Roads trips are a fun way to see the world, spend time with friends, and have the opportunity to photograph lots and lots of subjects you might not get to see that often. But with all the new scenery and the excitement of being on the open road, it can be pretty easy to get overwhelmed and not maximize your photographic opportunities along the way.
If you are hitting the road soon, consider these four tips for making the most of your travel photos.
Make a Plan and Then Another
To the extent that you can, it’s helpful if you can make a couple of different plans for each day to ensure you’ve got your route mapped out to take advantage of the local scenery. Even just outlining the basics, like four or five locations you’d like to visit each day, will help you determine what needs to happen on each leg of the trip. Look at maps, talk to locals, and do some investigating on the internet to discover some hidden gems along your route.
Once you’ve made Plan A, make Plan B. You never know when something will go awry - the weather might turn bad or a location you wanted to visit might be closed or inaccessible. Having a backup plan will keep your trip on schedule without sacrificing too much time fretting over lost opportunities. But as you make your plans, don’t forget to think about how each location you want to visit will interact with the sun. Make an effort to get up a little early or stay out a little late to take advantage of Golden Hour. Your photos will thank you for the great lighting!
Don’t Be Afraid to Throw the Plans Out the Window
Of course, as important as it is to plan, sometimes you will encounter a subject that requires more time than allotted. Maybe you find a stunning landscape in the early evening and you just want to stick around for sunset. Maybe you come across some interesting architecture that occupies more of your time than you anticipated. You might even find a hidden gem as you travel from one planned destination to another. The point is that planning is key, but so too is having the ability to be spontaneous and take the opportunities to take photos as they come. Don’t be afraid to pull the car over and snap away if the mood strikes!
Deciding what gear you pack will depend on a number of factors. If you primarily shoot landscapes, perhaps your wide-angle lens is your best bet. If you prefer to photograph wildlife, a telephoto lens might be in order. If you like to photograph the urban jungle, maybe a 50mm lens will be your best bet. If you want a good all-around lens, a mid-range zoom is an excellent choice that will work well in many varied situations. Just think about the types of photos you will take along the way, and that will inform you to a great extent what gear you should take and what can be left behind.
The danger of overpacking is, of course, having a huge, heavy camera bag that you have to lug around. Photographers are creatures of habit, so you’ll likely still only use one or two of your lenses, even if you take every single one you own. This is especially important to remember if you’ll be doing a lot of walking around or hiking - your neck and shoulders will be screaming if you’ve got a bag that’s bursting with gear! Paring down your kit might mean that you have a few regrets later on because you didn’t have the right lens for a photo you wanted to take, but in the end, less is probably more, and you will be able to get the vast majority of the photos you want with just a couple of lenses.
Shoot a Series
Rather than having a random assortment of photos that don’t seem to connect with one another, try to approach your road trip as an opportunity to tell a story with your photos. Maybe you focus on landscapes, people you meet along the way, small town life, or the actual roads themselves. Maybe you focus on a technique, like black and white images or a theme, like desolation. You might even decide to include a specific element in each photo of your story, like a person, a car, your dog, and so on.
Whatever story you choose to tell will probably develop along the way. In fact, you might set out to tell a story about small-town life, only to discover that your photos are telling a much different story about the human impact on the environment. Much like the planning stage, it’s important to have some ideas with an end goal in mind, but it’s equally as important to have an open mind and see how your story unfolds along the way. That’s the inherent beauty of both photography and road tripping - you can plan all you want, but at the end of the day, you might end up somewhere totally different with a set of images that have nothing to do with your original vision. How exciting is that?!