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Eco-travel photographer: 5 tips for planning your best road trip

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

If you’re organising a holiday that doesn’t involve a plane or train, a road trip gives you the freedom to take yourself wherever you like. Whether that’s exploring some of England’s most visited sights or driving further afield to Europe, the backdrop to your life as a travel photographer can be an adventurous and eco-friendly one.

Planning a road trip as a sustainable photographer might see you travel to interesting places without air travel. A lifestyle on the open road, even if just for a few weeks in a year, is a great way to enjoy the simplicity of life at a slower pace and with a greater sense of freedom. Meanwhile, your travel shots will not only showcase your skills as a photographer, they can highlight your eco-friendly values.

Eco-travel and photography can share a connection because you're not just capturing images, you're embodying a philosophy that values environmental conservation, a respect for nature and sustainable living. Here are five steps to consider on the open road as an eco-friendly photographer.

1. Take the scenic route in a more fuel-efficient vehicle

If you have the option, choosing a fuel-efficient car is a great way to lower emissions. Opt for a car, van or camper that for greater fuel efficiency per mile to reduce your carbon emissions. Or, if possible, consider renting a hybrid or electric vehicle.

Depending on the type of road trip you are taking, you will either be in a hurry to get there as fast as possible or you’re looking to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Even if you are looking to press on and make good time by mostly sticking to major roads, losing a few minutes by taking the scenic route is worth it for the pictures you can capture.

Plus, rural backroads allow for more opportunities to stop off and capture beautiful surroundings and soak up stunning views. Mapping out where you might like to travel in Europe if it’s your first time there and planning fun stops can help you discover those unexpected finds that you would have otherwise missed by sticking to the main roads.

2. Pack for an eco-friendly trip with photography gear

Whenever you travel, packing for your trip warrants some care and attention especially if you’re taking to the open road with tons of specialist photography gear. If space is tight, be careful how you pack and maximize car boot space and any extra areas of the car with the right bags, suitcases and equipment. Bring reusable water bottles, coffee mugs, and food containers. Avoid single-use plastics by packing your own washable versions.

To make your journey more eco-friendly, the heavier your load is, the more fuel you'll use. Only bring the photography gear and supplies you really need to travel light and efficiently. Although your camera equipment will add another set of items to store, it’s worth it for capturing the night’s sky the way it was intended, shooting great images in motion and documenting some of the amazing wildlife you encounter on your travels.

3. Seek out the perfect light and location

In photography, there is a magic time of the day when the natural light is at its best. This is known as the golden hour and the first thing to note about it is that it’s actually two hours, not one! It is the first hour of the day following sunrise and the final hour of the day before the sun sets. During this time, the light is even and provides a golden hue that enhances almost every photograph.

Photographs will look better for the softer light the golden hour provides but also as the sun is at its lowest, it offers the most light while also forming longer shadows and the opportunity to add lens flare.

To find an eco-friendly place to rest, research and select campgrounds that use renewable energy, conserve water and promote sustainability. If you’re camping on your road trip, don’t forget to leave no trace or rubbish behind (or recycle what you can). Dispose of waste responsibly by packing bags to collect your waste in and dispose of it properly at designated facilities.

4. Take pictures in motion and wildlife on the move

If you are on a road trip then the chances are that you’re going to want to take pictures from your moving vehicle or capture subjects that are in motion. If you love looking for local wildlife on your travels, grasping some essential techniques for still or moving imagery is recommended. When you’re in motion, the best camera setting to use is a fast shutter speed as this will minimize the amount of light let in (known as exposure) which allows for images to be taken more quickly.

The longer the exposure, the more your subject needs to remain still, so as you’re whizzing by in your vehicle you need a camera setting that can capture what you need in an instant. You can further enhance your drive-by photographs with a tripod or even a gimbal head which is normally used for videography but can also help you to take pictures.

As a photographer who respects the environment and natural habitats, wildlife photography is rewarding but requires responsibility. Avoid disturbing animals' natural behaviours while photographing. Exercise care, ethics and restraint to protect them.

5. Explore meaningful and sustainable subjects

Although they may be pretty, photographs of landscapes or things that you have seen may not be all that impressive on their own. To take great road trip photos, the images that we capture must tell the story of our adventures. So if that’s the gnarled remains of a stick you lit on fire for your first night at camp, or it's the pair of shoes you walked so much in you wore a hole in the sole, finding ways to capture those things and bring them into focus meaningfully is the best way to tell your story.

The challenge is to take photographs of the things you find meaningful, with the upside being that more care and attention will go into doing justice to them. From an eco-friendly perspective, consider the local community and stop off at local/organic restaurants, farmer's markets or artisan shops. Once there, you can take memorable photos and buy your essentials responsibly from local sources.

Eco-travel photography transcends taking photos on the road; it represents a fusion of sustainability, environmental consciousness and creativity. You want to use natural light and drive the most scenic routes to find something to photograph with meaning. Your road trip will tell a story of personal adventure intertwined with respect and responsibility for the planet.

While telling a great visual story of your adventures on the road, take care and be considerate about your location. The aim is to capture stunning shots sustainably by being careful when photographing wildlife and remembering to tread lightly in nature. Stay on trails and be mindful about what you take, what you drive and what you leave behind to ensure your trail remains unspoiled for others to enjoy.

Credit Chloe Miller

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