Photography Tips for a Road Trip

My husband waits patiently while I take a photo of the Grand Tetons.
My husband waits patiently while I take a photo of the Grand Tetons.

A road trip is an ideal way to actually travel the miles between Point A and Point B. You have the opportunity to see and experience so much more about the country you live in, and the world you live in, when you’re driving it and not flying over it.

By its very nature, a road trip provides ample opportunities for photography. Out-the-window shots can be tricky because you’re moving and thereby creating a difficult environment from which to get a clear photograph. My recommendation is to roll down the window so you remove the risk of glare, have the driver slow down as much as is possible under the circumstances, and use a very fast lens and/or shutter speed to “stop” the motion (alternatively, if you’re actually going for a sense of motion, use a slower shutter speed). Keep the camera’s strap around your neck if you have to lean out, and don’t point the lens directly into the wind to protect it from dust (and bugs!). Make sure your lens is affixed with a UV filter and hood, to provide further protection.

When pulling off to the side of the road to get a shot, make sure you choose a safe spot, without any blind corners or turn-offs. Get well off the road to put some distance between you and the passing traffic. Always pay attention to your surroundings. Ideally, use lookout points or rest areas, or other sites purposefully built to provide the opportunity to pull off the road. Never stop on a bridge or a road too narrow for two cars to pass, and always face in the direction the traffic is traveling.

Keep your gear handy, not packed in the trunk or in the back seat. Things come up on you, and pass you by, at great speed when travelling by car. Use a telephoto lens (with Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction) to pull in subjects that the road doesn’t take you directly toward. Make sure the windows are up and the air vents are pointed away from you whenever you change lenses, to minimize the amount of dust that gets into the inner workings of your camera. Practice changing lenses inside a pillow case (or even an old-school black bag), which is an excellent way to keep dust out of the camera.

One trick I’ve used on road trips is to lay the tripod across the back seat of the car, legs extended and ready to go. That way all I had to do was hop out of the stopped car, grab the tripod, snap the camera in place, and shoot. If you happen to have a second camera body just leave it attached to the tripod. Lay the whole assembly on a blanket on the back seat, and keep another camera in your lap for hand-held shots.

Happy road-tripping!

Recommended cameras:
Nikon D3100
Canon Rebel T3i
Pentax K-r

Recommended lenses:
Nikkor 18-35mm f/3.5-5.6
Tamoron 70-300mm f/4-5.6
Canon 135mm f/2.8

Photo credit: Tiffany Joyce