[ABOVE] I saw this statue every day of my life growing up. It took me a long time to realize I had never taken an image of it – longer to realize it was worth shooting.
Photographers are, in many ways, creatures of habit, but becoming habituated to a place – becoming too familiar with it, relegating it to the mundane or the everyday – is bad for creativity. It is bad for business.
When I lived in Korea I was part of a fantastic expat photo community known as the Seoul Photo Club. The SPC is made up of foreign folk from every corner of the globe – Canada, America, South Africa, New Zealand and all points in between – though we do have a few things in common. For one, we’re photography enthusiasts. For another, we’re living, breathing, working and shooting in a foreign place. It is easy to shoot in a foreign place – for a while. Once that foreignness fades away and the foreign becomes familiar, once the foreign place becomes home, we can take it for granted and forget how to shoot it. Case in point; my Seoul travel portfolio is lacking because I didn’t see the need to shoot Seoul the way I would if I were traveling through for a week or two. I thought there would be plenty of time to capture the pagodas, the palaces and the other places. Yet time has a way of slipping past us.
Many of the expats I knew in Korea returned to their native lands with every intention of shooting as frequently as they had while living and traveling abroad, yet their prolific shooting began to wane almost immediately. There are plenty of reasons for this, sure – longer working hours, new jobs, new responsibilities, a lack of a photo community to spur you forward and so on an so forth, though in general it seems like people don’t shoot too much in their own backyard. They become blind to the day to day of everyday life. Funny, since knowing a place well, being a regular, homegrown talent, should give you a leg up on all the competition that might ever come knocking. You don’t hear people from New York City, Chicago, London or Tokyo complain about a lack of photographic inspiration, though you don’t need to live in a big city to produce good work. A good photographer can create from the boredom of suburbia just as well as he or she can in the cultural inspiration of a great city.
[ABOVE] I didn’t shoot Korea from the inside out until I got outside of Seoul. I had been treating Korea as my home – not a place to shoot, but as a place to live. I promised myself I wouldn’t do that again. I’d explore even my own backyard with fresh eyes.
One of the benefits of spending my days on the road as a travel photographer is that I don’t have to look at the same backyard for too long or too often. That being said, I do spend a few months of the year working from home, and I need to stay sharp. I visit and revisit places I know well. I shoot things one way and then another – in different light at different times of the day. I promised myself that after I left Korea I would never again forget to shoot at home.
When the weather takes a turn I transform the house into a flash laboratory; even if you’re not interested in flash or macro or product photography, you can find something to shoot in and around the house, if only to stay sharp and creative.
My point is simple; there’s always something you can shoot. An excuse is an excuse is an excuse – they are easy to come by and easy to use. If you call yourself a photographer, you need to create images. You need to do it often.
The best part about being a photographer? You can do it from anywhere.
[ABOVE] This isn’t my backyard, but it’s not far – about 10km down the road from where I grew up. Locals know about this place and few other folks come to visit. The kind of insider knowledge that helps a travel photographer shoot a place inside and out.
You know where you’re from. You know it well – you know it better than any random traveler just passing through. If you’re interested in becoming a travel photographer or bettering your travel photography skills, work on building your portfolio of home from the inside out. It is in your own backyard that you can work on honing your craft. You can get comfortable shooting strangers – no language barriers at home! – and you can work at gaining access to places few photographers get access to (another hallmark of a solid travel photographer).
Some people think they need to travel far and wide to be a good travel photographer. The truth is, you don’t. You don’t need to go more than a few feet from your own front door. You can tell a story from anywhere – telling it in a place where you’re comfortable will help you get the facts and the fruits. Don’t wait until you’ve gone somewhere to start taking photos – if you spend all your time wishing you were someplace else, you’ll miss everything going on around you.