Location Photography: How to Comprehensively Capture a City, Village or Street
Photographing a location can be an extremely valuable exercise. It poses a large variety of challenges, working with both landscapes, portraits, large scale and small scale work consisting of subject matter that you may have never seen before in weather conditions that you can’t adjust! The outcome, however, is a strong collection of images that can prove extremely insightful.
Picking a Destination
First up, you need to select a location, anywhere, large or small, it’s up to you. Once you’ve decided, have a think about what it is that defines that place, what makes it different to any other place.
What was it about that place that made you choose it? Think about the places which you’d take your friends and family to visit to show off the best of your town. Maybe make a note of some of it’s defining features and characteristics.
Make a Target List
Before you even think about getting your camera out, it’s important to plan out what you want to achieve on your shoot. Make a list of potential subject matter that you feel is important to capture.
You may even want to map out a route to ensure you find your way quickly and easily between the targeted points. It may well be the case that you have a lot of ground to cover on the day, so being organised and efficient will give you the best chance of getting the shots you want.
Think concretely or abstractly. Maybe you want to capture the ice cream shop on the corner. Or maybe you want to capture "the youth" or the area.
Think about the major landmarks within the area. Even if it’s a relatively small place there will still be certain important buildings and features that need to be covered. It tends to be particularly old and new buildings that demand attention here.
We're surrounded with cathedrals, churches and castles as well as the modern architecture of office blocks and public buildings such as libraries and court houses. Statues and monuments are also important to include as they portray the history and significance of the area.
It’s always a nice idea to try and get some larger scale shots of the area so you can try and encapsulate the location in a single image. Do some research and find out if there’s a viewpoint where you might be able to get a good view for a landscape or panorama shot.
For some locations this just won’t be possible, so maybe try try focusing on a smaller series of landscape shots that work together to capture some of the main features of the location.
As well as capturing the area on a large scale, it’s important to capture some of the smaller details as well. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to plan visiting these, so it’s a case of keeping your eyes out whilst you explore.
Engravings and plaques are worth trying to capture, as well as local signage that will help give your photo essay an identity. There’s no telling what you might find, but don’t be afraid to capture smaller objects without having to put them into context. It’s important to remember that the image will appear as part of a larger collection of images that will place it.
A place isn’t complete without it’s residents. They are the life of the place and so it’s essential that you remember to include them in your photo essay. Consider whether you want to photograph people in context, so at work or at home, or whether you want them out of context, in a portraiture style. It’s also worth working out whether you want them posed or would prefer to capture them going about their day in a more reportage style.
It can be daunting to approach people and ask if they’d mind having their photo taken, but it can be a rewarding experience. By simply explaining who you are and what you’re doing, most people will say yes and they may even be able to offer you some advice on some good vantage points.
Take Your Time
It’s crucial that you don’t rush around, snapping away worrying that you’re going to run out of time to capture everything on your list. It’s no good getting home with hundreds of quick snapshots, it’s much better to have far fewer quality images.
Take your time, especially in locations that you feel you know quite well, where the tendency can be to presume that familiarity results in good images. Allow yourself time and space to soak up the atmosphere of a place and consider how you might best capture each individual shot.
Mix It Up
When you’re out shooting, ensure that you consider a variety of angles and viewpoints for your shots. It’s important that you avoid shooting everything from eye level, otherwise you’ll end up with a series of shots that all appear roughly the same!
Consider compositional techniques such as the rule of thirds and the use of the foreground in landscape shots to ensure that each of your shots has it’s own character and engages the viewer with the focal points of the image.
Using Your Images
Once you’ve post-processed your images, you should have a significant collection documenting your location. This is a valuable resource that can be exploited in many different ways that will not only earn you recognition as a photographer but may even earn you some pennies along the way.
Local authorities, newspapers, local online press, advertising agencies and stock photography agencies are all on the look out for quality photographic location content to accompany articles and news pieces. Gather together the relevant contact details and get in touch with each agency asking if they’d like to see the images, many will decline, but you might get lucky!
Now It’s Your Turn!
Hopefully these tips give you a fairly strong guideline of how to go about photographing a specific location. It’s probably a good idea to start with somewhere that you already know, maybe your home town or where you work.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to start looking further a field and try exploring somewhere you don’t know as well. I always find this adds a fresh perspective to my work as I genuinely don’t know what’s around the next corner, which ensures you keep your eyes out for all those great photographic opportunities.