Landscape Photography from the Side of the Road
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For most people the idea of landscape photography means getting a good backpack that can carry everything, then hiking for miles to a destination. You need to be fit, and prepared for anything that might happen. You might have to camp, and sleep, out in the wilderness. It would be an adventure, and you get to photograph some areas that others never get to see.
I don’t do that. Never have, and I can’t see it happening anytime in the near future. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it, but I would never do that on my own, especially not here in Australia. The hiking part would be okay, but, again, only if I had company. There are just so many other ways of doing landscape photography.
The sun trying to break through the trees meant we had to find somewhere to stop and take some photos.
One of those methods is car trunk photography, also known as roadside photography.
It sounds easy right? It’s simply about doing photography that isn’t far from your car.
Lake Eildon water level was down and these trees were reflected in the water beautifully, but we had to walk to get to them. We could still see the car in the distance.
One of the most famous photographers of our time was well known for using his car to take photos, Ansel Adams. You likely have seen the photo of him on top of his car with his camera, setting up an image. Boards were put over his roof racks so he could stand up there with his big view camera. My car has roof racks, maybe I should consider doing the same.
Moose Peterson is another photographer that loads up the trunk of his car with his full set of gear, and has a second bag to carry some of it around. He has full knowledge that the car isn’t too far away if he needs to grab something.
One of the best advantages of doing this kind of photography is that you can take as much gear as you like with you. You aren’t restricted by how much you can carry, you can take everything you think you might need.
The car was right behind me, I got out my zoom and took this shot of a dam showing an old bridge that had emerged as the dam water level went down.
You may just have a compact camera and not a lot of photography gear, but you may also decide to take your umbrella, coat, scarf, gloves and hat, or other weather appropriate clothing. If it is hot take your sunscreen and sunhat, don’t be silly with the sun.
But if you are doing this type of photography you will likely be using a DSLR or Mirrorless camera, and you might have a lot more to take with you. If you do have a lot of gear, it may be best to use two bags – one as the main bag to hold everything, usually the bigger one, and the second one to carry what you need for any particular place you stop.
Once you get out and look around, you often find you don’t have the right lens, but as the car isn’t that far away you can go and change it easily. This also means you can take tripods, filters, monopods, anything that there might be a possibility of using. You just never know.
A foggy morning along the road. Just pull over, take some photos and get back in the car before you get too cold.
It is all very well pulling up on the side of the road to do what you want to do, but you also have to make sure that it is safe as well. When you pull up, get right off the road and as you get out of your car, or back in again, look for cars or trucks that might be driving past so you don’t get hit.
Look at the sides of the road before you pull off. Make sure the road is not wet and you won’t get stuck. Find out if there has been lots of rain. If you are in Australia in summer, be careful about long grass and snakes hiding in it.
When you are moving away from the car, lock it. While someone might not steal the car they might take all the gear you have left inside. You need to take the normal precautions that you would take if leaving your car anywhere else.
We pulled into the side track, but then had to take a short walk to see these old fence posts in the dried out dam.
Planning Your Trip
It is something you can do on your own, or with others. You can do it on a day trip to somewhere, or go away for a few days exploring countrysides to see what you can find.
The most common way is to pick a day with friends and then decide on a destination. Discuss what are you going to look for and where will you find it. You need to decide if you are going to do any small hikes. Roadside photography doesn’t mean you can’t leave your car on the side of the road while you explore somewhere close.
Like a scene from a movie, fog, and a gnarly dead tree. We saw this going to Mansfield and on the way back knew we had to stop.
There has to be a warning, while it is best to take roads that are not the normal route, so no freeways or highways, you can get very distracted. You might find that you want to stop constantly, and if you have a final destination it can mean that when you get there you don’t have enough time or light left to shoot.
It is best to decide one way or the other if you are going to stop on the way. From experience, it is good to decide so you know how much time you will have when you get where you want to go. It can also be fun to drive aimlessly and stop at anything you find interesting along the way. You never know what you might find.
Looking for a Subjects to Photograph
One of the advantages of doing things on the roadside is that you aren’t trespassing, and in most cases, can’t get into trouble for photographing things you see over the fence. As long as you don’t go over the fence you should be fine. Sometimes you might find the person who owns the land and get permission to enter.
I see this all the time, but it was the first time I was on the right road to photograph the old flour mill.
There are lots of different things to take photos of, it depends on what you find interesting. There are the beautiful, big landscapes showing the scenery of the area, although one thing that many photographers look for are the old sheds or houses that have been abandoned, and are now falling apart. When you drive on the roads you can often see them, though sometimes you need a big zoom to get good photos.
The coast can be great for this kind of photography too. You nearly always want to explore more than one area. So, with the smaller bag, you can go to one area, then drive to another.
Don’t think that the only way to take landscape photos is to pack the bag and slog through lots of harsh land to get the ideal image. Do it from the luxury of your car, take a friend, and make a day of it.
Here on dPS it is landscape week. You can see the previous ones listed below. Watch for a new article (or two) on landscape photography daily for the next week.
- 6 Tips for Better Low-Light Landscape Photography
- Landscape Photography and the Human Element
- 5 Ways a Telephoto Lens Can Improve Your Landscape Photography