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.
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?