I love travel photography, going to exotic places and exploring landscapes and cities different from those I can find back home. But when you travel somewhere far away what you mostly do is checking before what are “the best” spots, hoping for decent weather only to actually end up at a totally overcrowded landmark with lots of other photographers, fighting for a good spot and hoping to not have too many tourists in the picture.
In this article I will try to show some alternatives that might not be as exotic, but can nevertheless be just as enjoyable and in the process might also improve your photography skills more than just “collecting” the shots from other photographers.
I do not want to discuss mass tourism here and unlike many other photographers I do not think that someone with a camera has more right to be somewhere, that warning signs should not apply to photographers, or that all the other tourists have to give way as soon as someone pointing a camera at something is around.
But especially after visiting some of the more famous spots in Japan in 2019 I was really asking myself how enjoyable it actually is to wake up at 5 am only to try to block a spot at a famous sight and wait there 2 hours for the sun to rise or queueing up in front of a temple at least one hour before it opens and then running for the famous spots to have maybe 30 seconds to take a picture without anyone in the frame (which sometimes means going through that process twice, one time to “scout” the place, a second time to go directly where you want to go).
But then, before I could actually try to answer that question to myself, the pandemic hit in early 2020 and long distance travel became pretty much a no-go. And for longer than I was expecting at that time I want to add. And this obviously had a major influence on my photography as well.
So today I am going to tell you what I took pictures of in the meantime – and where – and then we will have a closer look what might be possible near you.
What I found
Let us start with what I found in the building I live in, meaning about as close as it gets, then we have a look at the street I live in and after that we move towards the city borders.
When you spend a lot of time at home and you look through the windows you always see the same scenery, but if you pay closer attention you notice how the light and the weather conditions change and suddenly a building you considered boring can become interesting and a worthwhile subject.
The staircase you use several times a day – and you don’t pay any attention to anymore – can become a dramatic scenery when the sun hits it at the right angle and even in the basement I found interesting lines and structures next to a small (broken) window.
Many people also took a dive into macro photography, but this is simply not something I found too enjoyable, I guess I lack the patience needed to do that. Nevertheless exploring flowers or every day objects at home with a macro lens can also yield stunning pictures.
Now we leave the house and have a look what we can find on the street.
In the street I live now I found some interesting (meaning older) buildings with nice facade. Many also feature interesting metal gates, often corroded, damaged or overgrown. There are also some small shops and restaurants where there is always something interesting to see:
You might get the impression I am living in the nicest street of the city, but actually, I don’t think so. It is usually full of cars parking by the sides and there are trash cans and trash bags everywhere.
Before I moved here I was living in a part of the city no one would voluntarily visit with taking pictures in mind either, yet there was a tiny train station and an old firehouse I often visited trying to take interesting pictures.
The lonely plant in the first picture by the train station is one of my most liked pictures on flickr and I had to walk only two minutes to get there. The last picture of the leave with the waterdrops I actually discovered right in front of the building where I used to live.
Now if we look at a whole city there are endless possibilites. When you live close to something you can also really wait for the right weather and lighting conditions and try to take the best picture possible. I tried to do that for the Mercedes Museum here. With different lighting, weather and time of the year/day the character of the building changes significantly, so it can make sense to go back to the same place more than once.
When I was first visiting this lookout point it was a dull scenery, it took several months, but one saturday morning I noticed the perfect sky, so I grabbed my bike and went there again as fast as possible:
Also whenever I visit this castle I take a picture of it because light and sky are always different. So far this is my favorite, but maybe one day I will see an even nicer scenery?
This weir I walked past innumerous times, it never appealed to me. But then that one time it was hit by the low sun and the reflections were as calm as can be and I was really happy to have a camera with me:
One evening I took a walk and the weather wasn’t great, a bit gloomy, nothing spectacular. But then suddenly the sky turned purple and I rested my camera on a trash can to be able to take a picture at a lower ISO setting as I did not even remotely think it would be worthwhile to bring a (mini) tripod!
While exploring the city and its surroundings with a more open mind I also found some great locations I didn’t know about and that you won’t find on anyone’s “greatest photo spots in Stuttgart” list, like this picturesque staircase in a public building:
Now this spot by the river Rems (technically it does not belong to Stuttgart anymore, but as it was only 20 min away from where I lived at that time I say it still counts 🙂 ) actually turned out to be the picture I printed the biggest yet and is hanging behind me on the wall while I am writing these very lines.
And this is why I wanted to show it here: it is not the most exotic place or even the one farthest away, yet I decided to print this one and hang it on the wall and not one of the pictures from Japan at the beginning of this article. I am pretty sure part of the reason for that is, that I feel this one actually being my picture, and not one that you can find in a very similar way a thousand times on the Internet, in magazines or calendars. And this can be very rewarding.
So what is the take-away-message here? That you should move to Stuttgart? Better not, the traffic here is a complete mess and the average rent totally overpriced. Because of its topology it also somewhat sucks for sunset pictures…
But maybe try to experience your surroundings in a more open minded way. Go to streets you haven’t been to before, check out parks or forests close by. Bring a camera even when the light looks boring and especially when it doesn’t. Memorize interesting places when the conditions are bad and come back when they are better. A different lens can also give a different perspective (pun intended).
And this brings me to the next section, we will think of some things you may find close to where you live, but that you may have overlooked so far.
What you may find
Now I am living in one of Germany’s biggest cities with roughly 630.000 residents. So some of you might think: “Yeah sure, that guy lives in a big city, of course there are plenty of photo opportunities!”
But that is the whole point here: don’t waste time complaining about the things you cannot find close by, try to look at the opportunities instead. There are plenty of things I would like to take pictures of that I cannot find close by, but maybe you do?
I would love to live really close to a forest so whenever the forecast says it might be misty I could be there in a few minutes and take pictures of sunrays breaking through the fog.
I greatly enjoy looking at the beech forest pictures from the Netherlands by my colleague Juriaan (like the two above) or Albert Dros and I don’t feel that the forests close by are even remotely as nice, but I am still trying my best here with what I have got:
At old barns or farms there can be plenty of things to take interesting pictures of, old carriages, run down sheds, vehicles with plenty of corrosion and great texture.
Same is also true for older train stations, I am always jealous of David when he shows me pictures of the historical Australian train stations from New South Wales like this one:
If I lived in a more rural area with little light pollution I could do way more astrophotography, as it is now I have to drive two hours for that and more than once I had to go back without a single picture taken because the weather was worse than expected.
Any bigger lake with a run down jetty – or even better: having the sea close by – allows for great photography opportunities as well. If I want to see the actual sea I have to drive six and a half hours. Maybe it is less for you?
If you live by a river there might even a harbour near by. I am always fascinated by all the things you can see in a harbour, especially the colorful things:
I am also really drawn to lively markets and especially wet markets in Asia (again, something you cannot find here). Apparently most locals would never go there to take pictures, whereas I could spend countless hours there.
These are only some things I could think of – not that there could be a complete list – and obviously I have no idea where you live, and what you can find there, but I am sure there is something interesting to see.
I hope I could give you some ideas or motivate you to explore your surroundings and find something interesting to take pictures of, even if it has not been your favorite subject matter in the past.
Another benefit is that you get to know your gear better and you will also improve your eyes and your photography skills which will be helpful no matter what you are taking pictures of.
Update: a follow up article is now available
Finding photo opportunities near home – Part 2
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