Planning to photograph your amazing discoveries on your next road trip? Uncover how these five photographers find one-of-a-kind locations on the open road.

Since the 1930s, photographers have been drawn to the possibilities of the road. Walker Evans left behind the comforts of home to see the forgotten corners of his nation, making many stops and photographs along the way. Edward Weston did too. Then, of course, came Robert Frank. For the restless photographer, road trips are irresistible. They’re cheap and easy, and you never know what you’ll find—a cute motel, a quirky gas station, a curious character, or a delicious meal from some out-of-the-way diner.

Today, great road trip photographs have the same qualities they did back in Evans’s day; they inspire us to set off with nothing but a full tank of gas and the clothes on our backs, and they raise questions about who we are as countries, as regions, and as individual people. And you don’t need much to make unforgettable photos on the road; you simply need to notice what’s around you. As Jack Kerouac once told Robert Frank, “You got eyes.” We asked five outstanding photographers to share some of their most memorable road trip shots and their best tips for capturing one-of-a-kind pictures.

1. “When using Google Maps to navigate, toggle on the ‘avoid highways’ feature so you stick to backroads.”

Elijah Solomon Hurwitz

5 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Taking Fantastic Road Trip Photos — Take the Backroads

Image by Elijah Solomon Hurwitz. Gear: Sony A7 Rii camera, 55mm 1.8 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/400 sec; f13; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I took this photo of a cow near a radio telescope outside Bishop, California, while driving back to Los Angeles from a rock climbing trip. I noticed the telescope from the highway, and, being an astronomy enthusiast, I decided to seek out dirt roads to get closer. The Sierra Nevada mountains behind me were casting shadows in the evening light to give the scene a bit of drama. The Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO) is actually one of the largest university-run radio observatories in the world, operated by CalTech. Locals call it “Big Ears.”

Elijah Solomon Hurwitz.
Elijah Solomon Hurwitz.

Pictured: [1] Elijah Solomon Hurwitz. [2] Elijah Solomon Hurwitz.

Pro Tip:

When using Google Maps to navigate, toggle on the “avoid highways” feature so you stick to backroads. Sleep in your car so you can wake up at dawn and catch the morning light. Get a car charger for your camera batteries. And of course, always drive safe and pay attention to your surroundings.

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2. “Don’t just jump out of the car and start trespassing on someone’s property and firing shots…you may get shot yourself.”

Julien McRoberts

5 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Taking Fantastic Road Trip Photos — Avoid Trespassing

Image by Julien McRoberts. Gear: Canon 5D Mark II camera, 17-45mm Canon lens. Settings: Focal length 30mm; exposure 1/320 sec; f7.0; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I love shooting obscure indigenous festivals, and I came across a photo book by an admired photographer who captured ceremonies across New Mexico many years ago. That was my starting point for researching this annual ceremonial celebration, which culminates in three days of dancing and feasting at a hidden pueblo. There are two Matachine groups that come to dance—Azteca de Chichimeca and Azteca Guadalupana—each representing a clan of dancers ranging across the American Southwest and into Mexico.

The Matachine dance has its roots in Moorish Spain, and the groups tell a story that goes back to the Reconquista—the expulsion of the Moors in 1492. It is a unique combination of Native American culture, Hispanic culture, and Catholicism. These are Los Danzantes, whose cupiles (headdresses) reflect the morning sun, and whose red sashes and white aprons emblazoned with images of La Virgen offer a cacophony of color.

5 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Taking Fantastic Road Trip Photos — Remember You're a Guest

Image by Julien McRoberts.

Pro Tip:

First and foremost, be safe. Know your territory and terrain; in other words, do your homework. I have taught various “On the Road” workshops, and I have seen photographers show up in flip-flops in the rugged desert, despite the cacti and rattlesnakes. Comfortable, sturdy shoes and functional clothing can make the difference between having a great time and being miserable; plus, it also provides more access to locations.

Let someone know where you are going. Check the weather reports and road conditions. Have some first aid items, a full tank of gas, a spare tire, plenty of water, and a paper map in case your battery dies. I also carry some extra large and small plastic bags to cover myself and my gear in case of a rainstorm.

Be respectful and friendly. Realize you are a guest. A smile goes a long way, and if you are shooting people, try to make a connection and assess if it is okay to photograph them or the location. Don’t just jump out of the car and start trespassing on someone’s property and firing shots…you may get shot yourself. In some locations, photographers are not welcome, and you may need to go through proper channels to get permission to shoot there. It is so important to be respectful of your subjects.

