Let’s face it, for most of us photographers the extravagant lifestyle of traveling to all sorts of beautiful locations just for photographic purposes is nothing more than a dream. While it can often feel like our Instagram and Twitter feeds are full of nothing but a sea of photographers that travel to the most exotic locations, the truth of the matter is that the majority of us rarely get to travel and instead have to find beauty closer to home.
I know when I see a feed full of nothing but the most picturesque locations it leaves me feeling bored and uninspired when I head out to my same old stomping grounds looking for something even remotely interesting to photograph. But I was reminded of how amazing it can be to really pay attention and learn to really SEE the beauty and uniqueness that surrounds us every single day. I stumbled across a fantastic Instagram feed called The Daily Portsmouth by a photographer named Philip Case Cohen. You can find his IG feed by clicking the link above for The Daily Portsmouth and then check out more of his fantastic photography by heading to his website by clicking his name right here Philip Case Cohen. His Instagram feed is full of beautiful images in which he is “Capturing the essence of Portsmouth, New Hampshire and the New England Coastline.” which is the description of his IG profile/feed.
The thing that really stood out to me immediately with his work is how simple and familiar that work felt. I mean that in absolutely the best way possible because it didn’t have the feel of someone that is traveling to a place for a week or two and is trying to capture all of the “best” spots or “popular” locations or subjects. I’m looking at all of you out there that think if you travel to New York City you need to capture a gritty street portrait or those of you that feel like when traveling to the mountains, any mountains, we need to see the view of said mountains from inside of your tent looking out. Oh, don’t forget my personal favorite, those of you that feel like the more dangerous it is to capture the photo the better the photo is so let’s find every tall building, cliff or otherwise crazy tall object and proceed to make photos of your feet hanging off the ledge or even worse have someone else snap that shot while you hang by one hand off of said ledge. No photo is worth your life, C’mon man!
My apologies, I’m easily distracted! The Daily Portsmouth has none of that. It’s a real honest look around at his city, sharing random beautiful and sometimes not so beautiful moments that are just real life from a city he is extremely familiar with. It’s a glimpse into a way of life for a location that gives viewers a sense of what it’s really like to visit that city, way more than any tourism website could ever do. It’s intimate, it’s real life and it’s familiar and that only comes from living and spending time really learning to SEE your daily surroundings. It’s knowing that the light hits this certain part of town during a certain time of year just right and becomes magical.
Ok great, so you’ve now spent nearly 600 words selling us on the idea of going to check out Philips work, what’s your point!
While it is true that I think you really should go check out The Daily Portsmouth on IG and Philip’s work on his website, he actually doesn’t know I’m writing this and we have no affiliation other than the fact I truly love his feed and find it so very inspiring because I often feel beat up and beat down when I look at so many other photographers work that I really admire and see photos one week from Iceland and the next week from the Rocky Mountains or Yosemite and so on and so on. The point of this article is to help remind you, frankly to help remind myself, that we can’t let the barrage of travel photography we see on social media get into our heads and destroy our motivation and joy of photography. Sure it’s great to look at and certainly there are those photographers out there that do travel A TON. But the reality is that we are only seeing a highlight reel of photography for many of these folks. They may have taken one or two great trips this year and have very carefully shown you only parts of it at a time, cleverly spaced out so as to give the impression that they are jet setting world travelers every other week. Don’t be discouraged by someone else’s highlight reel, just make your own and enjoy photography right in your own backyard.
Well, I mean, not necessarily your literal backyard. I mean your local environment, your hometown, those familiar back roads, well you get the idea.
With that I’m going to share with you a couple of images I made as the seasons transitioned in late Autumn, from beautiful color to snow filled landscapes. This is a river not far from my home now and even closer to the home I grew up in. It’s a river I’m very familiar with and visit at least once a month if not more. Because of that I have a whole bunch of different photos of this river and know it very well, heck I even wrote a short article and shared it here on this very journal back in October of 2013. That article can be found here and is titled Early Autumn at the Sturgeon River. A photo I created in this very same stretch of river became my first published photo in a magazine and a year later another photo of this river became my first cover photo in a magazine. (No, nothing huge like some giant travel magazine, it was just a local tourism magazine and I made a whopping $40 between the two images, but it was very cool as a young photographer to say I was published!) Someday I’ll cull through the hundreds and hundreds of photos from this little stretch of river and put together some sort of curated collection, maybe a gallery show, heck maybe even a nice coffee table book or even a cool trade paperback or Zine type of print run. But today I simply want to share 3 images with you I made over the last month or so and leave you with a few tips or reminders.
