Everyone is familiar with urban photography, but very few know about its cousin, rural photography. I know what you’re thinking. Rural photography is about landscapes, right? So, to be a good rural photographer, you just need to be an experienced landscape photographer, right? Well, not exactly. As you’re about to find out, rural photography is in fact, a genre unto itself. I’ll show you why.
Rural photography has the same goals as urban photography. The only difference is the setting.
Urban photography is all about capturing the essence of daily life for those who live in our cities. That might mean taking a portrait of a man playing his saxophone in the street, but it could just as well mean taking a picture of the same street, now empty, at 6 in the morning. Whatever you find that brings daily rural life into perspective is worth photographing because it tells the story of the place you’re visiting.
As rural photographers, we’re always looking for those little details that make a place come alive. You might find those details in the people you photograph, the tools they use, the animals they surround themselves with, or something else entirely. The landscapes do play an important role in rural photography, but it’s more of a supporting role. Use them only to frame the story you want to tell. They shouldn’t be the story.
To get good rural photos, you need to immerse yourself in the lives of those who are there everyday. I know that’s a tall order, but it’s absolutely critical to the success of your images. Now I’m not saying you should barge onto someone’s farm and ask them to take photos or anything like that, but you do need to find some way to get people involved with your images. Maybe you have some relatives or friends who live in the country. Maybe there’s a farmers market you can visit. Take a tour of a winery, if there are any nearby, and take photos there.
Just like urban photography, people will start to trust you if you’re willing to show them the photos you’re taking. They simply want to know that you’re doing a good job, and you aren’t making them look bad. Once you've earned their trust, you can ask them if they wouldn’t mind you taking a portrait.
I think of good rural photography as large sweeping landscapes filled with characters who live there everyday. Show people at work. Show them at play. Show them doing what they know how to do best. You’re telling a story here, so it’s important to pay attention to the themes you see. Consider themes like isolation, kinship, bravado, hard work, the changing of the seasons, and so on.
Don’t forget about the animals and the little things
Farm animals play a huge role in daily rural life, so don’t forget about them. Remember to get on their level and photograph them up close and personal. You want to show your viewers what life is like from their perspective. If possible, get other people involved. Show them tending to the flock, just like they do every day.
And then there are all those other little things. Rusty old tools, when framed in the right way, can give your viewers a historical sense of the place you’re visiting. Many farms have been around for quite some time, so there’s bound to be at least a few old buildings on the verge of collapse. These are often very powerful subjects that provide for some interesting still life photography.
The more you can step into the shoes of daily rural life, the better your rural photography will turn out. Make friends when you visit a place. Truly learn about it. When people perceive you as someone who is more than the average tourist, they are much more willing to get involved with your photography. And nothing is more powerful than seeing their story being played out in real life.
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