Research what you want to shoot, but leave room for spontaneity. You have to really dig to find the gems. Instagram and other sites are incredible for research, but they also take some of the fun out of feeling like you have discovered something special and secret. Go local. When shooting on the road, try to stay off the main highways and on the back roads. Whether you are in a big city or small town, be a part of the community and look for interesting places to eat and sleep rather than the ubiquitous chain hotels and restaurants.

Ask a lot of questions and then ask more. This is how you will find the cool, hidden stuff. It helps to have a sense of adventure.

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3. “Generally, I never have a master plan when I go on trips. I just go with the flow.”

Robert Götzfried

5 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Taking Fantastic Road Trip Photos — Go with the Flow

Image by Robert Götzfried. Gear: Canon 5Ds camera, Canon 24-70mm 2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 42mm; exposure 1/640 sec; f5.6; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Just outside of a town called Sneedville in Tennessee, I spotted an abandoned gas station. But just when I was about to take some pictures, I heard a rumbling noise, and an old pickup truck with a flat tire came around the corner. The driver was named Kenny, and he asked me if I could help him out with a phone. Since I was traveling, I hadn’t charged my phone, so I decided to drive him down to the village to get the tire fixed. Kenny had been driving his Ford truck for over forty years. His number one band is Lynyrd Skynyrd, and we were rocking out together on our way to the garage, listening to “Free Bird” with a cold diet Dr. Pepper.

Robert Götzfried.
Robert Götzfried.

Pictured: [1] Robert Götzfried. [2] Robert Götzfried.

Pro Tip:

Generally, I never have a master plan when I go on trips. I just go with the flow. When I went on my road trips through the USA in 2014 and 2015, I had a rough idea of my route, and I knew that I wouldn’t want to go on any interstates. The rest just happened. I didn’t book any hotels in advance, and I didn’t have any specific places where I needed to be. I had two weeks, a car, lots of gas in the tank, and my camera gear. That was enough to come back with loads of stories.

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4. “I basically don’t use GPS unless I’m in a city…The accidental discoveries are usually the best parts of any trip.”

Mikael Kennedy

5 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Taking Fantastic Road Trip Photos — Make Wrong Turns

Image by Mikael Kennedy. Gear: Canon 5D Mark II camera, 24-105mm L series lens. Settings: This photographer would prefer not to reveal the settings.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This is from the Anza-Borrego Desert just three hours away from Los Angeles. I saw a friend post a photo from here a while back and asked where it was. The other day, my wife and I were missing being on the road (she’s a touring musician). We both just wanted a glimpse of that feeling of freedom, so we hopped in the car and drove down here and back in one day. It was a seven-hour round trip. We drove, watched the sunset, and drove back. We drove four miles down a dry stream bed to get to this view, and several times we took wrong turns and ended up finding great new spots.

5 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Taking Fantastic Road Trip Photos — Embrace Adventure

Image by Mikael Kennedy.

Pro Tip:

Get lost. Seriously. I basically don’t use GPS unless I’m in a city. I’ve been crossing the United States using paper maps since 1999, and I still use the same map. That map is outdated now, so road names will have changed or just simply disappeared, but I always have a general idea of where I’m headed. The accidental discoveries are usually the best parts of any trip.

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5. “…I’ve found that keeping your head swiveling and your legs moving allows for a continuous flow of new angles.”

Grant Faint

5 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Taking Fantastic Road Trip Photos — Never Stop Moving

Image by Grant Faint. Gear: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 24/70mm F4 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/15 sec; f4; ISO 4000.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This image was taken recently at the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City. This woman had dressed up and was standing with a plastic skull piggy bank. People would take her photo and give her a few coins in exchange. This is common practice. There was a crush of people, but I was patient and determined to get some nice shots.

Grant Faint.
Grant Faint.
Grant Faint.

Pictured: [1] Grant Faint. [2] Grant Faint. [3] Grant Faint.

Pro Tip:

Circle the subject. Keep moving. Never stand still for long. Having worked as a TV NEWS cameraman for fifteen years, I’ve found that keeping your head swiveling and your legs moving allows for a continuous flow of new angles. You might discover something you would have missed by being stuck in one place.

Top Image by Julien McRoberts.