1. Photo
  2. Theory

Exotic Places Right at Your Doorstep

Scroll to top
Read Time: 9 min

According to the travel brochures from travel agencies around the world, exotic places are those far away from home. So, exotic places are everywhere. Even your home is far away from somewhere! Find them and your photography will be better.

A circular-shaped rural chapel is an exotic destination, even for people living close to it.

Travel agencies in the West will tell you to go East to find exotic places to photograph. On the other hand, travel agencies in the East will tell their clients they will find all the exoticism they want when they follow the sunset. They're both right, and as a photographer you should know that.

Still, the idea that you need to travel far from home to find exotic places is not completely right. It is a way for travel agencies and travel magazines to make money, making people move around, and in some ways it is right, but forgets one absolute truth: what is exotic to you might be everyday life for me. In fact, exoticism is the charm of the unfamiliar, and in that context, travelling to a new area within your own country should provide plenty exoticness and on a budget.

Whether it is the people that have a different behavior than the one you're used to, or the buildings that are different, a monument you've never seen before or a stretch of road with a unique view, all can be exotic on your first trips away from home but within the borders of your own country.

That is what makes travelling so interesting, during your first years. But once you get to know your country better, the concept of exotism needs to be expanded, beyond what became normal to you.

A Treasure Close to Home

A coastal area connected with the myth of Atlantis Realm has more exoticism than you can see with your eyes. You need your imagination to fully experience it.

When you travel to India, a most sought destination, and take pictures of people on the streets, monuments, celebrations, you're attracted to the exotic colours, the faces, the uses, the whole culture. Likewise, when a tourist from Japan arrives in my country, they point their cameras at elements that for the inhabitants are just common.

So much, in fact, that sometimes people tend to laugh seeing the things that interest eastern photographers. As much, I think, as people in India will laugh when they see some of the themes western photographers pursue when visiting their country.

There's nothing wrong with traveling, and travel is in fact a way to get a better understanding of the world. But depending on the idea that you need to go to remote places to get your best photographs will stop you from seeing so much beauty that can be just outside your door. And for many people, that for various reasons may not be able to travel, it will keep them away from discovering a hidden treasure right in front of their eyes.

Modern day plastics and old time traditions do mix to make for exotic experiences, right outside your door.

In fact, exoticism may just be outside our door. Sometimes, glancing through a window at home you'll be facing it without being aware of its potential. You may pass across it on your daily commute to work. It is only because you see it every day that it is not exotic anymore.

To recover that missing link, we need to be children again, somehow, and remember how we felt the first time we saw many of the places that today we call home. Going to the church was an adventure itself, and glancing at the sun rays passing through the temple's stained glass windows was a whole afternoon pastime. A walk in the park was as exciting as a jungle adventure.

The Exotic is All Around You

Big drum players in dispute and a tourist posing with the carnival giants are photographs for an exotic gallery.

If we all, as photographers, strive to recover that magic, then we will find new projects close to home. I've had my share of traveling, from Japan to the United States of America or Africa and I surely enjoyed it, but I am equally happy when I choose to walk a path or drive through a road I do not use regularly and let myself be excited with the visions I gather there.

I've discovered that myself long ago, so I am always happy to find "exotic places" a few miles from home, or to return to some of my "exotic places" time, and time again. Just the change of seasons makes them so different in each new visit.

Popular and religious festivities are part of the western heritage that is always "exotic" to others, even for those in other western countries. These happen mainly during summer time, but you can find them throughout the year. They're a great opportunity in photographic terms.

Since early in the eighties, I photographed popular festivities, a period so long that I've seen some of them vanish, a sign of the modern times we live in. But there are still enough around to offer visitors and even locals a unique experience in terms of photography. One such example is the Romaria da Nossa Senhora da Agonia (Our Lady of Sorrows) held in Viana do Castelo in the Northern province of Minho around the end of August.

It shows an impressive parade of floats, displays of local crafts, carnival giants (gigantones), local music, nightly fireworks and lots of drinking. The series of images I have from this event have sold over and over, every year, showing that the subject is internationally interesting. It's exotic.

Magic, Charms and Photography

The circular shaped rural chapel from the XVI century is a must for photographers interested in odd buildings.

Portugal has a strong Catholic heritage that it always mingles with older pagan customs. And if in the big modern cities all that is lost, when you travel just outside Lisbon, for example, you'll find villages where the tradition is still held.

Farmers and rural people have integrated pagan customs and rites into their religious convictions. You discover that the popular culture is rich in a magic belief that includes saints, miracles, lucky charms, healing springs, shrines, offerings, magic, cults and superstition. That's exotic.

Such a place is São Mamede de Janas, a circular shaped rural chapel that from 15th to 17th August has festivities in honour of São Mamede, with a Procession that leads the cattle round the temple, in three ritual full circles, in order to tame them and protect them for the full year. Some of the images that illustrate this article are from this "exotic" event of the western world.

The colourful garments and gold jewellery at Senhora da Agonia procession offer photographers unique patterns and sights to explore.

I use these examples just to suggest that you will find something similar closer to your home. And if you take the time to search, I am sure you will find different festivities that will open a new window of exoticism into your photography.

In fact, if I search here in Portugal, I have festivities all year round, some of them close enough to home to go and photograph. And exotic does not have to mean festivities. A rural market, fishermen at work, a visit to a vineyard can be part of a unique exotic experience for many of us. So renew your look at your surroundings.

Travel to Megalithic Exoticism

The old standing stones coexist with a modern church, a religious sign that encompasses centuries of devotion.

Even monuments that you do not look at as a photographic theme can be a new experience for people visiting your area. Again, within a 50 mile radius of my home, I have so many options that the problem is to choose. And I do try to go a bit further, exploring on my own places that can be "exotic" enough for photographers looking for a different experience.

One such example is a trip to the megalithic sites in the area I live in. Portuguese signs of pre-historical times rank with those of France and Great Britain for quality, state of preservation, and mysteriousness. Some of the stone circles, especially in the area of Alentejo, are really large and can be impressive.

Smaller sites closer to where I live, in the Lisbon area, offer a unique experience, as some of them show the permanence of man through the ages with modern churches built not far from the megalithic sites. That's another exotic experience for some people.

Become a Guide to Exotic Places

Religious devotion in the East and West make for interesting images for photographers.

As a photographer you must not only be aware that exotic places are all around, but also be willing to share with others that secret. Either as an amateur or professionally. Especially if you're a photographer that has to make a living from this craft. Being alert to the exotic around you is important as a means to survive, even more these days.

Many photographers will lead photo tours to exotic places, but you don't always need to catch a plane to find an exotic destination. And being aware of those close to your home may become a way to get a better income. Imagine, just by knowing the places where you live.

A Catholic priest sprinkles holy water to bless animals at a Portuguese summer festivity.

Photographers are more and more interested into going off the beaten path. Giving them a means to discover that in your area might be a good surprise both for visitors and you.

Through the experience of taking them around places you know, you'll learn to see your own turf in a new way, from their point of view. That means that although you're being paid to show exotic places to people you're also learning through them more reasons to seduce people to come. It's like rolling a snowball down the hill. But this can only happen if you're open to discover the hidden jewels around your home.

So, remember that what for some is the same old boring life, for others is a fantastic sight of exoticism.

Did you find this post useful?
Want a weekly email summary?
Subscribe below and we’ll send you a weekly email summary of all new Photo tutorials. Never miss out on learning about the next big thing.
Looking for something to help kick start your next project?
Envato Market has a range of items for sale to help get you started.