Where Wander Meets Wonder

Our Guide to Road Trip Photography

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Man and dog standing on top of White sand dune in New Mexico

We all feel it... that sudden spark that compels us to wander. Maybe it's the almost-familiar glow of those unfamiliar sunsets. Or maybe it's that freeing feeling of escape — of putting monotony in our rearviews in pursuit of an adventure all our own. Whatever it is, come summer, it calls us all to throw our inhibitions to the pavement, and in turn, put our wheels to the road.

These are the miles and moments, we'll relive again and again through our photos: the divey diners, scenic backdrops, and found-it-in-the-middle-of-nowheres that steal our hearts. It's what makes road trip photos more than just photos. Rather, they're return tickets — roadmaps back to adventures we'll revisit often in our mind's eye.

With a little help from some seasoned wanderers, we created a photography guide to help you bring out the best in those photos. Read on to glean their most-loved road trip photography tips, along with our community's favorite destinations and snaps — each worth shutting that laptop and hitting the road.





9 Road Trip Photography Tips



@helloemilie

Embrace the unknown.

Full moon over a desert field at dusk

"One of my favorite feelings when exploring a new place is driving down new roads and not knowing what you will find along the way. I’ve captured some of my favorite photographs this way. I’m always drawn to the little things, and am constantly seeking out these kinds of details while on the road — a field full of flowers, the perfect little cabin tucked away in the mountains, or the way the light is moving across the sky. These in-between and spontaneous moments always inspire me."


Further Reading

Learn more about Emily's perspective in our Five Minutes With a Photographer series.

These in-between and spontaneous moments always inspire me.

@jennyaconnors

What's your angle?

Photo taken up the shoreline of a busy beach at golden hour

"One of my favorite aspects of iPhone photography is how easy it is to capture different lighting situations and angles. Use your camera to explore many perspectives, like overhead, straight on, close up, and far away. Also, if you're shooting inside, try finding a sun patch, dark corner, or spot by the window, and see what light shows your subject best and creates the feeling you want to convey in your image."


Further Reading

For feed-worthy road trip photos you'll want to print too, find more inspiration from Jenny and other photographers in 8 Simple Photo Tips from Instagram's Best.

See what light shows your subject best and creates the feeling you want to convey in your image.

@dirka

Think in 3D.

Mirrored house reflecting the views of a desert prairie with mountains in the background

"Sometimes photographers can become so fixated on a subject that it becomes the sole dominating force in the composition — but I want to challenge you to think purposefully in 3D. Thinking this way forces you to clearly shoot a foreground, middle ground, and background.

The foreground is everything closest to the camera — here it's made up of the rocks, weeds, and bushes, all of which work together to help set the stage. The background is what is in the back of the image, which in this example is the mountain and wide valley. They help create a sense of scale and place. The middle ground is in between the two other zones, and in this photo it's my main subject: the mirrored house.

Each of these zones creates a sense of depth that leads to a more visually interesting photo, because the eye spends time working through the various layers. On your next road trip, try thinking in 3D by composing photos that contain each of the three zones. This might require you to zoom out, step back further, get lower to the ground, or find objects near and far that can help communicate the story of your adventure!""


Further Reading

Get more of Dirk's best photo advice in his guide to Drone Photography.

Each of these zones creates a sense of depth that leads to a more visually interesting photo.

@mollyolwig

Go back.
Take the picture.

Girl with back to camera spread arms triumphantly in the middle of a one-lane highway creating a leading line to the mountains in the background

"It might sound simple, but my favorite piece of photography advice on a road trip is to never be afraid to stop, turn around, and go back to that thing that caught your eye. After all, chances are that you might not see that particular landscape or subject again for quite some time! If you're too caught up in getting where you need to go, you lose sight of the fact that the journey is the destination. You're exactly where you need to be, wherever you are — and that's worth making an image to remember the moment."


Further Reading

Pssst... Molly is our lead photographer, and she's an open book. Don't believe us? Flip through her portfolio.

If you're too caught up in getting where you need to go, you lose sight of the fact that the journey is the destination.

@reneeroaming

Chase the morning light.

