Epic adventures deserve epic photos! To help you get ready to capture those memories, we’re sharing road trip photography tips from our professional photographer and videographer, Brandon Bailey.
Brandon has been taking photos since elementary school, when his grandmother gifted him his first camera. Today, his portfolio includes many of General RV’s new videos, in addition to work for musicians, small businesses, and a billboard ad campaign for a hotel in Amsterdam. He has also trekked all over the United States, visiting national parks and taking countless photos documenting his journey along the way. Here are his tips for capturing memories on your next adventure.
Note: The techniques and tips found in this article are for beginner- and amateur-level photographers. If you’re just getting into photography, we recommend checking out these resources and this glossary of photography-related terms.
Road Trip Photography Tip #1: Pack the right gear
In addition to your camera, you’ll likely want a few lenses to switch between for different types of shots. If you can’t bring more than one lens, pick one that’s got enough range to be flexible. Brandon’s go-to is a Canon 24-105mm, f/4 lens. “It’s a perfect walk-around, multi-purpose lens. 24mm is a good wide angle for landscapes, while 105mm provides a comfortable level of zoom.” A sturdy tripod is another must-have. The brand doesn’t matter, so long as it is well-constructed. Remember, you’ve probably invested hundreds or even thousands of dollars into your gear. Would you risk it by buying a cheaper tripod that might tip over if the wind suddenly gusts?
Brandon recommends purchasing a tripod and tripod head with a weight rating that is at least 25% greater than the heaviest combination of camera and lens that you’ll use. Another consideration is a remote shutter release (or intervalometer). This will be a must if you plan on taking long exposure photos or time lapse photography, like of the night sky. Lastly, don’t forget your camera’s battery and charger.
Road Trip Photography Tip #2: Bring extra storage and batteries
When it comes to storage space and battery life, you can never have enough. Be sure to take multiple memory cards on every road trip so you can shoot without fear of running out of space. Trust us. You don’t want to resort to deleting photos on your camera to make room for new shots. An external hard drive can also be handy if your travel plans are longer; just bring a laptop and transfer photos to your hard drive regularly, so you can start with blank memory cards every day.
Likewise, you’ll want to bring enough batteries for your camera to match your shooting plans. Continuous shooting and using the flash often will drain battery life quickly, so think about your needs and plan accordingly. If the RV or vehicle you are traveling in has a power source, make sure to bring any required cables or adapters. If you’re traveling off the grid, consider investing in an external power bank to charge your equipment.
Road Trip Photography Tip #3: Experiment with settings to your advantage
There are three main factors that affect how a picture will be exposed: the aperture controls how much light reaches the camera’s sensor; the shutter speed determines how long the shutter remains open while taking a picture; and ISO defines the sensitivity to light of the sensor. By adjusting these variables, you can control the exposure of your photographs.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different f/stops and shutter speeds to achieve various depths of field and brightness. Make small adjustments to these settings and take multiple shots of each scene to find the most striking combination. You’ll enhance your photography skills in the process. “For a year straight, I took and edited photos every single day, teaching myself everything I know about the way light reacts to a camera sensor, and how to manipulate the camera settings and the light to create what’s in my mind’s eye,” says Brandon.
Road Trip Photography Tip #4: Pick your location and prepare
Once you’ve picked a location, do some prep work. This is especially helpful for capturing sunrises and sunsets, as you’ll want to know when and where the sun will be beforehand. He also recommends using a tripod to avoid blurriness. “You’ll want your aperture to be at least f/10 or f/22, so your shutter speed has to be a little longer to compensate for the lack of light.”
Unless you have something blocking the sun, you should not shoot directly at the sun. Instead, try shooting wide landscapes to capture all the colors of the sky. “You can add interest by selecting a spot that will have another object in the foreground, like a tree or bridge, but make sure it doesn’t distract from the actual sunset.” For sunrises, start shooting as soon as you see the sun peeking over the horizon. Colors will be most intense at this moment and begin to fade as the sun rises. During sunsets, the colors will be best right after the sun has gone down, and you’ll have a small window before it gets dark.
Road Trip Photography Tip #5: Add interest to landscapes
Landscapes are a classic way to capture memories along your next road trip, and they give context to your journey. You can add interest to your photos by framing landscapes with natural architecture like rock formations or tree branches. Diagnose the scene as a whole and then follow the rule of thirds. “I try to have my main subject on one of those four intersections and interesting things in the other two-thirds to create a photo that will really capture attention and hold it,” says Brandon. Also, consider using different perspectives for a unique take on an often-photographed scene. “If you get higher or lower, the angle might make it that much better. Don’t be afraid, especially in the age of digital, to take one high shot, one low shot, and one standard perspective.” Try (carefully) climbing on the back of your RV or laying down on the ground to capture an alternative perspective.
Road Trip Photography Tip #6: Capture action and emotion
While landscapes can capture the locations that you visit, action photos can convey more emotion to add to your road trip story. For example, Brandon’s adventures often include some type of outdoor recreation, from snowboarding to jet-skiing. To capture action and movement without too much blur, you’ll need a tripod. Then, choose a slower than normal shutter speed (Brandon recommends trying 1/2 or 1/10 of a second). Follow the subject by panning the camera so they stay within your frame while you’re taking the photo. The result is a great shot that captures excitement and energy with the subject still in focus.
Road Trip Photography Tip #7: Remember the small details
Another trick for capturing great road trip memories is to take photos of the small details along the way. A meal prepared over a camp fire, frost on grass, dusty boots outside of an RV – they all help tell a unique story. Use close-up shots, a wide-angle lens, or a soft focus to make something ordinary into a favorite photograph that captures your adventurous side. And be sure to take a portrait of yourself and your travel companions. Traveling brings people closer together; you’ll cherish that photo long after the journey ends.
Road Trip Photography Tip #8: Don’t stress, have fun
Despite all your research and meticulous planning, sometimes things don’t go as expected. When that happens, look at it as an opportunity instead of an obstacle. “I was on a month-long road trip traveling and camping through national parks in the west. I planned to camp at Grand Canyon National Park the next day. But I checked the weather and noticed there was a random cold spell. Temperatures would be dropping to 20 degrees at night,” says Brandon. “That’s how I discovered that, if you book a cruise two days before it sets sail, you can get really cheap deals!”
He had only 48 hours to travel 30 hours across the country and depart from Port Canaveral, Florida. The experience was one Brandon will never forget. “Remember, road trips are adventures. It’s the memories you make along the way that you’ll share for years to come. Have fun on your journey.”
We hope these road trip photography tips have inspired you to hit the road and capture memories. To view Brandon’s work and latest travel adventures, follow @Consciously_Created on Instagram. Looking for places to go on your next adventure? Check out our destination inspiration posts. And, wherever you travel, don’t forget to grab your camera.