Working Your Subject: Maximising the Pictorial Opportunities
Variety, it is said, is the spice of life. And it’s true. Can you remember every last detail of your regular journey to and from work this past week? I suspect you can’t. Unless of course something extraordinary happened. Such as being kidnapped by a passing UFO or spotting a herd of elephants casually roaming across the motorway.
It’s easy to be inspired photographically by travel, when new visual stimuli are in abundance.
Dull repetition is the…well, the opposite of spice. It’s the porridge of life. Now don’t get me wrong. I like porridge. On a cold winter’s morning it’s just the ticket. But porridge for every meal? No thank you. After a month or so of such a restrictive diet I’d be dreaming of Chicken Jalfrezi and would probably sell my own grandmother to get my hands on one.
Another cliché from the same school of thought would have you believe that familiarity breeds contempt. And again there is a certain ring of truth to this statement. Photographically it can be difficult to get motivated by subjects close to home. Been there. Done that. Seen it all before. Next. But visit another town or county or, for those with a larger travel budget, another country entirely, and suddenly there are lots of fresh subjects worth pointing a camera at.
This is one of the most photographed trees in my home county of Northumberland…
New stimuli excite the eye assisting the creative process. However, in a new location, it’s all too easy to become a photographic magpie, pulled to and fro by the wondrous variety of new, bright, shiny things in front of the lens. From personal experience, I know how easy it is to rattle through a memory card on the first morning of a trip, and then, sadder and wiser, realise that strict rationing needed to be enforced to avoid running out of space before the end of the day.
…However, it’s always possible to find new ways to photograph it.
So, lesson number one for today is to show some restraint in an unfamiliar location. Let the newness of a place work its magic creatively, but harness that creativity, slow down and direct it purposefully rather than blindly. A camera isn’t a machine gun despite the fact that you can shoot with both.
Lesson number two is slightly more subtle. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to visit a new location every time the urge to create a photograph takes hold (if you’re anything like me, you’ll get twitchy if you’ve not picked up a camera for a few days). So sometimes the familiar is all that there is to work with. The trick in this situation is to look harder. To see differently that which is seen frequently. To boldly go somewhere you’ve been before.
Even the simple act of looking down can provide inspiration for a photograph
It’s at this point that you’re probably thinking that it’s all very well to say ‘look harder’ but, well quite frankly, how do you do that?
My way of doing this is simple. I don’t take any photographs. Or at least not straight away. Instead, I’ll wander round my familiar location first. Perhaps I’ll then squat down. Sometimes even lie down. Then I will try to find a way of looking down at the location from a higher vantage point. Essentially, I will try to see the location from all angles and in doing so, introduce unfamiliarity to a familiar place. If I’m lucky (and it happens more often than you’d think), I’ll spot something I’ve not seen before and only then will I consider making a photograph.
Another Northumbrian scene, this is the Coquet Valley. It’s a place I return to often and still find inspiring.
Actually, now that I come to think about it, lesson number one and lesson number two have the same message, only they come at it from two different angles. In both lessons the moral seems to be look first, contemplate and then and only then create the photograph. Which is satisfyingly neat and tidy and still leaves me time to try and work out just where that missing hour went this afternoon and why my car seems to have what looks like trunk-marks on the windscreen.