The World from the Backyard






I think all photographers dream about the big adventure – travelling to some remote place at the end of the world where we will capture the best ever photos, make the ultimate photo essay and just be totally immersed in an experience so deep and profound both photographically and spiritually speaking. I certainly have – and I have also been blessed and lucky in that I have been able to travel to and photograph many electrifying places.

But more and more I have come to realise that the best pictures aren’t necessarily found at the end of the world. They are found in your own backyard. Figuratively – and for me also literarily – speaking. When we travel to those far-off and, yes, exciting places it’s just too easy to be captured by the exotic and different in this world we meet around every corner. Our pictures never become more than superficial and shallow clichés. While on the home ground you know the deeper relationships, the profound human aspects and your own connections to what you photograph.

I can’t let go of thinking about Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. In this clever fable, a young shepherd sets out on a dangerous mission to seek a treasure, only to discover that it was hidden in his own backyard. This is a universal wisdom portrayed in many books, religious and traditions, but it is one that we often dismiss. Instead of exploring backyards, we become young shepherds, going off on a mission.

The fullness of experience and the richness of treasures are only discovered when we realize they are within. Creativity and vision are available to all who are willing to listen to the wise words of Lao Tzu: «Be still and let the mud settle.»

For me it means to sit down in my backyard. Be still. Listen. Take in the full world that is in everything. At home. Right now. Where I am. It’s just too easy to run around aimlessly and frenetically, searching for images. Particularly when we are on this big adventure of our life time. We can’t risk not getting the picture. And end up missing them all. I truly believe if you can’t take great image in your own places, you won’t get them travelling to the end of the world.

By this I don’t mean to say that there is anything wrong with travelling. I for one certainly will continue to enjoy travelling to new places, learn about new cultures, get to know new friends, meet other aspects of human lives and thus broaden my horizon. I just want to point out that the profound and engaging pictures that touch others might be found closer to home. We certainly don’t have to travel to the end of the world. As I have already mentioned I use my backyard to let go of everything else, take pictures without any pretentious motives, just find myself and sink into a deep almost spiritual experience. Like I did the other day. Nothing ground breaking, but just a lovely free time with myself and my senses wide open.

I have in previous posts talked about my backyard: Instagram my Backyard, Out of Comfort Zone and Challenge and Expand.


138 thoughts on “The World from the Backyard

  1. I love the alchemist! how poetic that the treasure have always been literally under his feet(where he has been sleeping all along)
    but i wonder if he will know it if he didnt ventured out and open his eyes to whats out there and what he have all along..dont you?

    1. I think that is a good point. It’s been said about travelling we go travelling so that we can better understand and appreciate what we have at home. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Dalia!

  2. My photography here on WordPress began by doing the 365 challenge; About 90% of those photos were taken in my backyard and in my immediate neighborhood; It changed the way I look at things, it changed how I “see”. I now have an upcoming trip where I know I will find beauty there as well. I plan to take the first couple of days to “Be still, and let the mud settle”.
    Your photos are lovely; the second one looks almost like the leaves disappear into that fence, as in the fourth photo also.

  3. Well, I can’t necessarily photograph my own ‘backyard’ as I haven’t got one, but I am forced to photograph my immediate neighbourhood all the time, every week and every month.

    I still can’t help dreaming of overseas travel and remote destinations though – I experienced it in my early twenties travelling in Asia, the UK & Europe. Now I dream of travel to the Himalayas, Alaska, Sweden, Finland, Denmark & Norway etc. Patagonia would be interesting too. This time around I’d have my DSLR and a couple of lenses over my shoulder. But first, I’d like my health & fitness back.

    1. I think it’s great to have dreams about travels, but in the meantime it’s good not to overlook the fact that photographically you can get just as interesting if not more so, pictures in your immediate neighbourhood. So I think your attitude is great. And may you soon get your health and fitness back. All the best, Victoria!

