01 Feb Unpacking the Visual Environment and Making It Your Own

Source: Olafs Photoblog

On our last trip to Montana, I was shooting inside an old Victorian hotel with creaking wooden floors and walls painted pastel earth colours. In one room, the old range sat rusting beside a window. The place was full of photographic opportunities; outside the windows old log cabins sat in the snow. In fact, it was easy to like everything we saw—after all, the light, colours, shapes, smells and even sounds were very different from what we experienced at home. 

In a strange environment we naturally want to take images to capture our delight in the new place. In other words, we want to register on film or digitally what we see. We want to fix the memory. The problem is that this urge to photograph the scene usually results in repetitive and derivative imagery. We act like tourists, snapping and moving on. We are making postcards.

Paradoxically, a new place can be a stumbling block to crafting a great image. In order to go beyond our initial reaction, we must become familiar with our surroundings. We need to look more carefully. For example, when going through a door we see the pine table in the middle of the room. It must have been a dining room. Most of us stop right there. We take a few photos and move on. But if we have already taken a few first-reaction shots and looked around, we settle the building into a context and move to a more observant, creative and personal

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