Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Tips for on-the-road photography April 2, 2011

HOW OFTEN HAVE YOU been traveling along a roadway, saw a subject worth photographing but were in too much of a hurry to stop?

That’s happened to me more often than I wish. However, I’ve found a solution that’s worked well with some incredible photo results.

I’m issuing a disclaimer here, though. I’m not advocating photographing and driving. This photographic option should be used only when you are a passenger because you’ll be operating your camera while your vehicle is moving.

First, set your camera at a sports action shutter speed, place it on your lap, grip the camera body and be prepared to snap away at a moment’s notice.

Click. Click. Click. With a fast shutter speed, you can quickly fire off three frames before you’ve bypassed the intended subject.

OK, it’s not quite that easy. You must anticipate just the right moment to take your photos. That means paying attention to what lies ahead of you along the roadway. Click too soon and you miss the shot. Click too late and you miss the shot.

It’s partially luck, partially skill that will nail a great photo.

I’m always watching too for telephone and electric poles and roadside signs that can obstruct an otherwise good image.

I’m also always trying to balance my photos so they are well-composed.

All of this moving of the camera and adjusting the lens and framing the image must happen in a split-second. I can’t even begin to tell you how many shots I’ve missed because I’ve moved too slowly or failed to notice a photo op until it passed me by.

That’s the other part of successful on-the-road photography. You need a watchful eye for subjects that will make interesting and great photos. Too many people look, but don’t really see, what’s around them. Perhaps because I’ve grown so accustomed to viewing my world through a camera lens and because I’m a writer, I notice more than the average person.

Yet all of this effort will be wasted if you’re shooting through dirty vehicle windows. Clean your windows. If you live in a state like Minnesota, where road spray from sand and salt and melting snow is a problem, you may just have to abandon this traveling photo option in the winter.

Unless you’re traveling through a town, at low speeds, I don’t recommend opening your window. You risk getting dust or dirt into your camera sensor.

That said, here’s a trio of photos I shot in early March along U.S. Highway 14 between Essig and Sleepy Eye in southwestern Minnesota while traveling at 55 mph.

Other than downsizing these images, I’ve not edited them.

Here’s why these images are so good. The exposure is perfect. The photos are well-composed. The horizontal line of the railroad track in the first two frames sits at an eye-pleasing one-third position. The color contrasts of red against gray and blue make these photos pop. The subject is beautiful in its simplicity.

If you’re never tried traveling photography, give it a shot. You may be as pleasantly surprised as me with the results.

FYI: I shoot with a EOS 20D DSLR Canon camera. Yes, it’s a “fancy” digital camera, not a point-and-shoot. If you ever see a photo on Minnesota Prairie Roots that you are interested in purchasing, please contact me via a comment (won’t be published) or an e-mail.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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4 Responses to “Tips for on-the-road photography”

  1. Bernie Says:

    Great tips. I will have to show this to my friend Michele. She is always taking pictures while her husband drives. Sometimes he doesn’t even bother to slow down. I think she will enjoy your tips.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks for spreading the word, Bernie. I always appreciate learning photo tips from others.

      It’s not that I wouldn’t like to stop and take photos. It’s just that we would never get anywhere if we stopped every time I wanted to shoot a subject.

  2. Great photos and thanks for the advice on the settings. I’ve been taking pictures from the moving car for years but I haven’t really perfected the technique. Yes, some do really turn out great – some not so great and some are just a big blur. With the digital camera the blurs can be erased easily. But with the digital camera you really need a fast setting or it is extremely difficult to get a good shot while moving. Yes, the dirty windows are a problem but a rough road is also a problem…always seem to hit the bump at the exact time I hit the button to take the picture. Glad I now know someone to come to for advice on this technique. Keep up the good work.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Shooting like this is just another fun photograph option. Sometimes blurry photos can make for interesting images. Don’t discount them.

      I’m not always successful with these on-the-road shoots either. But, like you indicated, with digital, there’s nothing to lose.

      I was fortunate in December to capture some images of buggies as we drove past an Amish farm in Wisconsin. You can bet I’ll have my camera ready next time too when we’re driving that route.


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