Collect the roads you travel on! (without breaking the law)
Routesnapping is a term coined to describe the activity of chronicling one's travels by photographing the route markers along the routes he or she has experienced. The goal is to collect each individual route in a set. The set of routes you set out to collect is completely your choice! You can choose to engage with Routesnapping on a national, state, provincial, or even county level. Further down the page, I'll share some tips on how to take favorable photos on the roadway, and on the most important aspect of Routesnapping: STAYING SAFE as you try to take photos around dangerous live traffic.
A Little Bucket List For Your Exploring
Routesnapping isn't a concept I invented on my own; other people I know have been doing the exact same thing. I merely tasked myself with trying to come up with a term for it, and Routesnapping is the name I decided to propose! Looking for a way to chronicle one's travels is a quest as old as the ability to travel itself. Examples include my endeavor to get a magnet from every state, a free paper map from a welcome center in every state, a beer glass from every state... My Great Aunt Jeannie even collected a sheet of toilet paper from a public bathroom in every country she traveled to! People like to have keepsakes to commemorate their experiences exploring this beautiful planet called Earth. But for those of us who are more oriented toward road trips, and for those of us who enjoy the drives themselves rather than strictly the destinations, Routesnapping is here as an option for those who wish to commemorate the drives themselves. Now, we COULD physically just lift a road sign posted on a highway and take it home, but this is THEFT, which is illegal. Routesnapping, instead, has participants taking photos of the route markers instead of breaking the law.
Routesnapping Versus Other Travel Collect-a-thons
Routesnapping isn't the only way to keep track of your travels on a smaller scale than checking off a list of states or countries. I highly recommend checking out the County Clinching site at mob-rule.com if you want to keep track of the counties you've visited; my County Clinching page can be found here. I also highly recommend looking into Travel Mapping, a handy tool for keeping track of the highway segments you've driven; my Travel Mapping statistics can be found here. However, if you don't want to analyze your past travels in as much detail as a measure of every piece of every highway you've driven, consider Routesnapping. If it's enough for you to keep track of each highway, rather than each piece of each highway, Routesnapping is a perfect match for you. If you want to keep track of each piece of each highway, you can participate in BOTH Travel Mapping AND Routesnapping! The level of detail in your travel retrospectives is completely up to you.
Personally, I started Routesnapping at age 14, when I decided to photograph one route marker from each marked highway in my home state of Illinois; this includes all of the Interstates, US Routes, and state routes within Illinois's borders. I completed this collection ten years later, and decided at that point to try and Routesnap every marked US Route and major Interstate (numbered 1 to 100) in the United States. I also set out to Routesnap every marked route (above the county level) in some surrounding states, including Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and the dauntingly large collection of highways in Ohio. I completed Indiana and Iowa, and I have one more 4-day road trip to take in each of Wisconsin and Michigan. I mention my decisions on which sets of routes to collect, to provide examples of sets you may want to collect, and to show that the decision of which routes to collect is truly yours to make in any way at any time. Perhaps you could follow my model and start with your home state or province, or even your own county or region, before expanding your goals to other regions, other states, or a nationwide scale. Maybe you just want route markers for one type of road, choosing just Interstates, or just state routes, for example. You decide the own scale of your travel goals according to what you think is reasonable to attain.
I think the idea of Routesnapping came to me as I was thinking about the 3-dimensional platformers I played as a child, like Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie. In such games, you roam around freely completing missions and collecting items you need to progress onward through the game. Hunting for different objectives on the map predates video games, even, in the form of scavenger hunts. Routesnapping isn't much different from a road map-based scavenger hunt! Geocaching is another similar concept for using maps and navigation tools to find objectives for fun; I highly recommend looking into Geocaching as well.
Another great feature of Routesnapping is that it provides real proof of having visited that road. Anyone can make up county clinching data or highway clinching data without anyone checking them. Unlike those forms of data collection, Routesnapping doesn't allow anyone to be a liar, because your photo of the route marker cannot exist unless you actually go to the site of that route marker!
