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Author Topic: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures  (Read 1003 times)

JoePCool14

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Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« on: June 09, 2021, 09:15:02 AM »

Since I have my own car and a bit more free time on my hands at the moment, I've been taking more drives around where I live. Because of Road Sign UNO, I sometimes try to snag pictures of shields and signs that might be useful plays and also just to have in my young collection of photos. However, my pictures are usually pretty bad, for various reasons.

Those of you who are more familiar with taking pictures, do you have any tips on how to improve?
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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #1 on: June 09, 2021, 11:14:45 AM »

Taking pictures while driving is an acquired skill. I started out doing it with a film camera and 135 mm lens, but wouldn't even attempt to try to use a small optical viewfinder these days.

Here are some general tips:

If your camera has manual focus, set it to that and "infinity." That way it's not trying to focus on a bug splat on the windshield.

Use a fast shutter speed if your camera has the ability to change shutter speeds. Use a higher ASA/ISO setting if possible.

Keep your windshield as clean as possible.

Put a black cloth on your dashboard to eliminate glare.
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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2021, 11:17:59 AM »

I use a black cloth which I made out of a Walmart pillow case.  I use a point and shoot phone for my photos and usually Iíll take road signs in a burst of three.  When I edit Iíll pick the best of the three photos and crop out (if any) dashboard or windshield glare that crept in. 
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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #3 on: June 09, 2021, 11:53:03 AM »

My best photos have all been ones for which I stopped and actually got out of the car.
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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #4 on: June 09, 2021, 12:35:12 PM »

All of my roadside photos are from when Iím not driving since you can pay attention to road signs more than to the car in front of you, a reason why I count passenger rides towards clinches. Otherwise, if Iím driving and pass by something photo worthy, I just go through low quality dashcam footage to find it.
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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #5 on: June 09, 2021, 05:46:09 PM »

I use a black cloth which I made out of a Walmart pillow case.  I use a point and shoot phone for my photos and usually Iíll take road signs in a burst of three.  When I edit Iíll pick the best of the three photos and crop out (if any) dashboard or windshield glare that crept in.

I've had no luck with a phone camera in trying to get photos while in motion.
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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #6 on: June 09, 2021, 07:51:54 PM »

I don't usually photograph road signs, so take my comments with a grain of salt.  But I do remember reading this suggestion (probably on this forum) about taking pictures outside of a stopped car.

Invest in an orange vest (like road workers wear) to wear when leaving the car to take pictures.  Not only for safety, but it might keep John Q. Public from coming up to you and bothering you about what you are doing.  They may just think you are on official business.  Of course there's always the possibility of a skeptical state trooper (how you handle those is up to you).

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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #7 on: June 09, 2021, 07:56:28 PM »

I use a black cloth which I made out of a Walmart pillow case.  I use a point and shoot phone for my photos and usually Iíll take road signs in a burst of three.  When I edit Iíll pick the best of the three photos and crop out (if any) dashboard or windshield glare that crept in.

I've had no luck with a phone camera in trying to get photos while in motion.

Since the iPhone 6 all the Apple stuff has been getting pretty decent.  The biggest problem I have is facing towards too much direct sunlight at sunrise or sundown.  It tends to really oversaturate phones way too much.  The iPhone 11 also has a problem picking up small fonts while in motion which worsens the more zoom is applied.  Something that I do like about the iPhone 11 is that it can retain a zoom setting about be called up to camera by tapping the screen twice.
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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #8 on: June 09, 2021, 08:58:40 PM »

0. Be careful...Roadsides do have risks!
- Watch for traffic when opening your door, make sure you're not inhibiting traffic, not stepping on any debris, falling down somewhere, watch for ant hills...it's easy to get caught up in the moment.

1. Photographic composition can go a long way.
- Try to make the shot interesting, if not remarkable. But also understand that this isn't always possible; sometimes a photo is merely illustrative and only slightly descriptive.
- Sometimes centering the object is less interesting, but sometimes it drives home a point.
- Everyone, including the professionals, take lots and lots of average photos. Or experiments with things in between this shot and the next one.
- Ignore all this sometimes: The best photos are the ones you like and are memorable and important to you.

2. Don't constantly compare yourself to Ansel Adams or any other famous photographer.
- This is good advice for undertaking any type of art; you can be inspired by them, but don't compare yourself to their works all the time, unless your ego is particularly massive and completely immune to all criticism.

