There’s nothing like a summer road trip. It’s so easy now to jump on a plane and fly someplace interesting, but in a car you really experience the journey. To really see where you’re going, you need to see where you’ve been. Much to my family’s chagrin I love roadside stops. A Tastee Freez on Rte. 29 in Virginia? I’m there—who cares if it’s early March and 35 degrees outside. Junk shops? You bet: There might be a broken down old guitar that needs adopting. And don’t get me started on photo stops. I almost missed my plane one time in Norway because it took eight hours for what should have been a four-hour drive. And that was in the rain!
Sometimes it makes sense to use the four-lane highway if you have a destination in mind, but I almost always scour the map for an old parallel stretch of road that will take me back in time. That is where I find interesting pictures. Get out of the car, talk to people, explore. You’ll come back with your head full of memories and your flash cards full of pictures.
So, hit the road and get out of town for a much needed long weekend, or plan a long journey that crisscrosses borders and time zones. Either way, a road trip can open you up to new cultures and landscapes, whether you're traveling with the whole family, with your buddies, or flying solo.
Show us your favorite photos from the road—the view through the windshield, your favorite pit stop, or a shot from your final destination. It might be a picture of Zabriskie Point in Death Valley or the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kansas. We want to see where you’ve been and where you’re going.
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The Final Mile
If you’ve been thinking about this assignment for a couple weeks like I have, you may be a little frustrated at the challenges of making interesting road trip pictures. Like everything else, good road trip shots are fairly easy to get. It’s trying to find the great ones that will drive you nuts. By necessity, you need to cover ground at a relatively modest pace, but that guarantees you’ll find something interesting in the wrong light. Despite taking 12 hours to make a 6 hour drive last week I still ended up in the middle of Kentucky surrounded by the most incredible light. Unfortunately, that light was falling on the gas pump where I was filling my car. By the time I could move on it was still nice, but I didn’t want a shot of a modern gas station.
On the intervening days and the return trip however, I realized it was best to embrace the uncertainty. I would just have to look for things that caught my eye, then try to take a picture with the weather and light as it existed at that moment. No more feeling bad that I couldn’t come back when the conditions were “better.” It was a great mindset to get into. I still kept stopping and waiting for moments, and the trip took twice as long as if I were just watching the clock. But now I could enjoy the trip and the pictures.
The best memories were the surprising things I found along the way. The stuffed deer head with coyote teeth, The plastic skeleton that “played “ Dixie on the banjo, and best of all foamhenge, an abandoned life-size replica of stonehenge made out of foam. These subjects all resulted in reasonable photos, (video in the case of the skeleton) but they resulted in great memories. Maybe that’s the best kind of road trip pictures. Those that evoke a memory that communicates itself through the photograph. I’m talking about pictures that are supremely interesting and require no explanation. I know it’s hard, but try to show me your surprising memories.
Well, it's time to put my money where my mouth is. I'm heading on a road trip with my college-age daughter and since she's an art student, we've got the trunk packed with cameras. The trip is a bit of a compromise, not strictly for photos, I do need to be in Lexington, Kentucky by tomorrow morning. We will be driving through Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky. As we're getting ready to hit the road here's what I'm thinking.
We weren't able to head out before sunrise, like I would do if actually working on a photographic project. So I won't have the crutch of good light to make the things we see look more interesting. What can we make good pictures of in the middle of the day? I think the people we can meet along the way is one thing. This is something I'm missing a little in the submissions. There have been a few portraits, but not many that give a sense of being on a journey. Introduce us to someone you met while on the road. I'm normally a shy person, but when I want photos to tell a story, I can be the most outgoing person you've ever seen. It takes a little time and a few tries, but eventually I get in the mood to stop and talk to people along the way. Definitely makes the trip more interesting. Don't think I'll meet too many people on the interstate. We've got a seven hour drive in front of us, but have all day to make it. I foresee many side trips.
That's one thing, maybe we'll find some interesting folks, I hope so. Now I'm off to find a paper map.
I'll be Instagramming my own road trip @danwestergren. Hopefully I won't embarrass myself.
Going Off Road
You're really getting into the mood of this assignment. However, as much as I love a foggy view down the center of the road, in order to make a well-rounded story, we need a variety of pictures: distant shots, close-ups and others in between. I think we need to see more shots that are not typically on the road. It's hard to decide if something belongs in a story about road trips. For instance, if I take a drive to go hiking, then technically a photo of a hike is not part of a road trip. But I'm looking at captions, so if the hike was part of a multiday road adventure, let me know that so I don't skip a good picture thinking it's not appropriate.
If you're looking for inspiration, I suggest looking up some of Robert Frank's photos from his book The Americans. This is a book that inspired generations of photographers, and although many of the pictures are of things other than the road, the overall feel is that of a road trip across the U.S.A.
An easy trap to fall into when traveling and photographing is stopping to take pictures of charming crumbling old buildings and towns. I love a picture of a barn as much as the next person, but after a while I have to ask if there isn't something more. I'm a little bummed that our world has become so homogenous. At every stop along the way there are the same chain restaurants and coffee shops. But they're part of the trip. Interesting pictures can be taken there—what can you show me?
Finally, I like to try making pictures in places that seem impossible. In the U.S. we have places that are so tacky that they must be visited. On the North Carolina-South Carolina border is a place called South of the Border. In South Dakota there's the Wall Drug shopping center. Tourist traps are part of the road—let's see if we can find some interesting shots there.