Text and Images by JP Bruce
Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. – John Wooden
Having trouble with mobility? Can’t cover the distances you used to? Rough terrain look too imposing to try? Whether this is permanent or temporary I wrote a book to show that you don’t have to give up your photography due to this limitation. I had polio as a two year old and have needed a brace and crutches for mobility since then, so I have learned how to adapt. I want people with and without mobility limitations to see that quality photographs can be made while staying in or near a vehicle.
There are many advantages of photographing from your car. The car can transport you to many places in a short time. Many animals are used to vehicles passing on the road and will ignore them so your car makes a good blind. Your vehicle is a solid base so with the addition of a support such as a beanbag or window mount you eliminate camera movement (remember to turn off the motor!). As a bass fisherman I used my boat as a large tackle box. Now, as a photographer I use my car as a huge camera bag. I have all my equipment available without worrying about weight, so I’m ready for any photographic opportunity.
There are a few problems if you stay in your vehicle. You are limiting the angle you can photograph the subject. The distance to the subject could be problematic even with a really long lens (but this could also be true when walking). The location of a subject you want, such as a waterfall, may not have a road nearby. Of course traffic and traffic laws can make you lose an image. If traffic is heavy you may not be able to pull over and stop safely. Laws should always be considered. I was driving on an interstate and saw a cloud formation with beautiful sunset colors, but I decided a state trooper would not appreciate me saying I had stopped to take a photo.
Here are a few tips for making good photographs from your car:
Developing your eye is one of the more critical things for photography from your car. Always be looking for compositions, colors or animals that will make a good photo. You need to be looking ahead as coming to a screeching halt is not good for anything. Safety for yourself and your subject should be your number one concern any time you go out for photography using your car. Make sure that you are out of the traffic flow when pulling off to make an image.
Slow the car gradually when you spot a subject. If your subject is the landscape, a slow approach allows you to pick the angle you desire for the best image. If your subject is an animal, a slow approach is necessary in order not to scare off the critter. If possible have the lens out the window for animals. Even though the car serves as a blind, the pointy thing coming out the window can be disturbing. If the lens is already sticking out the animal may think it’s part of the bigger object. Once you are stopped, turn off the motor to reduce vibration. Then use a support such a beanbag or window mount for your camera and make slow movements. Sometimes I use my left arm to lay the lens on for support. Of course you can hand hold if you are confident in your technique.
Research is key to getting quality images. If you are interested in landscapes, learn what season is the best for the locale. Do you want greens, blooms, fall leaf colors or snow? Determine the best time of day for a specific spot. Is the morning or evening light best for that spot? If you want animal images learn where they are and the best times to see them. You’ll want to get furry animals with good coats and avoid birds during molting season. You may make many visits to sight a specific animal and you may spend quite some time just waiting for the right light and right animal. Wind and light are critical elements for animals. There are several computer programs that can show you the light direction at any spot. You just have to hope for the wind.
Explore parks and lonely back roads. Many state and national parks have roads running through them. When there is no traffic you can take photos anywhere. Most will have pullouts you will need to use when traffic is heavy and roads are narrow. Lonely back roads usually have little traffic and wide enough shoulders to pull over and photograph that beautiful bird or unique landscape.
If you are mobility limited, I encourage you to try these techniques. You can still enjoy nature and wildlife photography and you can do it comfortably from your car (or very near). If you want to learn more, please check out my book on the topic: “Photography from Your Car: Or Very Near“.
To see more of JP Bruce’s photography, please visit his website or “Like” his Facebook Page for JP Bruce Photography. JP is also a NANPA Meetup Organizer for the NANPA Nature Photography Meetup Group of Arizona.