3. You miss 50% of all the shots you don't take. The other 50% of the time, you're probably busy having fun or taking care of more important things.
- Have the camera and a spare battery ready. But don't lose sight of having fun because you're obsessed (says the guy with over 25,000 road/sign photos).
- A lot of this is just being in the right place and at the right time. There's literally 200,000 photos I haven't published, many because they're not impressive nor very interesting.

4. Don't buy an entirely new camera and gear that you're unfamiliar with and expect to be immediately perfect.
- This isn't about "gatekeeping"; everything complex takes time, understanding, practice, and patience. Learn how it all works for you over a month or two before taking it all along on that once-in-a-lifetime vacation or taking wedding photos and then expecting Instant Awesome. It took me years to get down any sort of technique.

5. Use the available light to your advantage.
- Let it do the work for your camera, especially in the one-hour-span after sunrise and the one hour before sunset; colors are usually more vivid, and the additional contrast can work in your favor. Sometimes you can get 90-120+ minutes of desired lighting, I've found...depends on cloud cover, time of year, and latitude.
- Avoid shooting into the lowering/rising sun, unless that's the desired effect.
- Although mid-day sun is somewhat less desirable for photographing people and landscapes, it's actually good all-around for architecture, infrastructure, and signage due to a lack of glare.

If you're standing near/at the road, and want a shot of the road itself:
- Try to use objects around the sides or above the road to frame your image. A road is "just a flat thing" in many cases; it's usually in an obvious place (the ground).
- What makes it interesting? What's your audience? What makes this important to you?
- Choose your subject, find an object to focus on, compose the shot, and click...do you want to focus on something between near and far, or just up-close?
- You don't need a fast shutter speed, but I'd usually recommend anything between 1/60-1/250 second. For greater depth-of-field, choose a slightly slower shutter speed.
- The wider the angle of the lens, the more distortion you get; telephone posts, sign posts, power poles will curve at the edges of a wide-angle lens and that's normal. Usually a number between 18 and 35 is considered a "wide angle".
- Look for things which are unusual or different in the subject.
- Maybe there's things you don't want in the photo...roadkill, garbage, graffiti, the rantings of a madman?


1/60s, f/4, 28mm, ISO 200 - the detail is in the unusual dimming light and clouds, so I focused on that


1/100s, f/10, 32mm, ISO 200 - Old US 66 "sidewalk street" showing different textures

If you're standing near the road, but want a sign or other nearby object(s):
- Compose the image based on what you want to have stand out: Is the road sign more/less/equal in importance to the road itself? Or is it to illustrate what road it is?
- Do you want traffic, nature, people, other signs/banners, buildings, animals, weather, and/or other considerations to be part of the shot? If you're "telling a story" of the road, do you want traffic (limited/lots) in the shot? Or do you want to show emptiness/loneliness? Does the fauna and flora make the shot? The natural phenomenon around it?
- If you're trying to photograph a nearby sign and get the road in focus, use a setting which permits a narrower aperture (higher f/stop number). For fully automatic cameras, look for a "landscape" setting which might prioritize a subject.
- If you have a lot of direct light, you might want to underexpose by -1/3 or -2/3, especially if there's lots of glare. Signage is very reflective.


1/400s, f/5.6, 27mm, ISO 100 - late, open day light in my favor


1/200, f/4.5, 50mm, ISO 100 - the leafy cover means a slower shutter speed is needed


1/100, f/4.5, 50mm, ISO 100 - wanted the icicles and snow for balance; lower light due to cloudy afternoon

Photo of still object as subject (sign, post, sign assembly, trailblazer, mile marker, historic sign, traffic light) with the road as a secondary/tertiary importance:
- Unless you have a lot of low sun in the golden hours, I tend to gently overexpose the sign (usually by +1/3 stop from normal).
- If you have to shoot with the sun at your camera lens, try to move around so that maybe the sun will be blocked; even the sign itself can help! (If this is the case, you'll usually have to over-expose more than you think...+2/3 or +1)
- Is anything blocking the view...tree, pole, building, construction?
- If it's really something special, take a variety of shots from different angles. If it's a rare example of something, take some photos of the object, its relevance, and maybe something that brings it all together.
- Take some details of the object(s); sometimes they're neat and we don't always catch them from our vehicles. Understand that cameras do have limitations on how close you can focus (rarely closer than 1-3 feet away without specialized equipment).


1/500s, f/3.5, 50mm, ISO 100 - I wanted a blurrier background but also some balance by having a vehicle in the road.


1/60s, f/5.6, 116mm, ISO 200 (w/flash) - getting the low light of sunset with the sign; flash will affect objects within 5-50 feet, but I prefer to underexpose these kinds of shots.

