John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche

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driveby photo

On the Road Again

This sepia and high contrast treatment of a photo taken through the windshield of our car presents a warm, glowing, and nostaligic feeling about traveling. The glare and bit of grime on the window also creates an antique look, as if this might be an old photo. Due to their rather expansive, slightly wrapped around shape, windshields can offer you some rather effective vista shots, especially when using a wide angle lens. Those photos often will include the road carrying you into that scene - and perhaps towards the distant destination, in this case a symbolically bright sunshine. Shots taken through the windshield like this are the quintessential "on the road" images.

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Decisive Moments

If you're stuck too literally in the mentality of doing "drive-by" photography, you might forget that when stopped at a light - i.e., when you're actually NOT in the process of driving - there still might be some interesting things to shoot. And you'll have a bit more time to do it than if you were indeed driving-by.

I took this shot while stopped at a light. I consider it one of those "decisive moments" when all of the visual elements of the scene - including the embracing couple, the geometry of the lines surrounding them, and the messages displayed on various signs ("caution," "save more," "no stopping") - all come together in a beautiful resonance. I must admit that I had to crop the original photo in order to get this composition. Henri Cariter-Bresson would probably gasp at my disecting the original - but hey, I was in car!

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Motion blur, an acquired taste

When you shoot out the side window of the vehicle while it's moving fast, you're going to get motion blur, even at high shutter speeds. That's can be a good thing. Why not go with it? Allthough these blurry images are not everyone's taste, they do appeal to those eyes that enjoy surreal effects, the translucence of blur, and the sensation of things moving and vibrating.

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The invisible vehicle

If your windows are fairly clean, your vehicle speed is not too high, and you take care to avoid including the frame of the window in the shot, the resulting photo could look like a landscape taken from the ground. People might not even realize it was a drive-by.

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The Natives

People on and alongside the road can be wonderful subjects for drive-by photography. They too are going somewhere. They too are fellow travelers on the road, although going a bit slower than you and perhaps natives of a place that is not your home. You'll need to be quick on the draw when taking these shots, because they as well as you are moving. The opportunity for the shot as well as the composition change quickly. For this shot, I wasn't quite fast enough to capture the bicyclist without his being slightly outside the frame. So in post-processing I went with that idea. Subjects on the edge or partially outside the frame look like they are on the move, about to leave your frame of reference - which is the whole idea behind a drive-by photo. For this image I also added some gritty and scratched glass textures to add to the rough, off-the-cuff feeling of the shot.

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Human ingenuity

Bridges make wonderful subjects: their various geometric shapes, the receding lines, their often massive size, how they interact with the sky and scenery. They can be the quinessential representations of human ingenuity and aesthetic design. They also serve as an archetypic symbol of change and transition. Many beautiful photos of bridges taken by car cannot be duplicated when on foot, either because pedestrian traffic is forbidden, or the viewpoint from walkways are very different than from the highway.

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Big pictures of the big city

I took this shot of New York City from the highway on the other side of the East River. As with the image of the trees, one might not realize this photo was taken from a car moving quite fast, although this particular viewpoint of the skyline might not be possible other than from that particular highway. These kinds of shots work well to express the idea of entering, leaving, or passing by a city.

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Damn this traffic jam!

Bumper to bumper traffic can be frustratingly tedious. Don't let that feeling blind you. Use it as an opportunity to do some photography. Look around. What do you see? Don't assume because you're going slow, or nowhere at all, there's nothing to shoot. Think of this as a type of one-spot-shot photography. If you can't help but feel annoyed at the traffic jam, take a photo that expresses your dilemma. It could beFel cathartic. At the very least, doing some photography will help pass the time.


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Fellow travelers

If you're fortunate to have fellow travelers, take some shots of them. How are they experiencing this journey? Inside a car, you're close enough for some good portraits. Pay attention to how the light is coming through the window. Often this kind of natural light can be quite good for photography. Here my daughter naps after an enjoyable, but exhausting visit to the city.

For more examples of drive-by photos, visit my Drive-By set in Flickr.


Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche