Comedian Steven Wright once said, “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.” Substitute the word “driving” for “walking” and you’ll see why RV road trips are a great way to see, experience, enjoy—and of course—photograph Roadside America.
Road trips offer photographers the advantages of being self-contained and allowing them to travel on their own schedules. Simply put, road trips offer freedom—freedom to come and go as you please and the freedom to shoot what you like, when you like, and for as long as you like.
Think for a moment about the jaw-dropping photos you’ve seen in magazines and online? The diversity in landscape and ecology that America offers is so magnificent and varied.
And how fortunate are we as RVers to have opportunities to travel and access these stunning locations and photograph them using an amazing variety of digital devices? An RV trip gives us the chance to explore all that nature has to offer. Travel up mountains, through forests, and across deserts, all while enjoying the beautiful scenery and fascinating wildlife. Of course, you’ll want to mind your COVID behavior which includes maintaining a distance from people and keeping a mask handy for any public areas.
Fortunately, there an unlimited variety of readily accessible natural areas for RV travelers to visit and to photograph if you’re prepared and have a little bit of luck on your side.
Planning is the key to success with any photo shoot and that’s especially true for road trips. In planning your trip, consider that you’re basically chasing the light. You want to be in scenic locations during optimum lighting conditions when shadows and highlights come together for awesome images.
If you’re prepared, you’re simply increasing your chances of capturing a great shot. The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to maximize your chances of nailing that beautiful sunset…or desert scene…or deer-in-the-meadows photo.
Dr. Louis Pasteur, inventor of pasteurization, has a very meaningful quote attributed to him: “Where observation is concerned, chance favors only the prepared mind.” Now, while Dr. Pasteur may have been referring to the field of scientific observation, it can easily apply it to landscape photography.
Or the words of the great photographer, Ansel Adams: “Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”
Before setting out on a nature shoot—especially if it’s at an unfamiliar location—take time for some “online reconnaissance.” Access to some amazing technologies can make our jobs as landscape photographers easier. One such piece of technology is the mobile phone and its use of GPS.
Let’s say you’re planning to photograph the sunrise or sunset at a specific location. To help prepare you can research some of the more obvious things like weather forecasts and driving routes along with any potential hazard alerts for the area.
Another favorite online tool is Google Maps. The sheer amount of geographic and topological information available on Google Maps is staggering. Spend some time exploring Google Maps and you’ll have a better understanding of the area and a more precise idea of where to go and what to expect when you get there.
If there’s one variable that will change things up on you no matter how much due diligence you put in, it’s the weather. While weather forecasts are worth spending time researching they’re not an excuse for being caught off-guard. If the forecasts call for mild temps with scattered clouds you should still be prepared for the chance of showers.
Let’s say your intent is to photograph the sunset. You know where you’re going, you have the right gear with you, and the weather is all but guaranteed to be great for the setting sun. So how are you going to capture it?
Sure, you could just fill the frame with the sun and call it a day but you’re here to convey the beauty of the landscape in front of you, right? You also want to give your viewer a sense of place and depth. One of the best ways to do so is with strong foreground elements. Pay attention to what you’ll use to accompany the actual sunrise or sunset. Saguaro cactus and palm trees can be used to your advantage when photographing a sunrise or sunset as shown in above photos.
And don’t forget to turn around and shoot away from the sun for some amazing scenes in the glow of the late afternoon light as seen near Casa Grande, Arizona.
In certain situations you’ll be able to use natural surroundings to frame the sun as I did at Landscape Arch in Arches National Park.
“If you are not having fun, you are doing something wrong.”
On your road trip, focus on having a ton of fun. The more fun you have, the more you’ll enjoy your photo experience which will result in a high percentage of “keepers.”
And, be flexible because as much as you plan, things can happen—with the weather, traffic, detours and so on. When things don’t go just right, take a deep breath. “Smile, be happy,” as the Bobby McFerrin song goes. Be happy that you are on the road doing what you like to do: Make pictures.
We don’t take pictures with our cameras. We take them with our hearts and we take them with our minds, and the camera is nothing more than a tool.