with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

The Ideal Photographic Vehicle

The Monster Truck in Alaska. It got us there and brought us home. 
 Photo by Lorelle VanFossenThe best vehicle for the job is one that will get you there and bring you back home again. It gets you there and brings you back safely. Where you choose to go is dependent upon a vehicle that will get you there and bring you home.

Considering a vehicle for your nature travels and explorations, there are a lot of choices. Often the decision is based on economics, but it should be based upon “location use”. In other words, if you plan on getting there and coming back, you need a vehicle that will do the job. Where do you plan on spending a lot of time traveling to or through? If you are thinking of actually taking your camera on the road full-time, check out our article on choosing the ideal recreational vehicle for nature photographers. If you will only travel on highways and main roads, then you can buy just about anything. If you are planning to drive on heavy-duty back roads, washed out gullies, and serious rugged terrain in pursuit of your natural image, then a low-slung sports coupe won’t cope. Four-wheel drive would be the only consideration.

A herd of big horn sheep check out our sports car. Photo by Brent VanFossenFour-wheel, front-wheel, dually or regular? It feels like you’re ordering a latte. Determining which way to go depends upon your location usage. Front-wheel drive is great for small cars as it literally pulls the car up a hill, but is it enough for serious terrain? Front wheel is great for snow, too. A dually wheel truck is one with two pairs of wheels on the rear axle. These are very stable and sturdy vehicles, but they are wide, making parking and narrow back roads harrowing.

Think about where you go and what you like to do when you get there. The terrain of a location determines the vehicle you need, the engine, wheel structure, sturdiness, and flexibility. Will you be spending most of your time in sand, mud, and rocky terrain, or on smooth, level, and paved surfaces?

What makes the ideal photographic vehicle?

When starting your hunt for the ideal photo vehicle, consider the following:

It must get you there.
It must get you home.
Working with wildlife from your vehicle, height can play an important part. Is the vehicle high enough to see over the fences and rails along the road? Is the undercarriage high enough for clearance in rough terrain?
It should be inexpensive enough to buy and maintain so you can still afford to buy and process film.
Easy Maintenance
It must be easily repairable (national access to repair shops/800 numbers, parts, manuals, etc.). Make sure the engine is in great shape and is strong enough to do the job you are asking. Then, keep it well-maintained, practicing prevention instead of suffering with band aids.
Taking your camera on the road can mean long hours behind the driver’s seat. It can often lead to a condition we know as “truck butt.” Make sure your vehicle is comfortable for long hauls.
Storage Space
It must have enough room to carry all your equipment safely inside, and still give you freedom to breathe and move.
The Right Accessories
Power windows allow exact positioning of the window as a rest for the camera.Make sure you choose a vehicle with all the accessories you need. If you work a lot with wildlife, consider a very quiet engine. Power windows help to easily adjust the height for resting your camera on a bean bag, but the key must be in the ignition and turned to the accessory position. Does a buzzer or bell sound when you do this and open a door? Can the buzzer be rewired so you don’t scare the animals? Do the windows go all the way down? Air conditioning is a must for hot weather. Durable tires help get you where you’re going, so make sure they are the right kind for the terrain you will be exploring. Is a sunroof important to you? What about tinted windows? Think of the accessories that would make your photography easier, keeping your concentration on the photography and not on the vehicle.
Theft Resistant
It must not say “steal me – I’m loaded with expensive camera equipment!”
Make Friends with your Vehicle
Some vehicles can do the job but they are intimidating to the driver. Study how it works until you feel comfortable with you. You will be spending a lot of time in the vehicle with your camera, so make sure you feel comfortable in it and can handle it.
Can you stand on the roof? Will it tow something behind? Will it accept a winch or pulley system? Can you use it as a background (natural coloration)? Think of all the ways you use a vehicle for photography and travel. Will it really meet your needs and be flexible and versatile enough to grow with you?

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