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Captured with my iPhone 12 Mini, as I was trying to capture a sunset, and accidentally fell in love with this picture of a STOP sign!

Signs and Skies

It started with a STOP 🛑 sign.

In my usual attempts at capturing sunsets and colorful skies, I ended up capturing a STOP sign against the backdrop of a beautiful evening sky. That picture captured my imagination. For reasons I cannot entirely articulate that solitary STOP sign looked remarkable against the evening sky!

Since then I have started to capture traffic signs against the backdrops of skies of all kinds: blue, moonlit, inky and dim. I shot every picture in this photo-series with my iPhone 12 Mini, during my walks, grocery runs, and jogs.

Moonlit, starry skies…

… are my preferred backdrops for these pictures. The informational white street signs offer a particularly nice contrast against dark blue, moonlit skies.

Bright Blue skies …

… are awesome, yet boring. I am always a little giddy about California’s bright blue skies. And they certainly offer a spotless canvas for nearly any subject. But, when the subject is a traffic sign, it does start to border on ‘meh’.

Dusky Skies …

… offer their own charm, but also: challenges. I usually end up capturing these while I am out for my evening walks or runs. The fading sunlight makes it tricky when capturing these pictures, with the street lights yet to turn on. Without streetlights and bright sunshine, those few evening hours offer a challenge in capturing vivid colors and sharp contrasts.

Inky Black Skies …

… are my second favorite backdrops for traffic signs, right after moonlit skies. They offer sharp contrasts, especially when aided by street lights.

Something I have realized in the course of capturing these shots: most traffic signs are telling us what not to do: “do not drive over the speed limit”; “a lane is ending”; “stop”.

Only a handful of signs (like the ones directly above and below this passage) tell us what is allowed: “bicyclists are allowed,” or “pedestrians can cross”. Even such signs are a matter of perspective I suppose: for someone driving in a car, such signs are restrictions or warnings as well.

This photo-series has been an epiphany and it started accidentally.

Regardless of these pictures, traffic signs are important and omnipresent. For someone who works with visualizations, they present an under-appreciated and highly functional application of symbols and graphics. But I never had the opportunity or insight to consider them as a creative subject before I did this series.

They are diverse, which makes them interesting. They are colorful — in their own regimented fashion. They come in different shapes — which is already tickling the experimenter in me. They show up in the strangest of places. Their variety stems from human-driven peculiarities that often get lost in our over-engineered, lane-driven lives.

I can never look at traffic signs in the same way ever again.

If you liked my take on traffic signs, checkout my photo-series on moving traffic. Thanks for reading!




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Vijay Krishna Palepu

Vijay Krishna Palepu

researcher • software • program analysis . debugging • UCI • blogger • software visualizations • Microsoft • Views my own •

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