  4. Io ho viaggiato pochissimo e le mie foto sono tutte fatte nei dintorni di casa mia. Le tue parole mi rincuorano e le tue foto sono bellissime 🙂
    Ciao, buona giornata

  5. It obviously works for you, that backyard of yours! A riveting sequence of photos, Otto, with the mood changing delightfully as we amble through them. 🙂

  6. Beautiful post Otto…first, love The Alchemist 🙂 and you are correct, there are treasures all around. Second, wonderful photos as aways with the second and third photos capturing the scene perfect for me: the colors and contrast.

  7. What a great post. I love the way you have linked staying home and getting in touch with our immediate surroundings with The Alchemist and the teachings of Lao Tzu.
    I completely agree with you about photography. So many of the shots I took last year while I was travelling are just tourist snaps.

  8. “But more and more I have come to realise that the best pictures aren’t necessarily found at the end of the world. They are found in your own backyard. Figuratively – and for me also literarily – speaking. When we travel to those far-off and, yes, exciting places it’s just too easy to be captured by the exotic and different in this world we meet around every corner. Our pictures never become more than superficial and shallow clichés. While on the home ground you know the deeper relationships, the profound human aspects and your own connections to what you photograph.” Beautifully written. Beautiful photography. These photos totally capture the essence of fall. Fantastic post. Keep writing please!

  9. Another wonderful post and I can only second your words. Something that I’m always trying to do and to show in my blog is that you can find interesting and beautiful things everywhere around you, all you need to do is keeping your eyes open. I often grab my camera and stroll through the streets of the city, not knowing what I might find. Sometimes I have an idea what I would like to capture but most of the time I just let it happen. And even when I don’t have a camera with me, I still see those little things at the side of the road. I didn’t travel much lately but the last times I did, I tried to show some of the little, beautiful things that give those places their character rather than taking pictures of obvious and well-known attractions that can be found on many other websites and in travel guide. A bit like showing the otherwise unseen and turning the ordinary into something special. I love that.

    I really like how you describe your little journey to the backyard, the opening of all senses, the letting go. And I see that you played with your findings and created double exposures. Very nice.

  10. Just like the story line behind the Wizard of Oz, there’s no place like home. Your timing for this post is perfect yesterday I spoke with an aunt that I’d sent some of my prints to, she was smitten by the views from my gardens more than the exotic locales.

  11. Dar Otto.
    I totally agree, one can find remote worlds of structures in one`s backyard as you show in your pictures. It`s the mind producing those structures the surrounding doesn`t matter that much. But, of course, that`s not right neither. The landscape – as every object – has to be the photographer`s muse.
    Have a great week

  12. I couldn’t agree more. My best/favourite photos come from my walks close to home.
    I love the brilliant leaf colours in these pics.

  13. The intro got me, Otto! 🙂 Yes, I think this is definitely my dream, what keeps my going. I should let go of it. Still, I admit, I envy you! 🙂
    You are so right, we are all much better at presenting our own backyards and all the the things we see every day and are familiar with. To draw, paint or make a personalized photo of an object is all a matter of seeing. And to look closer is always a lot more than just watching.
    Warm greetings from North Norfolk

  14. I love The Alchemist, and truly it never ceases to amaze me at just what I can find in my very own daily surroundings. I just have to be mindful enough to see. On some days it is much easier than others! 🙂

    As always, a wonderful post, Otto, and I thank you.

  15. Lovely to read! The travel is within yourself I guess. But being out of own “normal” context helps looking in a different way, whenever and wherever you come back. When I see pictures above I think of cocooning and it does start now…I hope you wil have a lot of reflections to share 😉

  16. Love those pictures of your and they represent this essay very well. I have also been wondering why I do not have much inspiration when seeing things or places around home but have tremendous views of the similar things found elsewhere. I think that perhaps relating to human nature.

    1. The human nature of not being aware in familiar circumstances, I believe. That’s simply one way we as human beings are able to deal with the constant stream of impressions – forgetting and ignoring those that we have already accustomed us with. Thanks for your input!

  17. I really have to agree. Sometimes when I travel, I am so overwhelmed by all the different sights and sounds that I am not myself when I am out taking photos. But when I am on my home turf, it’s easier for me to be creative. Maybe because I am more comfortable? Either way, it definitely does relate to the relationship we have to things that are close to us and familiar.