Photo of road and/or with sign(s) from a moving vehicle:
- Let's assume the vehicle is travelling at around 25-40 mph: if shooting at an object that's 400-1000 feet away, you can usually use 1/320-1/500s for a sharp image, unless the road is abnormally bumpy (faster shutter speed).
- If the same objects are now 200-400 feet away, you'll need an even faster shutter speed, because the objects are getting closer and perspective/parallax changes your reaction time; so use 1/500-1/640 of a second.
- At highway speeds, you'll want to crank up the options to 1/500 to 1/1000 second, depending the distance to your subject.
- I usually set my camera for 1/500-1/800 so I don't have to play around with it.
- Avoid using a telephoto lens in a moving vehicle; you have to increase the shutter speed even more, and it tends to magnify the imperfections in the windshield/window glass, making a crisp photo almost unattainable. If you are stationary and can lower your window, that's okay.
- Avoid using Aperture Mode (Av) on the camera from a moving vehicle, but also don't let that value get too low. A value between f/4.5 to f/8 is fine; lower values will give you lots of blur due to parallax due to an inability for the camera to focus. A higher value isn't really necessary because you sacrifice shutter speed/proper exposure.
- Windshields tend to add a slight green tint to photos; you may want to edit that out afterwards.
- Lastly, fill the frame up...


1/500s, f/5, ISO 400, 49mm


1/640s, f/5, 55mm, ISO 200 - let the gantry/assembly fill the void


1/640s, f/5.6, 50mm, ISO 200 - look for the unusual in the usual

Some more in-depth tips and examples from about 18 months ago:
https://www.aaroads.com/forum/index.php?topic=26092.msg2462546#msg2462546
https://www.aaroads.com/forum/index.php?topic=26092.msg2462873#msg2462873

« Last Edit: June 14, 2021, 06:32:18 AM by formulanone »
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Scott5114

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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #9 on: June 09, 2021, 09:42:05 PM »

If you have an optical zoom (usually only an option on standalone cameras, not on phones, you'll know you have it if the lens physically moves when you zoom in), use optical zoom to zoom past the windshield and dash. If you only have digital zoom, the camera is just blowing up the file in software. You can do that on your computer at home and probably end up with a better result, so just stick with 1x zoom and crop off anything you don't want.

If you're not experienced with a digital SLR camera, the best camera is probably a simple standalone point-and-shoot. That way you get an optical zoom, and it's easier to have the camera automate the settings for the best effect than trying to fiddle around with aperture, shutter speed, and ISO while driving.

When moving, it's a lot easier to frame the picture through the camera screen than through the viewfinder.

Periodically focus the camera on the road even if you're not in range of anything you want to see. Cameras often go to sleep to save battery if you don't use them for a while. Turning it back on usually takes at least a few seconds and can cause you to miss a shot.

Work on your timing. You need to press the shutter button a few moments before the composition appears perfect on your screen. Try practicing this on your commute or some other highway where it won't be a loss if you miss a few shots. Be sure to pick a slow time like Sunday morning so you don't get in anyone's way.

There is nothing wrong with editing a photo at home in Photoshop/GIMP to make it look better. It is better to get a shot that you have to edit in post than to miss a shot trying to nail the composition.

Stick to the right lane if you know there's a sign coming up that you want, because trucks in the right lane might force you to miss a shot. It may be worth slowing down and dropping back a way from any trucks ahead of you to prevent this.
« Last Edit: June 09, 2021, 09:44:15 PM by Scott5114 »
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JoePCool14

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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #10 on: June 10, 2021, 10:37:09 AM »

Wow, that's a lot of great information. Thank you everyone. Formulanone, I'm incredibly impressed with your photos! Those things are amazing. I'd love to be able to produce captures like that but that's pretty far above my head right now. I think I'd like to try and focus on better composition for now.

Question open to all: How do you physically take pictures while driving? Do you have your cameras mounted on the dash?
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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #11 on: June 10, 2021, 10:54:28 AM »

Wow, that's a lot of great information. Thank you everyone. Formulanone, I'm incredibly impressed with your photos! Those things are amazing. I'd love to be able to produce captures like that but that's pretty far above my head right now. I think I'd like to try and focus on better composition for now.

Question open to all: How do you physically take pictures while driving? Do you have your cameras mounted on the dash?

