Landscape Photography from the Side of the Road

0Comments

For most people the idea of landscape photography means getting a good backpack that can carry everything, then hiking for miles to a destination. You need to be fit, and prepared for anything that might happen. You might have to camp, and sleep, out in the wilderness. It would be an adventure, and you get to photograph some areas that others never get to see.

I don’t do that. Never have, and I can’t see it happening anytime in the near future. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it, but I would never do that on my own, especially not here in Australia. The hiking part would be okay, but, again, only if I had company. There are just so many other ways of doing landscape photography.

cole-landscape-road-side-photography-0002

The sun trying to break through the trees meant we had to find somewhere to stop and take some photos.

One of those methods is car trunk photography, also known as roadside photography.

It sounds easy right? It’s simply about doing photography that isn’t far from your car.

cole-landscape-road-side-photography-0004

Lake Eildon water level was down and these trees were reflected in the water beautifully, but we had to walk to get to them. We could still see the car in the distance.

One of the most famous photographers of our time was well known for using his car to take photos, Ansel Adams. You likely have seen the photo of him on top of his car with his camera, setting up an image. Boards were put over his roof racks so he could stand up there with his big view camera. My car has roof racks, maybe I should consider doing the same.

Moose Peterson is another photographer that loads up the trunk of his car with his full set of gear, and has a second bag to carry some of it around.  He has full knowledge that the car isn’t too far away if he needs to grab something.

Gear

One of the best advantages of doing this kind of photography is that you can take as much gear as you like with you. You aren’t restricted by how much you can carry, you can take everything you think you might need.

cole-landscape-road-side-photography-0007

The car was right behind me, I got out my zoom and took this shot of a dam showing an old bridge that had emerged as the dam water level went down.

You may just have a compact camera and not a lot of photography gear, but you may also decide to take your umbrella, coat, scarf, gloves and hat, or other weather appropriate clothing. If it is hot take your sunscreen and sunhat, don’t be silly with the sun.

But if you are doing this type of photography you will likely be using a DSLR or Mirrorless camera, and you might have a lot more to take with you. If you do have a lot of gear, it may be best to use two bags – one as the main bag to hold everything, usually the bigger one, and the second one to carry what you need for any particular place you stop.

Once you get out and look around, you often find you don’t have the right lens, but as the car isn’t that far away you can go and change it easily. This also means you can take tripods, filters, monopods, anything that there might be a possibility of using. You just never know.

cole-landscape-road-side-photography-0001

A foggy morning along the road. Just pull over, take some photos and get back in the car before you get too cold.

Safety

It is all very well pulling up on the side of the road to do what you want to do, but you also have to make sure that it is safe as well. When you pull up, get right off the road and as you get out of your car, or back in again, look for cars or trucks that might be driving past so you don’t get hit.

Look at the sides of the road before you pull off. Make sure the road is not wet and you won’t get stuck. Find out if there has been lots of rain. If you are in Australia in summer, be careful about long grass and snakes hiding in it.

When you are moving away from the car, lock it. While someone might not steal the car they might take all the gear you have left inside. You need to take the normal precautions that you would take if leaving your car anywhere else.

cole-landscape-road-side-photography-0006

We pulled into the side track, but then had to take a short walk to see these old fence posts in the dried out dam.

Planning Your Trip

It is something you can do on your own, or with others. You can do it on a day trip to somewhere, or go away for a few days exploring countrysides to see what you can find.

The most common way is to pick a day with friends and then decide on a destination. Discuss what are you going to look for and where will you find it. You need to decide if you are going to do any small hikes. Roadside photography doesn’t mean you can’t leave your car on the side of the road while you explore somewhere close.

cole-landscape-road-side-photography-0002

Like a scene from a movie, fog, and a gnarly dead tree. We saw this going to Mansfield and on the way back knew we had to stop.

There has to be a warning, while it is best to take roads that are not the normal route, so no freeways or highways, you can get very distracted. You might find that you want to stop constantly, and if you have a final destination it can mean that when you get there you don’t have enough time or light left to shoot.

It is best to decide one way or the other if you are going to stop on the way. From experience, it is good to decide so you know how much time you will have when you get where you want to go. It can also be fun to drive aimlessly and stop at anything you find interesting along the way. You never know what you might find.

Looking for a Subjects to Photograph

One of the advantages of doing things on the roadside is that you aren’t trespassing, and in most cases, can’t get into trouble for photographing things you see over the fence. As long as you don’t go over the fence you should be fine. Sometimes you might find the person who owns the land and get permission to enter.

cole-landscape-road-side-photography-0005

I see this all the time, but it was the first time I was on the right road to photograph the old flour mill.

There are lots of different things to take photos of, it depends on what you find interesting. There are the beautiful, big landscapes showing the scenery of the area, although one thing that many photographers look for are the old sheds or houses that have been abandoned, and are now falling apart. When you drive on the roads you can often see them, though sometimes you need a big zoom to get good photos.

The coast can be great for this kind of photography too. You nearly always want to explore more than one area. So, with the smaller bag, you can go to one area, then drive to another.

Don’t think that the only way to take landscape photos is to pack the bag and slog through lots of harsh land to get the ideal image. Do it from the luxury of your car, take a friend, and make a day of it.


Here on dPS it is landscape week. You can see the previous ones listed below. Watch for a new article (or two) on landscape photography daily for the next week.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Leanne Cole is a fine art photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. She loves Melbourne and photographing it, along with other parts of the state. She likes doing architectural and environmental photography. You can find her on her website or on Instagram.

  • Jade Meinke

    I personally feel like the one with the fog and the dead tree would have been better if you had gotten closer to the tree. Then it would have really been like a scene out of a movie. One of my own is below.

