Tip: Lighting and Outdoor Photography

Night paving in Oklahoma.

Obvious point #1: Lighting is essential in taking a good photograph. Not many good photos are taken outside on a dark, cloudy night without a lighting source…

Obvious point #2: Source, color, intensity and direction of light all play their part in the shot. The sun, weather, time of day, even street lights and vehicles contribute to the ever-changing lighting conditions of an outdoor shoot.

So, how do you manage all that?

1. Be Prepared. This is true of any photo shoot, and it bears repeating: do your prep well in advance; scout out the location; look to see where the best angles are from the available light sources; and (we’ve said it before) be safe.

2. Be Flexible. Again, a truism when shooting, but you have to adapt to shifting shadows, annoying secondary sources, odd colors and even the subject(s) themselves. People move, too, and the best light for them doing their job, might not be the best light for you.

3. Be Equipped. Now, you don’t have to have the latest and greatest camera with 65 different lenses and an entire studio lighting set up to get a wonderful photo. In fact, that probably works against you in an outdoor setting, where you need to be light (pun intended!) on your feet. But do have a fill flash, extra batteries and a longer lens.

Here’s some more great advice on outdoor lighting from the US Navy, of all places. Enjoy.

The Art of the Matter

We love photography, especially transportation photography because it is dynamic, full of activity, life, and purpose. People in transportation photos inspire us and make us work all that much more diligently to make America’s transportation system the best that it can be.

But can transportation photography be art?

Can a photo of a hard-working transportation professional, a commuter riding the bus, a family out on the great byways of this country, a soaring bridge, a beautiful plane, a chugging ferry be elevated to the status of art?

And does that really even matter?

Let’s be honest: we’re not producing a gallery show or a coffee table book.

We are running the Faces of Transportation photo contest to get great photos of people designing, building, maintaining and using the transportation system this wonderful country has to offer so that we can show off those photos in our publications, web sites, brochures, reports, etc.

And, you’ll probably agree, even utilitarian photos can be artful (or even just well taken). After all, a poorly shot, confused or boring photo is not going to win any contest, no matter the subject matter.

So, here’s what it all boils down to: we encourage you to strive for great photos, and if they reach the level of “art” in somebody’s eyes, all the better.

Take a close look at some of our past entries, past winners and some tips from the pros and get out there and make some transportation art!

Tip: Let the Color Orange Be Your Friend

It’s unavoidable in most photographs of transportation.


Signal Man
A signalman working for the Nebraska Department of Roads.

Cones, barrels, safety vests, fencing, lights, equipment. It threatens to dominate any photograph you take of a project and the people working on it. It doesn’t seem to be a very friendly color to have in a picture…

But don’t let it overwhelm you (or your photographs)! We read a fascinating article on color theory in photography and it opened our eyes (pun intended). When you’re out shooting, be conscious of how one color (orange, yes, but other colors, too) can add depth, interest and excitement to your photos. Find out how one color can even jump out and emphasize your subject.

Orange you glad we posted this?

Getting a Model Release

An inspector looks at rebar as part of an Idaho Transportation Department project.

You’ve scoped out where you’re going to take that winning transportation photo. You’ve got your plan on how to take pictures safely and efficiently. You’ve got your equipment ready and your battery charged.

What about the model release?

Since this is a photo contest all about people (after all, it’s called “Faces of Transportation”!), everyone in your photos whose face is clearly recognizable must sign a model release. This protects all involved (the subject, you, and AASHTO) by giving us permission to use their likeness in books, reports, brochures, web sites, and many other publications.

Read up on the issue in this great article by Better Photo, and be sure to take one or more copies of AASHTO’s model release along with you in your equipment bag.

Now you’re ready!

Florida DOT: Historic Transportation Photos

Here’s a very interesting site from the Florida Department of Transportation that really gets us inspired! Transportation photography offers such a wide variety of subjects that even back then, with bulky, sometimes difficult equipment, photographers got a lot of great shots.

So many wonderful pictures, so little time…

Brooksville Road Construction late 1926
Hernando County voters approved a $100,000 road construction bond in August 1925 to provide 75 miles of hard rock roads. The road bed materials at the time cost $4.60 a ton. In 1926 a road was prepared between Old Spring Hill Road and Weeki Wachee. Old Hammock Road, seen here in this photo, was improved between Brooksville and Crystal River.

Tip: Photographing Transportation Means Working Outside

Obvious, right?

Harvesting Wildflowers
Dan McCarver, of INDOT’s LaPorte District, harvests wildflower seed along US 31 in Fulton County, Indiana.

But there are many considerations when taking pictures outside that, combined with the special requirements of photographing transportation, mean some extra effort on the photographer’s part.

Read this article from e-How magazine to get some ideas!

Tip: Photographing People at Work

Sometimes, it can be challenging to take pictures of people at work, especially if they’re working in a dynamic environment like a transportation work site, or on the train or bus.

Safety is number one, of course. Proper precautions and planning are essential – as Julie Duewel of the Nevada DOT explained in a recent post.

And picking the right subject is crucial. Katy Warner of North Carolina DOT shared that nugget of information just last week.

But, how do you take award-winning pictures of people working? Our friends at Shutterbug Magazine have some great ideas. Check it out!