When our publisher, Steve Werner, directed us to outfit a vehicle that would demonstrate how one could use a four-wheel-drive SUV specifically for photography, it sounded intriguing, but what could we get together that would work in the field? And could we do it all-digital to reflect the keen interest our readers have in digital?
As you've seen in the past few months, we indeed created an Outdoor Photographer photo vehicle that would accomplish these things. We've now driven this small SUV (originally chosen for better gas mileage and, luckily, Nissan became our first sponsor with the Xterra) all over California and other parts of the West. We've taken it onto rough roads that only a 4WD vehicle with high clearance could navigate, getting into backcountry for photo ops not otherwise readily accessible.
The real advantage that a vehicle like the Xterra offers us isn't in the ability to bomb around, spraying mud and turf. Rather, the 4WD system enables us to reach remote places, often via fire roads or other poorly maintained thoroughfares. An ordinary car wouldn't stand a chance on some of the rutted, muddy, rock-strewn traverses we drove. Then once we reached "The Place," we had other special modifications to help us get some unique angles and process the digital images in real time.
The photos on these pages show the vehicle in many of the locations we visited. It was fun to have an SUV that was outfitted specifically for photography, including a shooting platform on the roof, à la Ansel Adams. We drew a bit of attention with all of the sponsor logos on the sides, of course, but then those sponsors made this project possible.
Here are some things we learned that might help you in outfitting your own photo vehicle:
- The shooting platform helps get better angles on a scene, but be sure you have a good way of getting up and down from it if you try it yourself.
- Having a complete digital setup, from laptop to rugged hard drives to a portable printer, pushed up the photography experience a notch.
- Little things like an easy-to-use GPS system and a power inverter are blessings when you're away from well-traveled routes.
- Be sure you have enough battery power when shooting digital and a way of charging batteries in the field. We tried a standard charger with the power inverter and a cigarette lighter-powered charger—both worked.
- A laptop helps you review and edit photos as you go. This meant we could more clearly see what we were shooting as we were shooting and make decisions on what else we needed to shoot and where to go based on these shots.
If you've been inspired by the OP Photo Vehicle to modify and customize your SUV for photography, send us a note and a photograph of what you did. We'd like to see it and maybe share your ideas with our readers.
Gitzo, Manfrotto and The Pod