  • What I Dream Of Blog

    Wow, it’s like pictures are being taken from the dreams I have. Some of these are stunning. I consider myself an amateur photographer at best, but these are truly inspirational, especially that first photo.

  • Pete Mueller

    Another advantage of having the car close, especially if it is dusty or windy, is that you have a much better place to exchange lenses without exposing your camera’s guts to the elements. Last time I found myself in a situation like this I was hurrying to beat the light, so I just leaned in the car door to change to a different lens… big mistake. It was windy and the result was a seriously compromised sensor (even ending up with a chunk of happiness on my viewfinder’s innards). There was some serious disassembly and cleaning that took place afterwards. I should have gotten in and closed the door; next time I will.

  • I do have more that were closer, but then they become more about the tree rather than the scene, I liked the scene more. Thank you.

  • Thank you, it is great to hear you like my images, and amateurs is how we all start out.

  • That is a great point Pete very true, I use the trunk for that though we don’t get a lot of days where it is really windy like that, I’m happy to say. Thank you.

  • David Thompson

    Side of the road photography is a favorite thing for me. I travel quite a bit, prefer road trips to aircraft, and almost always have a camera (at least one) with me. It’s fun to look for interesting things and I often find myself turning back when I pass something I want to capture. Thanks for reminding me of just how much easier this makes traveling.

    Here’s a grab shot from my exit of Yellowstone on the east side. I love that blue sky!

  • Alan Elwell

    Rural NSW, on the road between Tamworth and Armidale, during April. The storms down south provided some huge skies.

  • Sharon Minish

    ‘The Moon Refused to Yield’. Taken on our 20th anniversary at Little Talbot Island in Jacksonville Florida.

  • YOu’re welcome, it is a great way to see a place.

  • Sharon Minish

    Taken between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge Tennessee.

  • elhacedordeluces

    nice composition

  • Frank Fusco

    Taken at rest area along Hwy 41, central California.

  • Rod R

    taken on side of road. Calverton, NY

  • LaNita Bee

    on a road trip with my sister, i caught this out the window. i shoot from the car often….sometimes i even stop!!!

  • Elaine Farrington Johnson

    I am a real estate appraiser and spend about half my day in the car traveling. I’d say about half my photography is roadside.

  • Tim Lowe

    Cheating. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Evelyn Dean

    Good post, thanks … but not everywhere with a great (and photogenic) view has a place to stop a car! That can be very frustrating. Having said that, I have some nice shots from a moving vehicle!

  • John Voss

    I think it was Edward Weston who jokingly said, “Anything more than 10 feet from the car isn’t photogenic.” Of course, he was schlepping an 8X10 view camera and the rest of his gear, so he was entitled!

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    No, not cheating – opening your eyes to what you see around you. But nevertheless limiting your views. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with standing beside the road to take a photo

  • I love that John, I will go further than 10 feet, but I like the idea that the car isn’t too far away. Thank you.

  • That is true Evelyn, and not all my photography is done close to the car, but it is nice when you can. I was taking shots out the window of a moving car in Yosemite the last two days, we stopped when we could, but wasn’t always possible, you just have to do it sometimes. Thank you.

  • I agree, where does it say in the rule book that you have to hike miles to take photos. If you really want to get somewhere remote, okay, but there are also some amazing sites along the road to see and take photos of. In Australia it is a great way to travel. Thanks.

  • You must see some gorgeous scenery. Great way to see a place, just go and look.

  • I usually stop too, but sometimes it isn’t possibly, I was shooting out the car window in Yosemite, couldn’t help myself.

  • YOu can see some lovely things along the side of the road.

  • I’ve been in California for the last 10 days and the views are so wonderful here.

  • I’ve never been to that part, Victoria is a great place to photograph as well.

  • Tim Lowe

    Lighten up, boys. There’s no rule book. You have to (ok, you should) admit that if you want to shoot unique perspectives, put on your boots and get off the road. I certainly don’t want the same shot everybody rolling down the road gets. Your mileage my vary.

  • Perhaps that depends on where you live Tim, there are many country roads in the state I live in that people never photograph, or even know about it. Where as the most common places to take photos are the ones that you are talking about as a lot of people think that is what you are meant to do as a photographer, I guess it depends on where you travel the common roads or go off the beaten track, I prefer the latter.

  • Katja Klages

    Thank you so much for this article! Due to illness I can only walk for 500m in even terrain so I photograph at the roadside most of the time. I always felt it is a bit of cheating for not having walked in darkness up a mountain to capture the sunrise.
    So thank you again for freeing my thoughts ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I think don’t be so hard on yourself, you need to what works for you, and if that works, then that is great. I think the most important thing is that you are out taking photos. Sunrises are over rated, just enjoy what you are doing.
    You’re welcome and thank you.

  • Katja Klages

    Youยดve hit the nail on its head! Thank you again for your words I will keep them in my heart ๐Ÿ™‚ Have a great weekend!

  • I’m so glad, I really don’t believe there is any cheating. Have fun.
    Thanks Katja.

  • Kathryn Robertson

    Taken in Northam WA. We were at the National Hot Air Ballooning Championships – no chance to go far from he car when you’re chasing a balloon.

  • Not unless you can run fast.

  • David Kellin

    Driving through the backroads of South Carolina.

  • That looks great. Thanks for sharing it David.

  • Richard Henderson

    Late winter fog. Taken while on the way to Camera Club:-)

  • Ms. Xray Misandrist

    taken roadside

  • Fog is great to take photos in. Great image, thanks for sharing it.

Join Our Email Newsletter

Thanks for subscribing!


DPS offers a free weekly newsletter with: 
1. new photography tutorials and tips
2. latest photography assignments
3. photo competitions and prizes

Enter your email below to subscribe.
Email:
 
 
Get DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS feed