Photograph Close to Home

Den frodige urskogen langs East Fork Foss River

I have just returned from a longer travel to Thailand. I have always enjoyed travelling. In many ways it was travelling that got my photography elevated to a higher level. It was when I travelled I discover the excitement of seeing with fresh eyes and capturing moments I thought I would never experience if I didn’t travel. Travel and photography got closely related to each other – still is.

As much as I love travelling and photographing while on the road, I have also come to appreciate photographing close to where I live, in my own town, my own mountains surrounding the town I live in, yes, my own backyard. Over the years I have learned that we don’t have to travel to distant countries, or to exotic place, to be able to capture great photos. I would even say to the contrary. However, it took me a long time to understand this.

There is a lure in the exotic. It seems so easy to capture different and exciting pictures when we travel, if nothing else because everything is new, we see different colours and different cultures; we get captivated by what is different from our usual lives. For many years I really believed that I couldn’t possibly dream of making beautiful or evocative imagery unless I travelled to exotic countries, that only those subjects in faraway places merited any attention.

But, truth be told, it’s not the case. It’s our backyard we know the best, and it’s in our backyard we are able to capture stronger and more personal photos if we only start to see our backyard again.

Despite my love for travel, I cannot do anything but make the opposite point: Making photographs of exotic places or people is the low hanging fruit in photography, the easy pick. While there is plenty of value in photographing the unusual, merely filling the frame with something exotic does not make it a good photograph, it makes it only a photograph of the exotic. It’s not really interesting of itself – not in the long run. I admit it’s easy to get blinded by the exotic when you travel to a foreign place. It’s exciting. It’s fun. However, if it doesn’t go beyond the exotic, it’s merely a depiction, and the result is not at all a personal and strong expression which in the end is what characterize a great photo.

It is really easy to look at one’s own backyard and dismiss it outright: not cool enough, not nice enough, not exotic enough. Of course, it’s not true. Just think about those visiting your city or your mountains or your landscape. They find it fascinating and for them it’s exotic. I am willing to bet that most of us have overlooked some attractions in our own cities, the very landmarks we would jump to visit had we been visiting the area.

In many ways, when photographing your backyard, you need to combine how you see the foreign with your knowledge of the familiar. If you want to communicate something more, if you want to bring something new to the table, and put your own thoughts, feelings, and personality into the image, then you need to photograph your subject matter as though you’ve seen it a thousand times and then suddenly see it in a new way. You know your backcountry, the place you live in, your backyard. Make this an advantage for your photographic approach. Hit the streets close to home, take a hike in the backcountry you know so well, with your camera – and try to see it with new eyes. Take you time, let the impression guide you to something that might become the best photos you have ever taken.

Younes Bounhard in his eBook A Sense of Place, writes: «It is up to us photographers to inject the fun and passion into our photography. It is our responsibility to see a place, not the responsibility of a place to be seen. It is up to us to look, to see, to engage and experience a place, whether at home or somewhere more exotic: the foundation for beautiful imagery is the same».

I have literally photographed my backyard over the years. Do you appreciate shooting what is close to your heart, too?


82 thoughts on “Photograph Close to Home

  1. For years it has been easier to photograph while travelling. So often I would get busy with and the routine of seeing get the same thing as I travel to and from work get groceries and attend to life that I get numb to the possibilities! I am working hard this year to change that, your work and your blog are perfect inspiration.

  2. I guess it depends on what back yard we have at the moment. Right now, this back yard is familiar, but always interesting. Some places we go are familiar, and very uninspiring. I need to find inspiration in all places.

  3. I think that a little bit of both suits me fine. Away one get inspiration and see things and people one usually don’t see – and bring it home where one can utilize it in playing tourist in one’s own back yard. After all – aren’t we tourists in our own lives?

  4. One of these days, I’m going to write about a dream I had. It’s the only photography dream I’ve ever had, but it made precisely the point you make here: in a most amusing and obvious way.

    I went through a period of time when I’d become utterly morose because I simply don’t have the financial resources to travel extensively. Finally, I took myself in hand, and realized that I can travel in and write about my own “backyard” — Texas, Louisiana, and sometimes a bit farther north. That’s led to posts like the one about the agave: for most of my readers, a subject as exotic as you could get.

    I keep going back to a point I’ve made over and again, to various people. We can travel far, or we can travel deep. Both have value, and both can delight.

    1. You make a good point. And your posts – such as the one about agave – sure shows that it’s not the distance from home that matters. You have always been able to find interesting subjects and made something special out them no matter where you go. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Linda.

