This week I received a letter from a reader who asks a very poignant question. Olivia Polerowicz wants to know:
"I was wondering how to take good pictures in not so interesting places. The thing is, I live in a not particularly interesting place and so my photos kinda show it. I have a problem with trying to find the right subject and how to make it interesting. I have the right camera and everything. I was wondering if you could help?"
Sure, I'm happy to help!
You may have heard me say that a good photographer can find a good photo almost anywhere, and it's true. Once you find your photographer's eye, there's no such thing as "uninteresting."
But finding that eye can be challenging, and the problem is compounded when you are on your home turf. You've seen everything that surrounds you a bazillion times, and it all looks boring. Sometimes it isn't actually boring, but it looks that way to you because you are seeing it the way you've always seen it. It fails to intrigue you any more because it's all old hat, and most people don't see the point in photographing stuff that's old hat.
Oh, by the way, here's an old hat:
See? Even old hats can make for interesting photos.
So how can you take great photos in dull places? Well remember that dull is in the eye of the beholder. If you're someplace new and unexciting, you need to ask yourself there might be an unusual way to look at your surroundings. If you're on your home turf, you have to find a new way of seeing all those things you've seen a bazillion times.
Change the Way You Look at Things
Sometimes it's just about changing perspective. Literally. Let's say you have a wire fence in your back yard. A plain, boring wire fence. Have you ever tried to look at it through a macro lens? Are there plants growing around the fence posts? Is there rust in the joints? Are there insects living on or around it? And do you see any patterns in the way the fence has been constructed? All of these things provide potential for an interesting photograph.
Now switch from a macro lens to a basic zoom. Lie down on the ground next to the fence and look up. In what way does the sky contrast with the fence? If it's a cloudy day, the fence juxtaposed with the sky can give your photograph a sense of loneliness or desperation. What if there are a lot of birds in the sky? You'll get an image that gives your viewer a sense of escape or blossoming freedom. What if it's sunset? Your image might seem rural and homey.
When you get stuck, try photographing an object that formerly bored you from the ground up, with plenty of sky in the background, and then do it again during a different time of day or different weather conditions. You'll end up with an interesting series of photographs of an object you didn't used to think was at all interesting.
You can also try looking down on your fence. In fact, any time you feel challenged by what you think is an uninteresting scene, just try changing your perspective. Once you get out of that eye-level mode you'll be able to show your viewers your formerly boring scene from a whole new angle. And if ground-up or top-down still isn't working for you, you can use a wide angle or fish-eye lens to give your scene an unusual twist.
Experiment with Different Light
Sometimes boring doesn't have anything to do with the location itself, but with quality of the light at the time the photograph was taken. Even the Grand Canyon can look boring if you shoot it at the wrong time of the day. Conversely, you can make an uninteresting scene look interesting if you pay attention to the light, and if you choose only the best times of the day to shoot it. You've heard of course of the "magic hour" (if not from me, then certainly from someone else). The magic hour is that time right after sunup and right before sunset, when the light is softer and the shadows are longer. Try shooting those boring places during these times of the day and see if you can get interesting images.
Another thing that you can do is shoot photos at night - a tripod combined with a long exposure can return some really cool images even in your own back yard. You can get star trails, interesting shots of artificial lights or even that strangely-colored light pollution from a nearby city. You'd be amazed at how simple darkness can transform an otherwise boring scene.
Well, don't "stalk" them literally, but instead of focusing on place try focusing on the people who are in that place. People love to look at photos of other people, and a great candid shot of two people sitting on a park bench is always going to be infinitely more interesting than a photo of an empty park bench. You could try staking out the park for an afternoon and photographing all the different people who come to sit on that bench. What you'll end up with is a great series of photographs that says something about the diversity of people in your town, rather than the nature of the town itself.
Try Out Some Simple Special Effects
A slow shutter speed can look very cool if you have time to experiment. Let's say one of those dull places in your life is the local town center. Take your camera down there with a tripod and set it up at, say, at a table outside a coffee shop. Turn it to "bulb" setting, choose an aperture of at least f16 and the lowest ISO you can, then play around with the shutter speed and see what you get. Motion blur from cars, people, windblown trees or even clouds might turn that boring city square into something unique and interesting (Note: it helps if you do this in low light or if you use a neutral density filter).
Play Around in Post Processing
Photoshop can make even the dullest image look cool. You can try applying simple filters, you can desaturate, you can even cut and paste a movie star into the scene if you want to. There are a lot of things you can do after the fact to turn an ordinary photo into a piece of photographic art.
|If you'd like to learn more about post processing in Photoshop to create some spectacular 'trick photography', I recommend you take a look at Trick Photography & Special Effects by Evan Sharboneau|
But really it all comes back to that one simple thing: your photographer's eye. It's not the same as your "I live in a dull town" eye, and you need to remember that. When you're out with your camera, make sure that you talk yourself out of dismissing every rock, tree or fence post as "dull or uninteresting." Instead look at it from a perspective you wouldn't ordinarily use if you were out without your camera. If you can teach yourself to do this with each and every object you encounter, eventually you'll be able to find photographic beauty in almost everything.
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