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?