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Fresh Eyes Every Day: The Challenges and Rewards of Photographing Close to Home

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This post is part of a series called Where Do You Stand?.
How a Single Step Can Transform a Photograph
Stuck Indoors? You Can Still Make Great Photos When You Have to Stay Home
You do not need to travel far to find interesting subjects Adventure starts close to home when it comes to photography
You do not need to travel far to find interesting subjects. Adventure starts close to home, when it comes to photography

Photography is, for many people, intrinsically associated with travelling. We love to take photos on trips, and sometimes we take trips just to take photos! Even more,  sometimes we get to thinking, because of the intensity of our travelling experiences, because we are in love with the newness of an exotic image, or even just because we like to brag, that the best photographs are those taken farthest away from home. The truth is that if exotic places are those far away from home, then exotic places are everywhere: everyone's home is far away from somewhere. You don't need to travel far to find the magic and mystery of the world: there is always something interesting to photograph where you live, you just have to find it.

Photographing close to home has a lot of advantages, and you'll be surprised what you find when you devote some time to it. Finding a new way to see and explore your surroundings can be a profoundly enjoyable, enriching, and fruitful way to practice photography.

For example, in article published here at Tuts+ two years ago, Exotic Places Right at Your Doorstep , a reader commented to say that “with a 4 month old at home, I've really lately had to discover the 'exotic' that exists very close to home. Surprisingly, some of my best stuff has come over the past few months, being 'grounded' at home.”

Although it may look like a difficult task, turning to really see the world around you is an experience that will take one’s photography to a new level, opening new doors of perception. This is true of my photographic passion, nature photography, and it is true of every other subject, from architecture, to street photography, to still life.

Although photography captures fleeting moments, many fleeting moments put together build a story. The best way to record a story is to be in it. This means that if you take on a posture of observation and engagement with the place you live, you’ll be totally immersed in the flow of its life and able to capture the many moments that combine tell the story of your unique place in the world.

Your first subjects of a photographing close to home project can sometimes be found right at home
Your first subjects of a photographing close to home project can, sometimes, be found right at home

Learning to See Your Neighbourhood Again

Some argue that the photographic opportunities are limited where they live, but that’s not true. Any place has its charms and interests, you only have to find where and what they are. Everyone struggles to get out of their own head, to cast off the daily concerns of work and family, bills to pay and laundry to wash, and engage with the world. Luckily, there are strategies to help.

See Through Borrowed Eyes

Sometimes, inviting your photographer friends for a visit is the best way to discover all the beauty that we’ve forgotten, simply because we see it every single day.

Learning to see with a little help from your friends is an easy way to accomplish this and something you should try. This kind of revelation happens a lot when you have visitors from abroad, for example: through their eyes you discover how exotic the village you live in can be. Suddenly, they are all over the place taking photographs that you never imagined were there. And the funny thing is that when you see their photos, you agree they’re great. Even a tad exotic, seen in someone else's camera LCD!

Nature offers you an endless safari and it can start right outside your door
Nature offers you an endless safari, and it can start right outside your door

Appreciate Everyday Nature

Learning to see things just outside your door in a new way is an important part of this process, and an effort that you’ll be glad you’ve decided to try. It is challenging to look at the garden down the road as a wildlife park it really is, but if you stay around for a couple of hours you’ll discover it is bursting with life. Not necessarily lions and tigers, but small creatures that will be equally challenging to photograph and rewarding to fully understand the world around you.

Should you completely forget a real safari in Africa or a trip elsewhere? No, not at all, but because we can not go on a safari or far away trip every weekend, the garden close to home will be a fantastic, both exciting and cheap, incursion into Nature.

Rejoice in Places of Play, Relaxation, and Prayer

Just like the local park is a meeting place for wildlife, humans have their own watering holes that make for great photographic observation. Local bars, sports clubs, community halls, or religious temples in your town can be the subject of a unique project. Any place where people come together to share each in each others' company and culture, even if at first it seems mundane, can be a good spot to visit with your camera. If you visit a place to photograph enough you will likely get known locally as "the photographer" and interesting characters will find their way to you.

Following daily life in a fishing community can be a long time project
Following daily life in a fishing community can be a long time project

Get Busy in Places of Action, Work, and Commerce

Look around, there are so many bustling places to photograph. Maybe you live in a place with a particular kind of industry, or a special community. We often take these things as the "givens" of living in a place, but they can be just as exciting and exotic to outsiders as they seem boring and normal to us. 

"photography is an art of observation"

Maybe you live in a fishing community, and can document how people work. Maybe you live near a street that has some special appeal, because of the shops or people there. As with visiting places where people relax, visiting places where people work - like public markets and even industrial areas - can turn up interesting realities that the regular person passing by just doesn't see.

