We’ve all seen iconic shots of the Eiffel tower, dramatic shots of the Grand Canyon and inspiring shots of Niagara falls. Some locations just scream out to be photographed but you don’t have to travel to famous locations to take amazing outside shots.
I am going to show you how to look at your local town with fresh eyes. I want to inspire you to take your camera into town and to come home with some great shots. This isn’t a week long project or even a whole day of shooting, I want you to read the article then get out there and shoot for no more than 3 hours before coming home to process your best shots.
This article is all about looking at your town with fresh eyes, your town really will be packed with great locations. I want you to shoot and move on; leave the tripods and heavy kit at home and take a point and shoot, a bridge, or a single lens for your DSLR.
The aim is to come home with great shots but also ideas for future locations that you can return to shoot. Keep your eyes peeled and look for the following shots to take as you walk.
Unlike with life, light at the end of the tunnel isn’t always a good thing. Try to avoid passages and alleys with bright light at the end, it’s not going to make the shot impossible to take but it’s definitely going to add to your troubles.
If you do get caught with a bright light consider doing some HDR rendering on a single or multiple RAW files.
Use a narrow aperture or landscape mode to keep as much of the scene as possible in focus so the emphasis is on the lines of the path or passage. Doing this is going to lead the viewer into the shot and give a sense of depth and perspective.
Step and stairs
Steps and stairs take you somewhere and this journey needs to show in your shot. Look for an interesting focal point at the end of your stair way, if necessary cheat and add something.
With a slightly wider aperture or portrait mode on your point and shoot take shots with the focus on where the steps lead to. It’s ok if the foreground isn’t completely sharp, the shot needs to be all about the destination you’re heading towards.
Fill the frame with texture or pattern
There will be times when nothing inspires you to take a shot; one way to jump start your photography is by hunting for patterns and textures to fill the frame. Stop where you are and look for texture or patterns that will make an interesting frame.
Find patterns and textures in leaves, tree bark, walls and pavements. Don’t forget to look down.
Look for the detail
Towns come in all shapes and sizes so you should have plenty to use. Look for patterns in doorways, ornamental railings, leaded windows, date plaques, and gargoyles. There are opportunities all round so push yourself into something different.
Once again a moderately narrow aperture is going to help you here. Steady yourself well and use a low ISO too, that’ll make sure you don’t lose any detail at all and avoid noise in your photos.
Be prepared to do some post processing to bring out the best of the details you were shooting; this needn’t be hardcore Photoshopping but even sharpening a shot with a free program is going to make a big difference.
Look down the street, I bet it’s got things sticking out of it all over just waiting to be shot. Seats and benches are always designed with some sort of thought, streetlights can be fancy at the tops with interesting poles holding them up, post boxes and litter bins can break the line of a pavement.
Use a wide aperture or portrait settings to separate the furniture from the rest of the street or a narrow one to keep everything in focus and give those starbursts in the lights at night.
When you shoot upwards, wait until the power of the sun has left the sky; that way you can use the sky as a clear background to show your subject off to its best.
A wide aperture for a fast shutter speed will make sure there isn’t any motion blur as you shoot. You don’t need to worry too much about depth of field when you’re shooting relatively small things at a distance.
Try standing at the top of a gentle hill to give you an interesting perspective as you shoot horizontally and the furniture slopes down out of the frame for a shot that uses repeated items that interest you in a solid composition.
There is more to a town than can be seen from ground level and roof top shots are full of interesting textures, patterns and angles with the added advantage of being a unique subject that your viewer may not have seen before.
Shooting birds-eye-photos can also add really dynamic value to your photos.
Shoot across from a high point and make your shot all about the jumble of closely packed roof tops. If there isn’t a handy hill, look for a tall building or multi-story car park to shoot from.
Remember that this is a shot about patterns but that’s no excuse for taking a boring shot so include some interest in the frame too.
Reflections are great things, they double the content of your shot. Try to keep your eyes open and find shots that reflect something interesting, and look out for reflections everywhere; puddles, windows, a car’s paintwork etc.
When your shot has the reflection in it and not the ‘original’ subject you might find it easier to manually focus for the shot if your autofocus starts hunting for something to lock onto. This is particularly true if water is acting as your mirror and it’s moving even slightly.
People at work
The good thing about people at work is that they make great subjects for street photography. If your feeling shy aim for a candid shot, you can even shoot as you hold your camera by your side.
For the braver amongst us, why not stop and chat and ask if you can take their photo? You will be surprised how many people say yes. Try to get a shot that shows more than just the person, try to show as many clues as possible that show what they do at work or who they work for.
Candid shots might not be something you’re comfortable with but they offer the chance of great shots. Remember that candid shots are un-posed so you’re going to need a fast shutter speed; use a wide aperture and a medium ISO to keep the shutter fast.
When photographing people, I like to keep a minimum shutter speed of at least 1/100, preferably higher to make sure you freeze them in place.
Plants and flowers
Parks have lovely flower beds and they’re great to shoot but you’ll end up with a shot similar to one that everyone else has.
While you’re out on your shoot look for the plants and flowers that people overlook or don’t want. Calling a plant a weed isn’t going to affect its beauty so go for shots that show beauty being unstoppable as plants grow and bloom in unwanted areas of wasteland.
Look for plants growing in gutters, pavement cracks or tumbling out of a garden.
There is nothing wrong with taking the same shots as other people, in fact they are important. They add context, they evoke memories and the capture treasured scenes.
But it is easy to get trapped, to become blinkered and ignore all the other amazing subjects. I want you to look at your town with fresh eyes and uncover even more exciting photo opportunities, work fast and keep your shots fresh but keep to that three hour time frame.