Updated: Apr 13
What’s the best part of going on a road trip? Sightseeing! And there’s a reason they call it sightseeing: You get to see sights you might otherwise miss.
And if you like what you see, you’ll want to see them again — and show your friends.
That’s where travel photography comes in. It’s the perfect way to preserve what you discover along the road. Photographs help you remember your road trip long after it’s over and share it with others you wish had been there.
Road trip photos are perfect because they allow you to avoid crowded amusement areas and busy tourist spots. You can target scenic destinations instead. Ask yourself as you’re envisioning your road trip: Do you really need those crowds? Wouldn’t you rather feast your eyes on a meadow of wildflowers, a majestic rock formation, or a glistening waterfall?
And, of course, you can capture them all with the lens of your camera. Here’s how to get started:
Choose your focus
Do you want to photograph old buildings, scenic wonders, detailed shots, or a combination of subjects? Decide where you want your focus to be and plan your road trip photos accordingly. This includes deciding what photo equipment to take with you on the road.
Pick your destination(s)
It can be fun to fly by the seat of your pants, but you’ll be kicking yourself if you pass by a prime
viewpoint without even realizing it was there. Who knows when you’ll get back there again? That’s why it’s always a good idea to create a travel itinerary.
There are travel books and apps galore from which to choose, and many photographers use Google Street View mode to “tour” and preview destinations before ever leaving the house.
If you plan on photographing several different subjects, create a travel itinerary that leads you from one photo subject to the next in the shortest time, so you can conserve light (a photographer’s most precious commodity). This will enhance the quality of your road trip photos!
Preview your subjects
Knowing where you’re headed will give you a big head start in planning the road trip. A mapping app, like Google Maps or MapQuest, will show you how to get where you want to go, but that’s just the beginning.
As mentioned above, Google Street View lets you see what your road trip destination will actually look like (or looked like when the most recent photo on the app was taken!). This can give you an idea of how to plan for angles, lighting, traffic flow, and other variables.
Another idea: If you’re photographing a building, see if you can find a floor plan online before you go. That way, you can strategize for some good vantage points before you even get there. If you plan to create a travel photo book after the trip, previewing your subjects will help you to plan the sequence of your travel photo book.
Know the forecast
Before you go, download a weather-tracking app. A good weather tracking app will include a 10- or 14-day forecast, so you can be sure to travel when the weather’s good for picture-taking. Who needs a blizzard or thunderstorm to ruin a perfect picture opportunity?
A good weather app will also tell you when sunrise and sunset will happen, so you can plan for the proper lighting. Road trip photos are taken best during the summer. Because there’s more daylight to work with, you can travel farther, see more sights, and take more pictures.
Bring the right equipment
Different travelers prefer different cameras. Ask yourself what you want to photograph and what kind of photo equipment you’ll need to get those perfect shots.
A traditional camera is a way to go if you want versatility. (Well, they’re not really “traditional,” because most don’t use film: Cameras are almost all digital these days — but they’re still actual cameras, as opposed to smartphone components.)
With cameras, you can change lenses for the kind of wide-angle photos or telephoto views you can’t get with a camera phone. Filters add more options, and you can use a tripod for long exposures to your road trip photos.
On the other hand, smartphone camera resolution and overall quality are improving fast, and if you want convenience, ease of use, and portability, a smartphone is your best bet.
Make financial preps
As with any other road trip, it pays to be ready for financial hiccups. You want to have a reserve at hand in case you break down on the road, get sick, or need to replace crucial equipment. It also helps if you encounter a fantastic (but un-budgeted-for) opportunity or need to draw on your resources for any other reason.
Building credit is a good way to guard against the financial fallout from an emergency expense. A credit account secured with a deposit of a few hundred dollars limits your potential liability and helps you build your credit at the same time.
Stay alert for the unexpected
One of the best ways to stay engaged on the road trip to be on the lookout for picture possibilities. Weird roadside treasures and vista overlooks are seemingly everywhere, but you can speed right past them if you aren’t paying attention.
The highway itself can be the star of the show. Just ask anyone who’s driven the Blue Ridge Parkway, Pacific Coast Highway, or the Road to Hana on Maui. They’ll tell you the journey itself is the destination.
For the most productive road trip, know what you’re looking for and how to get there, and plan accordingly. Check out the angles ahead of time. As much as possible, know what to expect from the weather and the light.
And, of course, once you get back, you’ll want to have your road trip photos printed quickly and easily. There’s good news on that front: SimplePrints provides easy printing solutions where you can create & customize prints online on the SimplePrints app.
On your next road trip, try to be prepared for anything, and stay on the lookout for hidden gems. Photo road trips to far-flung destinations can be just as adventurous as trips to crowded beaches and amusement parks — and when you get back, you’ll have great shots as proof.
GUEST BLOGGER: MOLLY BARNES
Molly Barnes is a full-time digital nomad, exploring and working remotely in different cities in the US. She and her boyfriend Jacob created the website Digital Nomad Life to share their journey and help others to pursue a nomadic lifestyle.