  18. I don’t travel very far or often, but wherever I go I do seem to see things that interest me and catch my eye. Your words are encouraging. I particularly love that last photo with the gate edge and the beautiful leaves. The color and contrast is very special. “The Alchemist” is a wonderful fable. So nice to have it as a reference. 🙂

  19. Well I guess I have covered my back yard and property pretty good as 90% of all my photos from 5 years of blogging have come from my own property. I don’t get out much or travel. Everyday I do go for walks and as the seasons change so do all my surrounding. Even around the house with gardens, flowers and plants it is forever changing. My husband always says in the summer just sit a relax. Well it doesn’t take long before I an up to get my camera as something I see I have a vison of a photo of. Love the captures of color you found in your backyard.

  20. Very true, Otto. Photographing close to home, when home is a place lived in for over 30 years, can on one level feel an emotional impossibility. Everything has been seen and shot. But as our Eye develops it becomes a challenge to take up, but also it becomes easy. That may sound paradoxical, but if you just let the unconscious take over ( and here I’m quoting your own thoughts back to you from an earlier post) then the images do flow. Well written, Otto, and thanks.

    1. You are right in that our home ground may at times feel a bit “boring”, but if we let ourselves sink into it, there are always many more possibilities than we might have thought in the first place. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Andy!

  21. Nydelige bilder, med de herligste høstfarger!
    Jeg begynte å fotografere for fem år siden, da jeg flyttet til Kina. Som du har sett, er det stort sett mennesker jeg fotograferer. Nå flytter jeg hjem… blir ikke helt det samme å vandre gatelangs på Gjøvik å ta bilder av folk jeg møter : )) MEN jeg har også en “backyard” : )

    Takk – dette var skrevet til meg! ; )

    1. Vi har alle en “backyard” et eller annet sted. Det blir sikkert en stor overgang fra Kina tilbake til Norge. Men Gjøvik er nok bare spennende på en annen måte, og jeg regner med at du kan ta like mange interessante portretter der. Takk for at du deler dine tanker, Anita!

  22. I especially like the third photo, but maybe because it looks like a place I know well? That’s the thing about home photos — we know those places better than anyone else, and that intimacy can speak to the viewer. Another great post!

  23. Hear Hear for “I truly believe if you can’t take great image in your own places, you won’t get them travelling to the end of the world.”. The same thing for finding peace in your life. Everything you want or need, you will find at home (and in your heart). Thank you so much for this really great and inspirational blogpost. I totally agree with you! (and love the photos 😉 )

  24. Your comments and images have made me realize (even more) how fortunate I am to have found you in the vast world of cyberspace. This post more than any of your past ones makes me feel connected to you philosophically. I am grateful that we float on our individual journeys in a shared community.

  25. Så sant, så sant. Man skal ikke glemme de nære ting. Min personlige variant er å “leke turist” i min egen by. Later man som det er Paris, London eller hvor det måtte være, kan man finne mange fine ting man ellers ikke ser.

  26. Thanks for your excellent post. I totally agree.

    I heard a story similar to “The Alchemist.” It was about a poor farmer in Africa who wanted to go off in search of diamonds. He left his farm, tried mining and other prospecting for many years, and died impoverished.

    Some years later, a visitor came to the small property the man who gave up farming for prospecting had left behind. The farmer’s widow had kept the farm. The visitor knew what diamonds looked like before they were altered.. diamonds in the rough. The visitor looked at the creek bed that went through the property, and other parts of the farm. He was astounded to find rough diamonds everywhere.

    The farmer would have become incredibly wealthy and realized his dreams if he’d only been able to recognize what un- altered diamonds looked like. But he didn’t, and died poor and miserable.

    The person telling the story, a motivational speaker, said we all have acres of diamonds. We need to be able to recognize the diamonds we possess, the diamonds we have around us and within ourselves. So many die without knowing. So many search for what they already have.

    How do we recognize the diamonds in ourselves that we possess? I don’t know. That can be difficult. I still have trouble with this. Sometimes we can educate ourselves. Sometimes we can talk with others.

