Lose Yourself, Find Things to Photograph

Lose Yourself, Find Things to Photograph

Often people mistakenly believe that they need to go to a strange new land to discover new things to photograph. I discovered otherwise just yesterday.

Yesterday, I deliberately got lost in my city, Chennai. I went into a section of Chennai that I’d not been to before, and I discovered a whole new part of the city that I never knew existed. It was a simple step; wander through a section of town that you’ve not been through before, look around you at the people, buildings, shops. For me, it was like I’d gone back through time, to when the city was simpler, less modern, more rural. You may not discover new vistas around each bend, but give it a shot. If you’re truly looking for a photograph, you’ll find one.

You’ll ask me then, “Where are your photographs of this new section of town you’re bragging about?” You’d be right in asking. I don’t have any photographs to show… yet. But I will have them soon.

In the mean-while, let me walk you through some interesting ideas to explore a new area in your city.

Discovering Things To Photograph

You could either plan out your ‘expedition’ or just take an impromptu diversion like I did.

  • If you’re planning it out, bring out a map and mark out all the sections of the city that you’ve never been to. Next, make a note of the sections of town that you’ve heard interesting stories or anecdotes about. If you’re truly interested, collect the stories themselves before you visit the location.
  • If you’re just heading back from work and you’ve got some time to kill, or like me, if you want to try n find a way around a traffic jam, just dive in. No compass necessary. Just make sure that your family knows what you’re doing and ask them to check in with you every 30 minutes. That way, if you’re lying in a ditch in just your underwear, they’ll know (only kidding!)
  • Stay out of troublesome neighbourhoods. Stay out of trouble.

Planning Photography

Once you have a general idea of whether the neighbourhood is interesting, and once you’ve identified some potential spots for photography, you’ve got to plan your assault on this new territory. Rope in a few friends if you’re uncomfortable about exploring the area on your own.

  • I say explore the neighbourhood on foot, alone, but if that’s not your style, you could do a number of alternative things. You could:
    • Organise a nice photowalk with photowalking buddies.
    • Drive through a couple of times till you’re happy about exploring the place alone.
    • Not explore the area photographically, but file it away for future reference
  • Carry small, inconspicuous cameras the first time you visit. Point and shoots are good for scouting out locations and identifying potential photo-ops. A good reccee is half the fun in creating a great photo-op.
  • Speak to people, visit shops in the neighbourhood interact with the locals. Ask them about interesting spots, occurances in the ‘hood.
  • Take special interest in the old parts of your city. They usually have a lot more character.

Taking the photographs

  • Respect the sentiments of the people you’re photographing. If they ask you to move on, do so, with a smile. Maybe they won’t ask you to shove-off the next time they see you around taking photographs.
  • Stay open to new possibilities. I suspect that you will find new things to photograph simply because you’re out of your comfort zone. That’s the whole point, right? To see things as if you’re in a some new exotic land… Ok, you’re still in your extended back-yard, but it’s a corner of your back-yard that you’ve not explored. Who knows, but maybe Darth Vader invaded and populated this section with Imperial Stormtroopers.
  • Look for uniqueness. I’m sure you’ll find it.
  • Work on a project that compares your neighbourhood with other places in your city.

Keep Exploring

There are some genuine benefits from systematically exploring your city.

  • People will believe you when you need to be somewhere in a hurry, and say “Don’t worry, I know a shortcut”.
  • You’ll find a genuine appreciation (or have more cannon-fodder for your local newspaper) for other parts of your city / town / jungle.
  • You can extend this habit when you actually do go on vacation. You’ll be prepared, because you’ll know just how to find the unique character of the places you visit.

Have you done this before? Do you have other ideas about how best to explore your city? Leave a comment.