  5. Hi Otto, The everyday is one thing. Ugliness is something else. In the winter when I have bird feeders hanging from the tree outside my window I can get nice grab shots of the birds, either through the window or, sometimes, standing at my open door. Other than that, the view from my backyard consists of parked cars, discarded food wrappings and cans or bottles, and other things I won’t mention. After that it’s shopping malls, those soulless cathedrals of consumerism that have uprooted and destroyed rural fields and trees. So, I must say — and this isn’t only about you — I do get tired of the cliche that all photographers can find worthy subjects “in their backyards.” It’s not true for everyone. If I want to photograph ugliness, I can walk around the corner and document where a lovely stand of trees has been destroyed to make room for another luxury car dealership, and share this on an EPJ gallery. And I’ve done this. But it’s not what I live for. My plans to move away from this soul-destroying ugliness had a monkey wrench thrown in them last year, a setback that caused me numerous health issues, but I’m working to overcome that. I recognize that I’ll never again have the money to travel extensively; with a bit of luck, maybe one more trip to Europe. But as long as I’m within reasonable distance of the beautiful, scenic parts of my own country, that’s fine.

    1. You make a very valid point. Some people can make wonderful pictures out of ugliness, but only if it feels right to them. If beauty is what attracts you, then that’s where you find your photos. So, yes, the backyard can be so many different things, and might be a photographic haven for some and a photographic nightmare for others. We all have to find our way and what matters for us to photograph. 🙂

  6. I have wanderlust. It would be my choice to be moving to new places all the time. But many many times, when I have felt frustrated by not being able to go to some far away place I have taken the camera and driven around in my own town looking for distraction. And I have found peace shooting scenes that I drove by every day, looking for fresh angles or fresh light, or fresh combinations. It’s always different out there, even if the out there is my back yard.

    1. As long as we keep our eyes open, we are able to find something new and worthwhile to photograph. And of course, there is nothing wrong with that wanderlust. I am infected by it myself. 🙂

  7. I totally agree Otto. I also think it helps to use a cut out view finder to isolate and focus upon ‘scenes’ that we might otherwise ignore or not realise the potential of.

    1. I agree with both you. I travel a lot and spend my time divided in 3 countries, (so where is home?) – but I especially enjoy to discover the beauty in the present surroundings.

        1. Well, I certainly look forward to settle down, there’s definitely two sides to this meal. 😉 I think it’s vital to enjoy the traveling and all the possible encounters, the journey is part of it all.

  8. Your photo looks like an Ansel Adams, only in color. Lovely!
    I started out with my camera doing a 365 and at the time all I pretty much had was my local neighborhoods and nearby environs; this really helped me start seeing the beauty in the everyday (in fact I titled my blog “A little Bit of the Everyday”). Now when I do have the opportunity to travel, I feel like Alice in Wonderland 🙂

  9. I agree with You. For me in this moment i haven’t the possibiliy to travel, but i think the beauty is in all thing.. All a round me … I try try to take Photo every moment of my life. My goals is inspiration and immagination. CARPE DIEM😊

  10. I totally agreed. I have the very hard time with that too. It is hard to have new ways to look at your own ‘backyard’ where you are so used to. Traveling to new place boosts your senses (eyes, ears etc.). Your senses see everything new and wanted to capture nearly everything.

  11. I always was asked why I don’t travel, take vacations, and I always said ‘because i don’t get the concept, what??? for different TREES??’ I have lived in different areas across the country, to move a place for different WEATHER, that i get, haha… can feel it in my bones. So yes, I’m not hung up on the whole ‘exotic’ thing 🙂

    1. Some move around because of the weather, others for the cultural differences, yet others for the different landscapes (and yes maybe even different trees). Of course there is nothing right or wrong, except what feels right for each and everyone. You might not want to travel much, but you have an unusual gift in that you are able to make your viewers travel in so many different visual worlds with your photos. 🙂

  12. I haven’t had the pleasure of much travel in my life, Otto. At least not to “far away” places. I am very observant in my own environs, however. I think that an interest in expanding my ability with a camera has contributed to my appreciation of what is right in my own backyard. I can get absolutely giddy with delight when I notice the light changing or an unfamiliar bird visiting the feeders. And then out comes the camera and I’ll spend hours just seeing what I can capture. This is a delight to me–still, I fantasize about some exotic places I’d still like to see. 🙂

    1. That is one thing the camera can do, make us open our eyes for what’s around us. You approach is encouraging and you bring us so many new perspectives with your photos. And then there is of course nothing wrong with dreaming. 🙂

  13. very true, otto. it’s also the environment where we tend to spend most of our time, we know it well and have the most time and opportunity to access it in temrs of light, colour, etc. when we are traveling somewhere else, we don’t have the luxury to do that.

  14. Great reminder, Otto. This sentence says it so well…”merely filling the frame with something exotic does not make it a good photograph, it makes it only a photograph of the exotic.”