Play With Light

Seeing things over again is an important part of the whole discovery process. Photographers play with light, and light, believe it or not, changes all the time. The light is always changing in the garden right outside your door. Did you ever notice that? Being familiar with things makes us forget that ever-changing aspect, so important to photography. The single bench down in the park will have a very different look, and convey a different mood, early in the middle of the day or late afternoon. In fact, a single bench could offer you multiple photographs.

A park bench can be a theme for a project but it is also a place to sit down and wait for photography to happen
A park bench can be a theme for a project, but it is also a place to sit down and wait for photography to happen

Sharing Your Vision With the Community

Sometimes photography is about making a series of images that expand our understanding of the world around us, and the technically perfect image is secondary. This kind of engaged photography is something that can easiest be done close to home, because you’re there all the time. Photographing in your community creates a deeper bond between you and the land, and at the same time involves a lot of people with your photography. Isn’t that one of the goals you want to achieve? To share your photographs, and through them the things you cherish the most, with others. Why not start at home?

As always, it's good practice to ask for permission to photograph. It's the polite thing to do, and it also gets you talking with your neighbours. As you photograph, think about ways to share your pictures with the community. There are so many ways to involve other people and share your vision, these days, and it can be as basic as a simple photo blog to collect your work about a particular place or subject. Sharing is another way to see your surrounding with new eyes: through the reaction of your neighbours to your photographs. Sharing pictures can give everybody a unique view of things they – and you – thought they already knew well.

Shop windows are like a door to another dimension especially at night
Shop windows are like a door to another dimension, especially at night

So, we have discovered some of the best things about photographing close to home:

  • your playgrounds are always easily accessible and at close range
  • less travel time and less money spent on travelling
  • you can see the same places more than once, under different light, and in new ways
  • sharing pictures with your community can be highly engaging and rewarding

Wait for the Photographs to Come to You

Photographing close to home takes time, will and discipline. Patience is in short supply these days: social networks pull us and the speed of life pushes us to be fast at everything. Take time, sit down and watch the world: you’ll discover hidden visions moving around you all the time. I sometimes sit down somewhere and wait for things to happen. It can be in the middle of nature or in a tourist spot packed with people. Wait for the photographs to come to you, as the world spins round.

Some time ago, while leading a photo tour, I sat comfortably on a stone bench under a tree and a photographer in another group, passing by, smiled and commented that it was a good idea to rest for a while. I was not resting, I was watching, camera ready for the flow of life moving right in front of me.

It is not necessarily easy to create good photographs, but practice and seeing the same places under different light will help. As photographer Eliott Erwitt says, “to me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

The challenges of photographing close to home are all centered on one issue: we tend to not pay attention to what is close to us. Learning to do otherwise may take some time, but there are some simple strategies that may help you to rediscover your own turf:

  • walk: good shoes are a much better tool for photographing than your car
  • try to not make the same paths all the time
  • stop and watch the world once in a while
  • try to find new angles
  • small changes can be important: this can be as simple as changing from the sidewalk you use everyday to the opposite side
  • look back: often we forget that what we just passed by can offer a different perspective, photographically speaking, simply from another point of view
  • walk when you walk, be aware of where your step, but do look around you, too

Go back to the same places at different hours of the day. Light is changing all the time, so scenes are never the same, and multiple photographs are waiting to be created. Multiply this by all the days of the year and the effect of the weather changes, and seasons from Spring to Winter, and you have enough material for many years of exciting photography.

Being able to go back to the same place at different times offers a wide variety of light situations to capture
Being able to go back to the same place at different times offers a wide variety of light situations to capture

Travel Less, Photograph More

One of the best things about photographing close to home is that you can do more photography. Not just each second weekend of the month, when you go out with friends or the camera club, but almost every day.

Create small and big projects around some of the places you go through and keep them rolling. It can be the view of the harbour at different days of the week and hours of the day, or a specific tree you pass by on your way to and from work. Photograph these for some time and then check the differences. Maybe you like to watch a new building being built close by? Photograph it every day. Do different images and angles but do a series from the same spot, and when the building is finished you’ll have something unique to show.

Even a small compact camera is enough for many of these projects, so there is no excuse to not carry a camera with you to work. Who knows, maybe at lunch time you can spend some time in a nearby garden, having a unique moment of contemplative photography.

I hope to have given you enough inspiring reasons to pick up your camera and brave the new world right outside your door. Open your eyes and see. Sometimes you do not even need to go out from home. Before closing, one more note from a famous photographer: Alfred Eisenstaedt, who said: “I enjoy travelling and recording far-away places and people with my camera. But I also find it wonderfully rewarding to see what I can discover outside my own window. You only need to study the scene with the eyes of a photographer.”

Keep Learning

I put these ideas to use in the tutorial Quick Tips: The Best Sunset Pictures Made From Home, and you can too!



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