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Many outstanding nature photos have a dramatic backstory. On the OP Daily Blog at outdoorphotographer.com, we have a section devoted specifically to the stories behind the shots, where photographers tell of harrowing predawn treks and dramatic moments of wild weather. But a photo doesn't need to be associated with a death-defying feat to be a good image.
In April, we reached out to the OP community on Facebook requesting submissions of images that actually were taken by the side of the road. We've published several of the photos in this article. Even if you aren't passing by the areas we showcase here, these pages should inspire you to look for roadside landscapes as you travel this summer. Slow down, and if you think you see something, by all means, stop, have a look and break out your camera.
1 Last winter, I was driving home from Big Sky—Montana—when I noticed a bald eagle perched on a treetop along the edge of the Gallatin River. It was one of those incredible Rocky Mountain kind of days, where snow squalls mix with bright sunshine. The sun had just popped out, but snow was still in the air as I rounded a corner and saw the eagle. If there's one thing I know about birds of prey around here, it's that they will tolerate a vehicle, but they will jump if you approach on foot. There was no pullout nearby, so I just pulled off the shoulder of the road and rested my 500mm on the edge of the window. Cars and semitrucks flew by as it became just me and my eagle friend for the next 20 minutes. He had been scanning the river for fish, but must not have seen anything. As he flew off, I was able to snap a few more shots. This one is my favorite. People often ask me how I see so many amazing sights. My answer: Never be in too much of a rush not to be aware of the incredible beauty that's everywhere. All you have to do is look!
Singing Sky Photography
Nikon D5100, Tamron 200-500mm F/5-6.3 SP AF Di LD (IF) at 500mm, ISO 640, 1⁄1000 sec. at ƒ/6.3
2 I was on my first fall photography trip to Utah and was driving around in Capitol Reef when I saw this beautiful filtered light on the Castle formation and pulled over. I tried a few variations, like going out onto the plateau toward the Castle or trying to shoot from under the trees, but the best view was standing right next to my car. From that elevated vantage point, I was looking down on the cottonwoods and could fit them all in the frame; I had the Fremont River running across the middle and the Castle was just over to the right.
Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Canon EF-S 10-22mm ƒ/3.5-4.5 USM at 22mm, tripod, ISO 100, 1⁄60 sec. at ƒ/11
3 The Palouse is a fantastic place to shoot during the spring and Steptoe Butte is the perfect vantage point. I pulled off the road about halfway up the short drive to the top and took this photo. A rainstorm was coming in just at sunset and made for an awesome sky.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L USM at 24mm, ISO 100, 1⁄5 sec. at ƒ/16
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4 I was in the Badlands in South Dakota with limited time to shoot, so I hit several roadside pullouts and made a conscious effort to maximize my time in those spots. After the third or fourth epic view that I saw, I literally joked to myself, "Ernie, it's time you gave the guys designing these parks and pullout areas much more credit. They seem to know the spots to pick!" The Badlands don't get many visitors in the spring, and on this night it was completely empty. It was quiet, just me and the view. So many great views. I really needed a change in scenery. Mission accomplished.
Visual Lyrics Photography
5 While I will walk miles to get a great photograph, I'm also looking for those shots where I can pull my car right up to a spot and work out of the back of it. Convict Lake, near Mammoth, California, is one of those "right by the roadside" beauties. I parked less than 10 feet from where I shot this image on a chilly October morning. I scrambled down a dirt bank to the lake's edge and shot this. I made an exposure for the clouds, one for the midtones and a third for the dark areas.
—R. Michael Walker
Olympus Evolt E-330, Olympus 11-22mm ƒ/2.8-3.5 ED Zuiko Digital, 1⁄500 sec. at ƒ/6.7 for the main image, 1⁄30 sec. at ƒ/6.7 for the lake and shadow areas, and 1⁄1000 sec. at ƒ/6.7 for the clouds
6 On the last day of summer in 2013, I found this scene from a pullout just before Oxbow Bend of the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park. I sat my tripod and camera in front of my Jeep® and photographed this scene of Mount Moran from the sidewalk along the pullout.
7 I photographed The Watchman in Zion National Park at sunset from the bridge along Utah State Route 9 and the junction to Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. This is one of those times when I had to be on the bridge prior to sunset to guarantee that I'd have a spot on the bridge to photograph from.