Warning sign, France [Alamy image ref: AR6NRH]

I have a growing collection of signs and logos which are now under their own “Directions” pseudonym on Alamy… directions being an overall category for information on conditions, going somewhere, advice on something, advertising this, promoting that… signs that lead you to something else.Generally I photograph them – especially road signs – in sunlight with a bright blue sky as a backdrop… “bleu, blanc et rouge” being the French, British and American national flag colours and very eye-catching when combined.

The problem with ‘straight on’ shots, however, is that the background often doesn’t show the viewer what the sign indicated. To have shown a car upended in a ditch next to this ‘slippery road’ sign would have been an excellent picture opportunity… but is one very rarely seen. – perhaps because drivers really do take caution in these places!

In bright sun there’s another problem… flare! All modern road signs are highly reflective… and any sun striking them is likely to reflect into the camera. From a reasonable distance a long lens can cancel this effect whereas with a wide-angle the problem is exaggerated. I nearly always experience this when I automatically shoot an alternative worm’s-eye view with only the sky as a plain backdrop. These unnatural views are more dynamic and graphic, especially shot with a very wide-angle lens, but they can become isolated and ‘float’ in mid-air with less connection to their related hazard.

To reduce the background (receding perspective) in this shot I used a 12~24mm Nikkor wide-angle zoom set at around at 17mm… but it wasn’t that simple. With such ‘clean’ subjects – they look very good when pristine but most unattractive when dirty and splattered with mud – I spend an unhealthy amount of time cleaning them up… both at the scene with a damp baby-bum wipe I keep in a plastic bag; and later in Photoshop. For all that extra work, it was licensed to an educational textbook publisher in the Netherlands for a 5-year period.

BTW: I always admire the accuracy of French road distances (I measured it on my fixie-cycle and it is 2,1 kilometers exactly) but wonder how the car’s skid marks could possibly have touched as shown in the illustration. Perhaps the artist had been drinking rather too much for lunch!

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