opportunities. Sure, it adds an extra hour or two to my journey, but boy, is it worth it!

Road trip photography tips

Having that extra time is not just about capturing amazing shots; it’s also a fantastic excuse to stretch your legs and soak in the breathtaking scenery, even if you’re not sure about the photographic possibilities. On one of my recent drives to visit my folks, I accidentally drove past a massive field filled with gorgeous sunflowers. The lighting wasn’t ideal, but I stopped anyway and took some pictures. I made a mental note to revisit the spot on my way back. With no idea how long it would take, I made sure to allocate plenty of extra time for my drive, and guess what? It paid off! Hours later, I pulled over and captured a cool shot of an oil pump and a majestic wind turbine:

Road trip photography tips

5. Don’t worry about your gear

As you prepare for your next exhilarating road trip, you might find yourself wondering if your current gear is up to the task. But here’s the exciting part: Capturing amazing road trip photos doesn’t require fancy equipment. In fact, you probably already have everything you need right at your fingertips. Even a smartphone camera can transform ordinary moments into breathtaking vistas and picturesque landscapes.

Don’t let the worry of not having the latest gear hold you back from unleashing your creativity on those long hours spent behind the wheel. Whether you wield a DSLR or rely on your trusty smartphone, rest assured that fantastic shots are within your grasp. And if you happen to have a trusty tripod, it’s worth bringing along, as you never know when it might prove useful.

Road trip photography tips

As you hone your skills, you may discover a preference for a specific lens or camera that complements your photographic style. But remember, the true magic lies in mastering lighting techniques, strategic planning, and venturing off the beaten path rather than fixating on acquiring the latest camera gadgetry. So embrace the gear you have, and let your passion for exploration lead to captivating images that will stand the test of time.

Road trip photography tips
I took this shot on a road trip with a simple point-and-shoot camera, and all it required was some good light and an observant eye.

Road trip photography: final words

And there you have it, folks! We’ve reached the end of our wild ride through the world of road trip photography. Who knew that those endless stretches of highway could hold so much potential for breathtaking snapshots?

So grab your gear, buckle up, and embark on your own epic photo adventure. Capture those picturesque landscapes and unexpected surprises along the way. Remember that the road is your canvas, and your camera is your brush. Now go out there and create photographic masterpieces that will leave everyone in awe. Happy shooting!

Now over to you:

Do you have any favorite tips or tricks for getting good pictures while out driving? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Simon Ringsmuth
Simon Ringsmuth

is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.

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