    But, we can also just.. slow down.. look around. That Lao Tzu quote from your post, “Be still and let the mud settle,” is perfect. Just what I needed to read today.

    Lastly, I too enjoy taking pictures in my backyard, and roaming the town where I live. I can’t afford to travel, but I don’t need to travel far to find thousands of interesting things to take pictures of.

    Beauty is where we find it. We just have to look.

    Thanks again for your post.

    1. What an amazing and heartbreaking story from Africa. Such devastating insight, and, yes, and many ways the same philosophical message as “The Alchemist”. And you are so right, we have all the diamonds in ourselves and one way to be aware of it, is to start looking at your life and be happy with what you got instead of dreaming of diamonds in all other places. Stillness and awareness go together and lead to deeper insight. Thank you for sharing the story and your insights, Tom!

  27. You’re so interesting and you write beautifully Otto. I love your pictures, my favourite is the second one. Sometimes, when you’re facing difficult times, it’s as if you can’t see anymore. I’ll try to do that, just sit still and listen, like you did… 🙂

  28. I happened across the Swedish term ‘Hemmablind’ a few years back, which means literally home blindness. The idea that it’s difficult to appreciate the beauty in your immediate surroundings. I’ve been meaning to start photographing with this in mind for a while but haven’t got around to it!

  29. Without my camera, as if I can’t see, or in another saying, without a camera as if everything will be lost… Something between them I feel… And maybe it is strange but I don’t think photography at that moment, just I want to catch the moment… I agree with you dear Otto, when I read you, I remember one of my unforgettable books, “Voyage Around My Room” by Xavier De Maistre, 1790… Thank you, have a nice day, love, nia

  30. Lovely photographs Otto-the colors are so rich. And I could not agree with you more-there are amazing treasures to be found close to home. I think the majority of images I taken are often within a one to two block radius of where I live. Thank you so much for your posts! I always learn something-

  31. Så sant och ett ämne som jag ständigt tar upp och diskuterar. Ett slitet gammalt uttryck (svenskt) är: gräv där du står och dina ord kan inte illustreras bättre än så:)
    Själv hittar jag ständigt motiv i min närhet och dessutom finns ju tiden att utforska dessa lite närmare och på så sätt hitta nya uttryck och nya spännande vinklar.
    När man är ute och reser blir man lätt vykortsfotograf…ja, till och med jag som är “allergisk” mot den typen av bilder faller ibland, eller ofta för frestelsen att fånga det “vackra” på det sätt som det ser ut och inte på “mitt” sätt. Men, som sagt, de bilderna kan ju också ha ett värde…för familjen:)
    Bra att du tar upp detta ständigt aktuella ämne och hoppas att du öppnar många ögon…och slutare…för närmiljön, vare sig det gäller djur, växter, arkitektur eller abstrakta experiment.

    1. Jeg liker det svenske uttrykket å grave der du står. Og ja, det er så alt for lett å ta vakre postkortbilder (som vi sier på norsk) når en reiser til nye og dermed spennende steder. Samtidig tror jeg det å komme seg vekk fra sine vante omgivelser også er bra i den forstand at du ikke planter deg alt for godt fast i dine vante omgivelser og blir rigid og lukket. Takk for oppmuntringene, Gertie.

  32. I totally agree with you! Most of my photos are taken in my little Hollow, but they can all be so different, depending on the weather, the time of day, the light, the season, my mood…

  33. I invariably enjoy your thoughts – they encourage me to reflect. I always admire your photographic expertise, often showing the human condition in a variety of circumstances. But I particularly like the lyrical nature of today’s selection – picture making as well as picture taking with a light palette. And achieved with resources in your own backyard, illustrating your point powerfully.

  34. Really enjoyed the photographs. Then I read your text and identified completely with what you said. My dad was a great photographer. His family knew it, and his customers knew it, but the rest of the world didn’t. For a lifetime, he photographed the county he lived in. Occasionally he made short trips, but mostly he stayed close to home. And whether he was shooting in his backyard or at the farm down the road, it was all a grand adventure and he never tired of it. And best of all, he never failed to return with remarkable images, because he saw what others didn’t see. Thanks again for sharing.