Routesnapping MUST be done SAFELY!
Safety is the most important aspect of anything you do, and it's a major concern when you do things around moving traffic. These are some precautions you'll have to keep in mind when you're routesnapping:
If you exit your car to get a nice photo of the route sign, ensure that your car is parked in a safe place. If you pull your car onto the shoulder, make sure that absolutely no part of the car is in the traveled lane. If the shoulder or side of the road isn't wide enough to completely remove your car from the traveled lane, find a place off the road for your car to park. In general, it's ideal to park your car in a parking lot or entrance so it isn't on the roadway at all.
If there is no safe place to park your car near the sign you wish to photograph, find a safe place farther away to park your car and walk to the sign's location.
Be aware of traffic coming from any direction on the roadway or intersection where you're trying to take your photo.
All freeway signage I photograph is photographed through the windshield. Stopping along freeways and expressways is only legal if it's an emergency situations, so I don't do it for the purpose of taking photos. Windshield photos can possess lower quality than photos not taken through glass, but it's a small sacrifice of quality that's worthwhile in the name of safety. On freeways, I consider a windshield photo to be good enough. If you aim to make a shield gallery or collage or cropped route marker photos, you can almost always find route markers for the freeway on crossroads accessed by the freeways' interchanges. (Plus, I prefer 24"×24" route markers, and the only ones you'll find on freeways are 36"×36".)
Do not open your door to get out of your car if any traffic is approaching you. People fail to consider this when their car is parallel parked, time and time again.
Do not stand in live lanes of traffic when taking a photo. If you have to stand on the pavement comprising a live lane of traffic, consider photographing a different route marker nearby. Some signposts will be twisted so the panels face toward the pavement instead of the direction parallel to the direction of traffic; consider finding another nearby sign to photograph, where you don't have to stand on the traveled lane to take a good photo.
The need for safety should always be prioritized above photo quality. When choosing which route sign to photograph, an opportunity for a nicer photo is not nearly as valuable as an opportunity to get your photo from a safer vantage point.
Look both ways before crossing the street, and always be listening for approaching traffic. Move patiently and cautiously; take the time to tune into your senses as you move about roadways as a pedestrian.
Don't get so lost in studying your camera's viewfinder or taking your photos, that you take your mind off of the potentially dangerous traffic moving around you. Always make sure you're in a safe zone, and always pay at least partial attention to the traffic situation around you.
If you're parking your car on the shoulder of a rural road, always have at least one row of tires on a gravel, asphalt, or concrete surface that will provide adequate traction. Don't get stuck in mud! Avoid parking on earthy shoulders after a recent bout of rainfall or snow melt.
Try to avoid photographing sign assemblies positioned around tight curves or hillcrests, where other vehicle operators will not be able to see you from a significant distance. Try to avoid positioning yourself or your vehicle in a place where other people won't be able to anticipate your presence until the last second. (This is essential advice for flaggers bookending construction sites, as well.)
Be aware of private property. Parking in someone's private driveway is not advised. Public right-of-way can be identified in many cases as all land between the sidewalk and the street, or all land between the power poles and the edge of pavement. You don't want to trespass on private property and have some random person threatening you for encroaching on their land.
Self-care is, in many ways, very helpful for keeping your mind straight, so you can make responsible decisions when driving and Routesnapping. Click here to see my page on how to plan your road trips in a way that prevents hunger, sleeplessness, and the irritating urge to use the bathroom-- all distractions that deter your ability to make safe decisions.
Planning Your Routesnapping Journeys
Routesnapping offers a unique type of objective; instead of finding your way to points, you plan routes to find a way to cross the lines carved out by different highways. Shorter highways serve more as points or anchors along your route that can't be altered very much. Longer highways are easier to cross, and offer more options of locations where you can snap your photo. I will often use Google Streetview to scope out a safe place to park my car, as I get out to take my photos.