I donít use a mount.  I just hold my phone in my right hand when taking pictures.  Iíve gotten used to the angle I need so itís basically muscle memory. 
« Last Edit: June 10, 2021, 11:28:08 AM by Max Rockatansky »
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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #12 on: June 10, 2021, 11:03:54 AM »

When I toyed with the idea of taking road videos, I used a block of rigid foam, drilled a hole through it and cut an indention on top with an X-Acto knife.  I attached a bolt to the bottom of the camera, set the camera in the slot, then tightened it down to the foam block with a counter-sunk nut.  All that was intended to secure the camera to the foam block and counterbalance the top-heavy weight of it.

Never tried it out other than around town, because the camera couldn't hold a charge worth crap.
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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #13 on: June 10, 2021, 11:26:16 AM »


Question open to all: How do you physically take pictures while driving? Do you have your cameras mounted on the dash?

I just hold it in my right hand.
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formulanone

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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #14 on: June 10, 2021, 11:47:18 AM »

I just hand-hold the camera. It might weigh between 1-2 pounds. I had another lens (which doesn't focus anymore) which brought the total weight to 1 kilo; exactly 2.2 pounds on a scale. That's where a little point-and-shoot camera works well, and hides better too. If you're getting out of the vehicle to take your photos, it will work fine.

I've tried using some videos using my cell phone, but they're not really my thing. Some folks are excellent at it.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2021, 11:50:55 AM by formulanone »
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JoePCool14

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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #15 on: June 11, 2021, 08:07:30 AM »

Okay, good to know. I only have my phone (iPhone 11) to use for pictures at the moment, and it's a bit harder to take pictures with that than a standalone camera. As you know, it's harder to hold one-handed and also press the "take photo" button. I'll see what I can do next time I'm out on the road.
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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #16 on: June 11, 2021, 08:15:47 AM »

Okay, good to know. I only have my phone (iPhone 11) to use for pictures at the moment, and it's a bit harder to take pictures with that than a standalone camera. As you know, it's harder to hold one-handed and also press the "take photo" button. I'll see what I can do next time I'm out on the road.

I have an iPhone 11 myself.  Just have your phone pre-set to camera and it will hold the setting.  When you double tap the screen it will open to the camera.  Hold the phone from the bottom with your right hand and turn it 90 degrees left while in motion.  That it will make it easy to hit the picture button with your thumb without looking at it. 
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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #17 on: June 11, 2021, 09:42:24 AM »

Can you not use the volume buttons to snap a photo when holding it in landscape mode?  That's how I use my iphone to take photos when I use it as a camera.
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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #18 on: June 11, 2021, 09:53:03 AM »

Can you not use the volume buttons to snap a photo when holding it in landscape mode?  That's how I use my iphone to take photos when I use it as a camera.

Yes but that would require I take my left hand off the wheel given the iPhone 11 is too large to reach the volume button holding it the way I described above. 
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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #19 on: June 11, 2021, 10:39:22 AM »

Really eh?  I use an iphone 8 plus, which is larger than the iphone 11 and it works alright for me, but whatever, i generally use a proper camera for road photos.
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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #20 on: June 11, 2021, 10:57:02 AM »

Really eh?  I use an iphone 8 plus, which is larger than the iphone 11 and it works alright for me, but whatever, i generally use a proper camera for road photos.

In theory I could comfortably reach the volume down button if I didnít have my phone in an Otter Box.  I started using the Otter Box after I dropped two phones (an iPhone 6 and 8) while trail running. 
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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #21 on: June 11, 2021, 11:24:22 AM »

Fair enough, I use a pretty small case on my phone with a tempered glass screen protector.

Those otter boxes are awesome for what they are, but I've always found them to be too large for my taste.
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Re: Tips for Taking Better Road/Sign Pictures
« Reply #22 on: June 11, 2021, 11:29:04 AM »

Since I have my own car and a bit more free time on my hands at the moment, I've been taking more drives around where I live. Because of Road Sign UNO, I sometimes try to snag pictures of shields and signs that might be useful plays and also just to have in my young collection of photos. However, my pictures are usually pretty bad, for various reasons.

Those of you who are more familiar with taking pictures, do you have any tips on how to improve?

I have two basic rules for photography:
What do I see?
Does this interest me?
-----
That said, practice is always needed. Also, seek out as much photography as possible. In that, I mean go look at other photos (be it by participants here, books by "professionals," or visiting galleries'). See as much as possible so you will discover what you want to record.
I would also look at taking some kind of "Photography 101" class. Be it at a school or a local art group. Be around photographers and learn how image making works (be it on a smartphone, digital camera, or film).
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