  35. Fortune has always been in my favour when it comes to my surroundings. Seeing the beauty in the things I see every day. I’m not sure who taught me that. It may have been my Mom when I was just a little girl or it may have been that I grew up with one of the most magnificent views in my back yard (so to speak), Niagara Falls. It never lost its magic to me. I always see the wonder in it and the thing around me. For this I am blessed.

  36. I am probably the least travelled person,(one who has the ability and who has the means to travel.)
    Everyone I have ever met or discussed the subject of travel with, is a traveller. I have no yearning for travel, I actually like my own patch, and doubt I will ever get bored or not find something interesting there. I have travelled to different parts of Australia, across the outback and up the east coast to Queensland. I grew up in regional Australia, and lived in one of the best cities on earth, Melbourne for over 25 years, before returning to my hometown. I love both the country and the city equally. The majority of my photos are taken inside my patch, and my own backyard. I encourage the wildlife into my world, and I photograph them there.

    1. How wonderful that you have found your own world in your near surroundings. I like travelling, but sometimes I feel like it something you «have to» do. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Elizabeth!

  37. “It’s just too easy to run around aimlessly and frenetically, searching for images.” That’s a very pointed and accurate statement, Otto. We do get caught up in the “I-just-must-get-a-photo” thought-process. I think it happens because we do enjoy our photography, but it misleads us and we run the danger of not seeing because we are always seeking. Does that make sense? So, yes, I do agree with you. I really do like your backyard photos. They have something extra because they are part of your world. Nicely done and very enjoyable.

    1. Yes, what you say does make sense. When we consciously seek out something to photograph, we miss out the connection and the process to connect with the subject and thus don’t see any more. Thank you for the nice words, too, Phil!

  38. The alchemist is a very powerful book – I remember reading it two years ago and it having a lasting impression on me. I love the overexposing you have going on when photographing your leaves against the window!

  39. beautiful autumn colors in your backyard – i love the way you presented it with the white frames. my vision so loves the beauty. 🙂 thanks for another great message. i think about that often, how much discovery waiting right at home and immediate surroundings. personally i take a lot for granted. often need this kind of reminders – have a wonderful first week in December. ☺

  40. Håller med fullt och fast. Njuter verkligen av att göra mina fotorundor i närmiljön. Även om jag gått el cyklat samma rundor rätt många gånger nu så känns de alltid både hemtamt och nytt. Gott om tid till att vara för sig själv och bara se och utforska genom linsen är absolut mina bästa stunder. Tycker ofta att jag behöver återkomma och testa samma motiv mer än en gång.
    Dina bilder från din närmiljö ar underbart vackra och nr 1 och 2 blir mina favoriter.
    Tack för fin kommentar igen!!!
    Allt gott och nu ska jag fotsätta att läsa ditt senaste inlägg.

    1. Det å komme tilbake til det samme motivet gang etter gang, er noe som virkelig åpner øynene på en fotograf, ikke sant? Det er blant annet derfor at jeg liker å jobbe med en dokumentar over lengre tid. Det gir deg mulighet til å gå i dybden og unngå det overflatiske. Takk for at du tok deg tid til å kommentere, Monica.

  41. Great thoughts, Otto. I love getting to know the ever-changing landscape close to me and it often surprises me what is there to be found. It’s an interesting world everywhere.
    I like the texture an colour of your photographs. You must be getting snow soon?

  42. This really speaks to me. I love to travel but don’t have much opportunity to do so. Most of my photos are taken in my own “backyard” – whether that’s outside the back door, around my small town, or even inside the house. It’s fun to explore with no expectations, just to see what catches my eye or what new inspiration might strike as I work over a very familiar subject. Your backyard leaves and fence are a great example.

    1. The way you photograph your «backyard» in any way has always been fun to follow. So you are another good example that it isn’t necessary to travel far to capture interesting pictures. Thank you for the comment.

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