  15. I think it is very important to use what is close to your heart in any creative endeavor. Because in truth, merely capturing the exotic is often an exercise in documentation. Sharing a place in time for the world to see. Whereas true creativity stems from sharing one’s unique perspective on the world. How better to share one’s own heart than by sharing one’s home in a new and creative way?

  16. Thanks for sharing your sincere thoughts.
    I feel so fortunate when I look up and see something that just stops me in my tracks – something here at home. It happens so often, and every time I feel as if IT has grabbed ME. I do my best to try to capture the effect it’s had upon me.

  17. This post really resonates with me. I love to travel, though I haven’t done all that much of it. Now that I’m retired, I have the time but not the money. I love discovering the “exotic” right in my own backyard, whether it’s a trick of the light, a tiny detail unnoticed by my naked eye, or a different angle on something I’ve photographed many times before. Simply going out and looking for something, anything, to capture with my camera always lifts my spirits.

  18. I completely agree with you, Otto. It’s the same with relationships, according to me. New people my be interesting but to get to know the many sides of the people we have been living with may a little bit underevaluated nowadays! Thank you very much for your very interesting point.

  19. Certainly I think travel helps to inspire because, as you say, everything is new and exciting. Sadly, as Lighthouse 75 says, some of our ‘back yards’ may not be particularly attractive/interesting but also it’s relative – something an hour away could really get your photographic juices flowing but we wouldn’t necessarily think of that as ‘travel’ – relatively that probably constitutes a back yard!
    I go through phases of thinking that my ‘back yard’ isn’t too great but then I remind myself that to a tourist/visitor it probably looks pretty fabulous – the uninspiring element is me and all I need to do is open my eyes and look at my surroundings in the way I do when I travel.

  20. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Having moved back to my “home” – it’s much more challenging to take what I consider to be interesting photos than when we lived abroad – but I really enjoy thinking about scenes I may take for granted and how to frame them in a visually interesting way. Great post!

  21. Thank you so much for this post and your wisdom on the subject, Otto. Most of my photography takes place in my own backyard (as you probably know), and I have noticed that my best photos (at least to my eye) are taken close to home. My travel photography is terrible in comparison, lacking something (love, I think). Sometimes the most exotic things I see with my eye and camera are right here at home, and as hard as I try, my travel photos don’t have my “style” to them.

    1. What you write, is exactly my point. What you love is what will bring out those wonderful images I often see on your blog. And, yes, I have indeed noticed you use your backyard to its best. Thanks for sharing your experience, Robin.

  22. Nice one, Otto, as always. And it’s an interesting topic. I think so long as the photographer seeks to go beyond the superficial, both the backyard as well as the exotic could be challenging in their own ways. While in your backyard the challenge is to find beauty in the seemingly mundane, the exotic throws the challenge of going beyond what is — owing to its newness — immediately attractive to the eyes.

  23. This is a fantastic post Otto ~ so much truth to what you have mentioned here. Like you, when I travel, I too “discover the excitement of seeing with fresh eyes and capturing moments I thought I would never experience” and it gives me both inspiration with my photography and I also allow myself to get quite creative. Being home, there is less inspiration and I often do not pick up the camera for long periods…but over the past year, I’ve looked around with a photographer’s eye and have gotten excited about all I could shoot. Even thinking about the perfect time of day to capture the light of certain scenes and overall getting wrapped up in these thoughts…yet, I’ve not taken my camera out and shot one frame of it 🙂 Will give it a go in the new year. So much to see and to interpret. Wishing you a great Year of the Monkey ahead ~

    1. And nothing wrong with finding inspiration when travelling. This is just a reminder that we shouldn’t forget our own neighbourhood. 🙂 And I think you have shown time and again what magnificent photos this can result in on your blog. Thank you for your poignant comment, Randall. And yes, may you have a great year ahead, too.

  24. I hear you 100 per cent! This is why my lifelong street photography project is about exploring my city and getting to know it; not assuming that I know everything there is about it. It definitely is an adventure, and a monumental challenge to photograph it right.

  25. I think it is possible to become bored with one’s own backyard – it depends to some extent on how interesting one’s backyard really is. I lived in the same backyard for over 30 years! But go away from it and then come back to it rejuvenated and the ideas for something new start to flow – going away gives one’s own creativity the boost that is needed.

    1. Yes, I have certainly gotten bored with my own backyard, myself. But in the end it comes down to attitude. If you decide to look around with fresh eyes, you will always be able to see something new. And, of course, going away and then coming back helps you with exactly that. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the subject, Andy.

  26. I too love to travel, but sometimes I like to be without a camera so that I can be totally absorbed in my surroundings without worrying about a shot. But I also love home, and last year photographed our allotment every month for the entire year. I was surprised and delighted with the images I caught – not only the vegetables but the spiders, masonry bees, butterflies, squirrels etc. My own miniature jungle!

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