I’ve written before about shooting from the car. I enjoy driving and I do a fair amount of my image captures during car trips. My advice has been to avoid freeways or major highways when you do this. On a recent driving trip I decided to reevaluate this. To drive some freeways to see if they still have the same effect on me. Spoiler alert: the highway is a creativity killer.
Please understand that my advice here is from my personal experience modified with my personality. Even more than most of my articles. Your behavior may be completely different.
What I had found and observed was that driving a freeway is a mind numbing and deadening experience. The miles roll by at high speed. My attention narrows to mainly the road and cars ahead of me. The goals become to get to the destination, pass that traffic in front, and don’t get a ticket.
I may pass by beautiful or interesting sights, but there is too much inertia to stop. He impetus to push on down the road was powerful. It would require something truly amazing to break into my coma and pull off, let all the traffic I passed get ahead of me, and look foolish with all the passing cars staring at me. So I seldom do it.
On the freeway, I may see something potentially interesting, but I can usually talk myself out of stopping. I can convince myself it wasn’t really great. That I will find a better view down the road. Or that it is too dangerous to stop here (maybe a valid objection).
Whatever the reason or excuse, the whine of the wheels is hard to interrupt.
I just got back from a 2700 mile driving trip through parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas. That is a lot of open miles. I decided to check to see if my anti-freeway prejudice still holds. To see if I can overcome the bias against stopping.
I drove over 300 miles on freeways or major divided highways. Well, I did not stop for a single picture during any of those miles. I told myself I would stop when I wanted to. I thought about it. But nothing I encountered could inject enough energy to make me do it.
In fairness, a lot of this time I was not in what would be considered pristine landscape areas. But I consider the test valid, because other times, in the same general areas, I got some interesting pictures while driving smaller roads. I believe the difference was the attitude I have when driving smaller roads.
i examined my reactions as carefully as I can and verified that driving freeways causes a different mindset. I am reluctant to stop or to go back to shoot an image. It is hard to break the rhythm, to stop. The highway is hypnotic.
Here is a comparison of a specific subject. I drove through huge areas of wind turbines. In one case, on a back road, I stopped and took some side roads and even walked in some fields and got some interesting shots including the turbines, Another time, driving a high speed highway, I drove by a perfectly composed scene, with a single stark white turbine out in a field, with a perfect clear blue sky. The turbine was parked and it was perfectly positioned with one blade pointed straight down and the other 2 lifted in a perfect, symmetrical “Y” and directly facing me. But I drove by it. I wouldn’t bother to stop. I still kick myself about that missed opportunity.
One of the main differences was that on the back road, it was easy to interrupt the trip for promising pictures. On the freeway, even a very interesting image couldn’t convince me to stop.
Another subjective comparison: there are people I know who would pay $1000 to avoid driving across Kansas. I can understand that. But a partial solution is to get off I-70 and take back roads. When I do this I am much happier and I usually come back with some decent pictures.
I wish I could give a definitive explanation of the root cause of this. If I could, I might be honored as a respected psychologist. But I’m not and I can’t.
I have theories, though, based on my on reactions and introspection. Remember, anything I say here is unscientific and may only apply to me.
I believe the way I travel sets a context, a framework of perception and decision making. On the freeway there is the implicit goal of making progress. Getting to the destination as soon as possible. Minimize stops or interruptions. I’m in a rhythm and I don’t want to break it.
Driving down the freeway and seeing a picture causes a conflict. Now 2 sets of goals are in opposition: speed vs. interrupting the trip for something that actually slows things down. The conflicting goals have to be weighed and balanced. But even if I decide the scene was worth stopping for, the moment is gone. I’m a mile down the road and it would take miles of driving to backtrack to it. And it is much easier to justify that it probably wasn’t worth it and let the momentum carry me down the road.
On a small back road, though, the pace is slower, the traffic is light, and I have put myself in a position of committing to looking for images instead of covering as many miles as possible. Traveling this way also seems to keep me more alert. I am more actively engaged with my surroundings and paying attention, not only to the road, but to everything around. There is a constant background thread of playing with compositions in my mind as I drive by them. It is very educational.
My travel style
My preferred travel style is to only plan on making 300-400 miles a day at most. I avoid nearly all freeways and large divided highways. I then give myself permission to stop whenever something interests me and even to turn off for side trips according to my whim. Unlike the typical male, I will even turn around and go back when a light bulb goes off and I recognize I have passed an interesting scene.
As an extreme example on this trip, we got from Colorado to New Mexico via back roads – well hardly what you would call roads and you would be hard put to find them on a map. My Jeep was caked with mud and I left it on during the rest of the trip as kind of a badge of honor. But we saw very interesting things and I got some good images.
My wife knows, on a driving trip, to bring lots of books and magazines to read while we are stopped. I am very fortunate to be able to create this environment for myself. It would not work for everyone. As a matter of fact, most would probably hate it.
For fun, the image with this article is from back roads in the Texas hill country. It is the old General Store in Luckenbach (yes, that one). Not my normal style, but it was fun.
My recommendation is to slow down and give yourself permission to stop for anything interesting. I fully realize this will not work for everyone. But have you tried it? If you are on vacation, can you take an extra day or 2 for your art? What do you have better to do?
I have practiced this on most driving trips for years and I can completely recommend it. Your mileage may vary. It is a very personal choice.