How to Photograph Pleasing Images of Route Markers
How do you take the best routesnapping photos? It depends on what you want out of your photos. If you want to make a shield gallery like this, zooming into the route sign and aligning the top of your viewfinder to the top edge of the sign is the best way that I've discovered. Then, in post-production, you can crop the image until you just see the route marker. Often, signposts will be leaning. In situations with a leaning signpost, I will lean the camera and stick to the rule of aligning the top of the viewfinder with the top of the route marker. This will make it easier to crop the shield excerpt later on. Another issue with photographing sign assemblies is that the sign assemblies are almost always taller than your human body. This means you'll be photographing the route marker from below, and your square route markers will thus appear as a trapezoidal shape in your image. To counteract this distortion, hold the camera as high in the air as possible, and stand farther back from the signpost. Standing farther back and using zoom will help with the angle of your shot, but it will also reduce the resolution in your photo. Find the correct balance that suits your priorities for resolution versus trapezoidal distortion; the taller the sign, the farther back you will need to stand. Trying to find route markers lower to the ground is ideal.
If you want to show the entire sign assembly on its signpost, the rule of thirds can be employed to create a nice scene photo. Specifically, align your signpost to occupy the center of the rightmost third of the frame, allowing the roadway to occupy the remainder of the frame (the signpost will occupy the center of the leftmost third in countries that drive on the left side of the road). Or, you can center the signpost in the photo, if you think that looks more favorable.
This brings me to the next concern in Routesnapping photos: lighting. Since route markers are erected outdoors, your primary light source is the Sun. The goal is to take photos of route markers with the Sun at your back; in other words, the route markers will be facing the Sun. In the northern hemisphere, where I live, the Sun always lies somewhat to the south; in the southern hemisphere, the sun lies somewhat to the north. This previous sentence is especially true in fall and in winter. Lots of signs for northbound traffic exist in my sign collection, because the lighting is most favorable for signs that face south (again, in the northern hemisphere). Signs facing east (for westbound traffic) are best photographed before noon, and signs facing west (for eastbound traffic) are best photographed after noon. Remember also that signs are made with a reflective sheeting, which can create glare from the sun.
But what if the sun isn't visible in the sky? Overcast skies reduce the amount of light overall, but they can be the great equalizer in evening out the lighting that hits signs facing north, south, west, east, or any other direction. Signs that face any direction become fair game, but you may want to switch to a low-light setting on your camera or increase your camera's ISO. The striped high-prismatic sheeting used on signs by many DOT's can become noticeable and even distracting in photos with more intense solar lighting, so it can actually be desirable to take photos under cloudy skies. It all depends on what you personally want out of the photos going into your collection.
Where Do I Keep My Photos?
Since we live in the age of digital imaging, it seems likely that most Routesnappers will keep their photo album on a hard drive. My computer has different folders for the various collections I have started, and they look like the shield galleries on this website! If you want your photo album to be viewed publicly, you don't have to make a whole complicated obnoxious website about your photos like I did; all you need to do is open an account on some cloud-based website like Flickr, Google Photos, or Photobucket if you're old-school. I personally use Flickr because I like their system of managing albums, their ability to provide code for sharing your photos on other sites, their built-in photo editor, and their ability to sort photos alphabetically by title. Using a site like Flickr, Google Photos, or Photobucket, allows a cloud-based destination for your photos so you can share them in other places. With a place to store your digital photos as your starting point, you can do whatever what you want with your photos! Print them out into a real-life photo album! Put a collage of the cropped images on your wall! Do whatever you want! In the future, I hope to make a website for Routesnapping specifically, where users can submit links to their collections of route photos. I wouldn't be sharing this if I wanted to be the only one doing it! Try Routesnapping as a hobby and join me! But if you get involved with Routesnapping, above all, remember to BE SAFE!