Re: Sign Photography - your thoughts
- From: argatlam_roads@xxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: 7 Sep 2006 09:02:33 -0700
So here are some discussion points on road specifically sign photography.
Responding to the survey:
1. Do you look for specific things when photographing signs? Or do you
just take a picture of about everything? Personally, I look for older
combinations, if it is unique, the setting around it, etc.
I look for unusual guide signs of any size and also unusual warning,
regulatory, and construction signs which are large, meant to be read at
speed, or describe conditions which are virtually 'sui generis'.
(Examples in the latter category include unexploded ammunition signs at
Fort Bliss in El Paso, or warning signs for subsidence in old New
Mexico potash-mining country.) Basically, if it is not in the
'M.U.T.C.D.' or a state design manual, I consider it fair game. I try
to pay particular attention to bilingual guide signs, one-off designs,
and signs which look like prototypes for future additions to the
'M.U.T.C.D.' or a state manual.
2. Do you pretty much fire at will while driving or get out of the car to
take the photo? What percentage of your photos are while driving in the
car. Personally, and I know Doug, Slater, Froggie, Brian LeBlanc, Jeff
Kitsko, Steve Alpert, etc. can attest to this. I try to get out of the
vehicle as much as possible to set up and take a photo.
My Fotopic site, which consists largely of sign photos, is here:
There is not a single photo on it which has been shot from a moving
car, although there is one shot of the Rogers Pass snowshed which was
taken through the windshield of my parked car during a heavy rainstorm.
I don't think there is anyone else who maintains a road enthusiast
site who has as few behind-the-wheel photos as I do, though Scott Kozel
is one possible exception. I won't take photos while driving for the
usual safety reasons, although I have occasionally taken photos as a
passenger (in fact I did this yesterday, while being taken to Caselle
airport near Turin). I take such pictures strictly for personal
consumption, however, and have never put them online.
3. If you get out of the car to take a shot, do you do the standard roadgeek
straight on/close-up shot? Or do you try to incorporate the surrounding
with it? Have you ever tried to take the photo at an odd angle to make the
sign appear larger/smaller etc.
If I consider it worthwhile to stop and photograph a particular sign,
generally I take multiple exposures. The basic template is as follows:
* Context shot, with sign panel centered on one of the four thirds
* Medium close-up, with ground visible (possibly portrait rather than
landscape depending on the shape of the sign panel)
* Extreme close-up, with sign panel filling the picture frame
Normally I publish pictures conforming only to the first two types. I
also bracket and use fill flash according to lighting conditions, since
I'm still using a point-and-shoot digital camera with no manual
exposure functionality. My general rule for bracketing is to take one
picture (the "reference image") with no exposure compensation, and then
vary exposure at half-stop increments over a range between "too light"
and "too dark" (as judged from the LCD screen on my camera, which
circumstances often force me to view under bright sunshine). If I see
that the lighting is strongly colored (e.g. two hours after sunrise or
two hours before sunset), or is otherwise confusing my camera's
white-balancing routine, I bracket for tungsten, daylight, and possibly
fluorescent. At night, or under street lighting, I take context photos
but also work with the flash. I also vary position from the sign when
high-intensity or microprismatic sheetings are used.
Bottom line: under extremely unfavorable lighting conditions, and
depending on the importance of the sign, I can spend up to fifteen
minutes taking more than forty pictures of it. Normally only one of
the forty will make it online as part of a photo gallery, although I
save all of them for possible future use.
When I am assembling galleries for my Fotopic site, I never include
images which I would otherwise find desirable but would need to edit
for gamma, brightness, or contrast in 'Photoshop'. My use of
'Photoshop' is confined to resampling and sharpening via macros. I
want pictures on the Web which are really good, but I don't want to
spend a lot of time working on a sign photos website, so I use these
and other arbitrary rules to bring the workload into balance with the
time I am willing to invest.
4. Does it matter to you that someone else may have the photo on another
In general, no. However, I do not systematically log signs along a
given highway route (as many others do) because I consider that state
D.O.T.s should be doing this as part of their photologging processes
and making the pictures or video available to the public via the Web.
I see some risk of "squeezing out" as state D.O.T. officials study the
feasibility of photologging, see that unpaid volunteers (i.e.,
roadgeeks) are already logging highways in their states, and decide not
to spend the money. I have seen no direct evidence that this is
happening with photologs, but my experience doing archival research at
Caltrans headquarters in Sacramento leads me to suspect they don't put
some useful materials on their public website (such as a
cross-reference table between pre-1964 L.R.N.s and state sign routes)
because they know they can refer casual inquiries to Dan Faigin's
website. It could equally well be argued that the presence of things
like state route listings on the Web--compiled by
volunteers--encourages state D.O.T.s to put their equivalents online,
but I feel this is a more uncertain mechanism given the "most good out
of fixed amount of money" mentality which pervades D.O.T.
bureaucracies. It is also true that workers on the professional side
of the transportation community won't hesitate to borrow road
enthusiasts' work (very occasionally without attribution) in putting
together their own materials.
I feel that anything published online by a state D.O.T. must initially
be presumed to be more authoritative than information which originates
in the road enthusiast community, largely because it is compiled by
salaried professionals working to established standards, and the
information chain is easier to trace through a bureaucratic process
which (nominally at least) is open to public inspection through "open
government" legislation and culture.
This is not to say that the state is always right and private citizen
observers are always wrong when the two come into conflict--far from
it!--but as our hobby is highly information-driven, it is in our
long-term interest for as much state-held information to be in the
public domain and on the Web as possible, leaving us to put it together
with other information, take it apart, or work with it in more purely
creative ways. This is why I try to avoid "crowding out" state D.O.T.
publication in my own activities, mainly by not duplicating information
which I know or suspect the D.O.T.s themselves must be generating as
part of their quality assurance processes.
5. If you run a sign website, do you pretty much take anything or do you
pass over photos because they are not the quality or style you prefer?
I avoid all the invidious questions associated with selection,
copyright, etc. by simply not accepting outside contributions.
6. Do you consider road signs and sign photography a basic staple of this
7. Do you think there is more opportunity for specific sign features like
PA Keystones, FL Color US Shields or VA Cutouts? If so what kind(s) and in
I would propose "Unusual diagrammatics," with national coverage.
Possible candidates for inclusion might be holdout cloverleaf
diagrammatics such as this:
Among our British colleagues, the "Mr Floppy" website is a big hit:
- Re: Sign Photography - your thoughts
- From: Oscar Voss
- Re: Sign Photography - your thoughts
- Sign Photography - your thoughts
- From: Adam Prince
- Sign Photography - your thoughts
- Prev by Date: Re: Article: Contentment Without a Car
- Next by Date: Re: NCDOT delays more projects
- Previous by thread: Re: Sign Photography - your thoughts
- Next by thread: Re: Sign Photography - your thoughts