Let’s start with the photographs, then get into the tips/thoughts. A little info about these three photos. Both of these were made on days when I knew the conditions were right to give me another great feeling image from this spot, even though I didn’t have time to get out and do a lot of hiking. These are all taken right from the small dirt road and narrow single lane bridge that crossed this river because it’s all I had time to do photographically. Because I was so familiar with the area I knew I could get the images I wanted from that vantage point so it was worth the drive. The first two are the exact same compositions basically, looking at the exact same stretch of river from the bridge. Difference being mood, lighting and weather conditions. The third is a view of the opposite side of the bridge that is usually very difficult to photograph at that time of day due to the lighting conditions but on this snowy overcast day I had terrific soft light to accent the hanging snow and steely cold water.
**all images created with a Fuji X-T10 and the Fuji XF35mm f/1.4. Processed in Adobe Lightroom Classic with the Rebecca Lily Premium Color Grading System.
Here are the Top THREE reasons you don’t need to travel to make great photographs!
Reason Number One:
You have the distinct advantage of living close to your subject matter. You don’t have to travel to get there or try to research locations. You just have to pay attention to the world around you as you go about your day to day business which makes it much easier to gain that familiarity and understand the nuances in light, weather, time of day or even time of year and how those nuances can be used to create very different moods and feelings with your imagery. That knowledge results in the ability to create photographs that are much more interesting and intimate than the casual traveler to your location can possibly find.
Reason Number Two:
Because you live there and spend the majority of your time there, you can uncover and find the coolest hidden spots that contain some of the most awesome stories and photographs. You know that late in winter the setting sun will line up just right to cradle itself in the branches of that huge tree down at the local park as the ducks and geese return to swim in the pond in the foreground. You know that while everyone knows that river from the vantage point of the bridge or the main hiking trail along the east bank, not many know about the tiny deer trail that leads to the point where the river comes out of the rapids and swirls in a deep pool surrounded by pines as the river takes a sharp ninety degree turn before continuing it’s lazy run downstream. That’s what you bring to the table, which leads me to…
Reason Number Three:
No one, and I mean no one, will be as uniquely familiar with your stomping grounds as you are. I PROMISE you that. We all have our own unique vision and way of seeing the world around us and when you couple your intimate familiarity of the area with your own unique vision there is absolutely no one that can share the story that you can. It gives you a distinct advantage and opportunity to really let your viewers see what it is that makes you feel “At Home” and gives them reasons to want to come experience it for themselves. Whether it’s the views around your town, or nearby small towns in your region if you are in a very rural area such as I am here in north-eastern Minnesota, your neighborhood if you are in a bigger city or even the great outdoors and nature if you prefer to get out in the woods with your cameras. Only you know the best times, best places and reasons that you enjoy the locations so don’t waste that by letting yourself feel like less of a photographer just because you can’t or choose not to travel the world. Set the beauty and wonder of home free and as they say, MAKE IT YOURS AND OWN THAT ‘ISH. Tell your story and let that vision, your unique and ultra familiar vision of the world around you, shine through to tell the story of YOUR world. Let that vision become your inspiration, the curiosity of the day to day around you your motivation, to really EXPERIENCE all that life gives you each and every day. When you do that you’ll be able to just enjoy that highly curated highlight reel presented by everyone on social media and then look back at your own work and feel a sense of pride as you re-live the memories you’ve created. By slowing down and taking time to share your own story, your own vision and your own take on your home stomping grounds you may soon find that you have become that inspiring highlight reel for someone else out there.
Just remember, while it can be very difficult to get past that feeling of being bored with the same old scenery you see every single day, many others have never seen it before. We get so blinded by the routines that we forget to stop looking and we stop really SEEING the beauty of life as it unfolds around us each and every day. Don’t let boredom with the familiar blind you, stay curious and enjoy how life opens up and shows it’s interesting side all around you.