Sometimes, It’s OK Not to Keep Your Eyes on the Road

Some of the best photo settings in the world are in places you only discover by accident. Which means you should always carry a camera with you, so you’re ready when a great photo reveals itself.

This is true whether you’re traveling near or far from home.

I have a good friend who works as a lawyer in New York City, and he sends me lots of photos from his cell phone. As dismal as mobile phone photos are in quality, he has a great eye for the little oddities that make life interesting — old billboards, funny signs, snippets of daily life and even the occasional incredible sunset.

I hate to think of him careening through the streets of the Bronx with one eye on the road and the other on his cell phone screen, but it’s produced some fascinating pictures.

A Camera in the Passenger Seat

I shot the photo below in Rhinebeck, New York, while driving through a pretty neighborhood, admiring the fine older homes. I spotted the bicycle/flower planter in front of a small inn and just stopped the car in the middle of the block to shoot it; fortunately it was a slow street and no one was behind me.

Fortunately too, I had a good camera on the seat next to me and the right zoom lens all waiting to go.

Bicycle-Rhinebeck_New_York Wignall

John Steinbeck’s book Travels with Charley, one of my all-time favorite reads, documents several months that Steinbeck spent wandering the back roads of America.

Steinbeck avoided interstates and major named routes and instead traveled the “blue highways,” the roads that crisscrossed America before the major routes were built. While he had a general idea of where he was headed, he more or less made up the trip from day to day.

Photographically, that is my favorite way to see a place. I like to just throw a cooler of food in the trunk, ignore the maps as much as possible, go where the road takes me — and expect the unexpected.

Driving without a Map

Amish Farm Lancaster Wignall

Before I took the photo above, I’d never been to Pennsylvania’s Amish country. Driving home after a trip to Philadelphia, my girlfriend and I decided to explore the Amish farms on the way back to New England. Most of the roads in that area didn’t even show up on the maps, so we just drove until we hit a dead end or intersected another road.

We ended up spending an entire day driving past the most beautiful farms I’d ever seen, buying fresh produce from farm stands and just relishing a landscape without commercialism. The area is so photogenic that I was finding great photos in all directions; I shot hundreds of pictures in one day.

We never looked at a map until the light began to fade and we started looking for the highway north.

So engage your wanderlust with your camera in the passenger seat this summer — no matter how far your travels take you.

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