Sweeping view of Bryce Canyon's red rock formations at sunrise

"Sunrise is the most magical time of day in the national parks, and often my preferred time to get out and explore for the perfect shot. The early hours attract less visitors, resulting in a more peaceful and enjoyable setting. The soft morning light also provides the perfect opportunity for landscape or portrait photography. Try shooting towards the sunrise for a beautiful glow and colorful skies. I find many photo seekers leave as soon as the sun comes up. Be sure to stay around a little longer because sometimes the best light is within the 30 or so minutes after sunrise."


Further Reading

Headed to the national parks? Some of our favorite photographers have tips to help you capture the views, so you can return to them often.

Be sure to stay around a little longer because sometimes the best light is within the 30 or so minutes after sunrise.

@brandon.brightside

Look for authentic interactions.

Group of young people at scenic overlook of the coast gazing out into the fog-shrouded hills and ocean in the distance

"When taking photos of people, landscapes, or both, I’m looking for textures, patterns in light, color, or how they’re all interacting in the environment. This, in landscape photos, is sometimes a small section or a cropped view of the full photo. When photographing people, I try to capture them in the element — usually somewhat candid — showing a laugh or a reaction to the scenery instead of a posed moment."


Further Reading

Brandon's our Senior Visual Designer, but he also knows a thing or two about shutter-clicking with intention on the open road. Recently, he was kind enough to share a look through his lens.

I’m looking for textures, patterns in light, color, or how they’re all interacting in the environment.

@lizbellyoung

Capture the minutiae.

Old SUV surrounded by pine trees parked in dispersed mountain campsite with tent on top

"Sometimes when we’re on grand adventures, we wind up shooting the big scene or the big moment. We forget that the tiny things are a huge part of conveying the story we’ll want to remember. The items you stuffed into your bags. The gas station grocery list. The book you read instead of cleaning up. The type of apples you ate at sunrise. The dry shampoo that turned your hair white. The morning sun streaking through the mud-splashed window, before you happened upon the family of cowboys—and the littlest boy who slowly tipped his hat when you passed, and you thought how impossible this kind of life still exists.

Capture the minutiae. The particulars. The bits of details that open to the full story."


Further Reading

Liz's words of wanderlust make us want to take pause and take out our cameras. Read along in The Art of Marking the Moment.

We forget that the tiny things are a huge part of conveying the story we’ll want to remember.

@brenton_clarke

No DSLR?
No problem.

Rooftop view of the city skyline at sunset

You're able to create those pin-worthy, beautiful photos straight from your mobile device. No need for the three thousand dollar camera with the thousand-dollar lens when you learn the tricks of the handy phone that sits in your palm. Personally I prefer the iPhone to other smartphones, but any of the latest smartphone models have great cameras built in – almost more than enough to capture what you need.


Further Reading

Brenton's right — and he's not alone. See how other pros make the most of the lens in their pockets with our guide to mobile photography tips.

No need for the three thousand dollar camera with the thousand-dollar lens...

@lucylaucht

Blurry is beautiful.

Blurry photo of bridge and city lights

"Bring life to your photographs with movement and blur. I love to shoot during twilight, which is the hour before and after sunrise when the light is low. To add blur, simply move your phone quickly as you take a photo. This works nicely when your subject matter contains lights, or a human element."


Further Reading

Lucy has 9 other great tips to share in her top 10 photography tips!

Bring life to your photographs with movement and blur.


Create a Travel Hardcover Photo Album





Road Trip Photos From Our Community

Your turn! Check out how our community is taking these tips out on the road. You might just find a few new destinations worth turning on that out-of-office reply.

Have some miles and moments of your own to share? Tag us on Instagram with @artifactuprising or #TellOn.



Esther K.

Poulsbo, Washington

A small boat docked off the coast of Poulsbo, Washington

“Seattle has always been one of my favorite cities to visit, but most recently, I got a chance to visit Poulsbo. It’s the most charming and quaint city, just two hours outside of Seattle. Also known as Little Norway, the town is full of little shops and restaurants, as well as a beautiful waterfront and greenery everywhere. It always takes me back to fond memories of picking fruit in my friend's backyard.”


