Finding Photographs In The Boring

Nov 25, 2023

A little PSB before we start - all these images are straight out of camera. I wanted to show you what's there for the seeing without any processing.

As you may know, I've just returned from a fortnight in America.
Most of my time was spent in the suburbs of Baltimore.

In my limited experience with being in the States most suburbs in America feel a bit 'samey'.
The same strip malls, giant car parks and chain stores.

It seems when you talk with people about photography, they often want to go somewhere exotic - Iceland, the bustling streets of Kyoto, or some famous photo spot that is all over Instagram.

This, they think, is where all the awesome photos are hiding.

Sure, if you want to photograph The Northern Lights of Polar Bears, then you kind of need to travel to them. However if you look at where ever you are with a fresh perspective - you can start to see new ideas for photos.

To my friend whom we were visiting, she only sees the same streets and traffic that she is surrounded by every day. But how do you 'switch off' this passive way of looking, and find photographs in the boring?


Such a simple word. Certainly I don't struggle to pronounce it (fun fact - I've always struggled with saying certain words and it's super fun when people in the comment section of the videos belittle me for mispronunciation)

But that word is responsible for a lot of struggle with photographers.

From the moment I picked up a camera and asked my dad what I should take a picture of, those preconceived ideas where being formed.

Not just about what to photograph, but how to photograph it.

The mountains
The sunset
Subject in the middle of the frame
Sun behind the photographer
etc etc.

It comforting not to challenge these ideas because they produce repeatable and expected results.

I liked that. It made me feel like I was doing well.

This was fine as a kid with a camera. We travelled a far bit and I got to photograph in what to me were, exotic, locations. If you can call a cold and windswept beach on the coast of Scotland exotic :D

However, when I started taking photography seriously, I wasn't traveling, I was landlocked in what to me was an average city (Pretoria) with average buildings, average people and no exoticness on show at all.

So I had to start getting rid of these preconceptions.

When you are asked to create a project on street photography and the bustling streets of Kyoto are well beyond your reach, you have to make allowances.

I was talking with a photographer who I mentor recently, and he asked about overcoming his own preconceived ideas - his background is in cinematography, and their 'rules' are informing his photos.

I suggested he try one new thing - just challenge one idea. In his case it was format - he loves 16:9, and I suggested he try composing 1:1 images (mostly because we had been looking at my own square images).

For you it may be something entirely different, but there is a preconceived idea in your mind somewhere that can be challenged.

My friend who very graciously drove us around isn't a photographer, but it's funny how she is starting to recognize places where I will stop and find images.

Ugh, there's that preconception idea again! She now has a preconceived idea about what I'll be photographing :D

If you can, spend sometime just observing people taking photos. At a workshop or event for example. See if you can see what they're looking at.

And, importantly, what they aren't.

Is there a photo they're all missing?

Thanks for reading.