@neilmatik

Lincoln City, Oregon

Shot from a photo road trip of rolling fog on the Oregon coastline

"This is Lincoln City, Oregon. I’ve visited this place many times, and each one has been a different type of experience with snow, rain, or sunshine. On this particular day my girlfriend and I were greeted with a beautiful sunset when we arrived, followed by fog coming over the hills while taking a walk."


@meredithca

Pismo Beach, California

Dusk off the coastline of Pismo Beach, CA

"My husband and I recently celebrated our sixth anniversary in our favorite way — by heading to the coast along Highway 1. This year we chose Pismo Beach, which makes a perfect road trip stop when visiting SLO. When one thinks of Pismo, they picture the sand dunes or pier. This is a view of Pismo you normally don’t see. No crowds, just beautiful hues of blue, and occasional pods of dolphins passing along."


@sarahchingphotography

Valley of Fire, Nevada

“The Valley of Fire is a Vegas gem and the perfect day trip away from the strip. Driving into and through the park, the rocks change from a sand color to shades of bright red. On this specific trail, the layering of rock reminded us of bacon! What’s not to love?”


@meemscakes

New Mexico

Man and dog standing on top of New Mexico sand dune

“My boyfriend, Hayden, and I took the roughly 1,400 mile round trip from our home in Denver, Colorado to New Mexico’s southern border in just four short days. We saw a vast range of epic vistas, tasted an array of local flavors, and encountered so many charming characters and talents along the way.

Road trips like this are my favorite way to travel — for the views, the sing-a-longs, the 100-mile one-lane highways, and the eccentric pit stops. But I love them mostly for the unanticipated keepsakes: white sand grains forever stuck in seats; restaurant matchboxes and ticket stubs wedged into the center console; the lone, dried red chili that fell off the ristra in the back trunk; and, of course, for the forever memories of every minute, of every mile in your rolling, temporary little home.”


Kayla C.

Alys Beach, Florida

View of palm trees and ocean from coast of Alys Beach, FL

“When you’re longing for the ocean and a slow pace of life, Alys Beach, Florida has all you need. The days are long, the architecture is lovely, and the water is a crystal blue. Here, the best method of transportation is your bike, and the locals and tourists greet each other with a friendly wave as you ride by. There is a sense of community that surrounds the beaches and small businesses.”


@jeetries

Appalachian Trail, Virginia

Rays of sun shining through the tees on the Appalachian Trail

“My family and I love spending time outdoors. We always plan at least one morning or day to explore natural areas and stretch our legs. Luckily for us, the Blue Ridge Mountains are only a few hours away, but feel very far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life. After a few minutes on the Appalachian trail to McAfee Knob in Virginia, you stop hearing cars and start hearing the rustle of trees, get a taste of wild raspberries, and see the magic of the earth we live on. Who wouldn’t want to wander a little bit through these woods?”


@brunapalomari

Whiteface Mountain, New York

Hikers taking in the views around the lighthouse of Whiteface Mountain

“Whiteface Mountain is the fifth-highest mountain in New York. It’s a good choice if you are looking for an adrenaline rush or just an afternoon of beautiful views with your family. You can drive up the mountain in a scenic route and take an elevator to the summit. The top is a great place, with a wonderful view of Lake Placid and its surroundings. We visited with friends and our young four-year-old boy.”


@laurenpaige108

Newport, Rhode Island

Shot off the deck of a boat sailing along the coast of Newport, Rhode Island

“This was my first time to Newport, Rhode Island, and now I am wondering what took me so long! Newport is the perfect summer escape — it is home to the freshest lobster rolls I have ever tasted, opulent Gilded-Age mansions to tour, delicious dinners at sunset on the water, gorgeous cliff walks, and daily sailboat rides on the sparkling blue Narragansett bay. I am already planning my next trip back!”


@thedayleighview

York, Maine

Photo of the Nubble lighthouse in York, Maine

“My picture of the Cape Neddick Lighthouse, affectionately known by locals as "the Nubble" is the beacon of my childhood. Maine is truly beautiful with its warm days and cool nights — but it’s the warm hearts of the people, and those who call this their summer home, that have brought my family to this community for over 100 years.”





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