Close to Home

Random photos in uptown Charlotte on a chilly Saturday in December

Alan Ross recently posted an article entitled “Too Close To Home – Even for Ansel Adams” in which he discusses how he (Alan) rarely makes interesting images close to his home and how Ansel Adams had the same “problem.”  Check it out.

It would be easy to read such an article and think, “Gee, I have something in common with Ansel Adams!”  Not so fast.  I agree that most of us do our best work in places other than where we live.  But why is that?

Perhaps the biggest reason we don’t shoot close to home is that we have too many distractions at home.  Whenever we’re home we have our “to-do lists” and other chores that make it hard to change gears and just go out and shoot for an hour or so.  Maybe we’re too busy planning our next adventure away from home that we forget about what there is to shoot nearby.

I think shooting close to home can potentially result in excellent images, images that only those who take the time to know a place can make, because if we really get to know a location we can go there when the conditions are perfect for whatever we choose to photograph.  But we have to work at it and be open to the possibilities because our subject matter is not as clear-cut as it would be if we were shooting somewhere “iconic.”  And the great thing is that we have an opportunity to shoot someplace where no one else has photographed.  True, it might not be Yosemite, but we can do some truly personal work in a place where you aren’t influenced by others’ photographs.

Why do we seem to make better photographs when we travel to new places?  Think about it, and I think you’ll agree that it has to do with several main things: (1) when we travel to photograph we “give ourselves permission” to put our other obligations aside and just go shoot, (2) when we visit a new location we are usually excited, and shooting things that excite us generally results in more personal photographs, and (3) when we’re unfamiliar with a place, we work harder at finding things that interest us, because we have put our distractions (and our preconceptions) aside.  There are many more, but I think those are the top three.

For many of us, we live where our jobs are.  If we lived in the Caribbean or Alaska or the Rocky Mountains one would think it would be easier to shoot close to home.  But that’s not necessarily the case.  We get so used to things we see every day that we lose sight of how wonderful our home is.  I used to work with a woman who grew up in Hawaii but always talked about how beautiful North Carolina is.  She told me that since she had lived in Hawaii so long she didn’t think it was anything special.  Wow, I can’t imagine that!

I’ve spent the last several years shooting on the greenway that runs through my neighborhood.  It’s been a fun project, documenting the change in seasons in different weather conditions and different times of the day.  But even when all I have to do is walk out my front door, it can still be a hard thing to do.  For a while I tried doing a regular shoot there for some of my local photographer friends, but turnout was generally pretty low.  Those who came out enjoyed it, and I had some regulars, but it’s just hard for people to get excited about shooting somewhere so close to home.

To be sure, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with traveling to other places to photograph, and I certainly do my share!  We love to travel, and there is nothing better than going to a new place, returning to a place we haven’t been in a long time, or even going to a familiar place in different conditions or at a different time of the year.  I’m planning to do my share of traveling in the coming year, too.  But I think if we work at it we can see our home the way we see new places.  Try it and see, and let me know how it goes!

3 thoughts on “Close to Home”

  1. Even close to home is valid when traveling. We can only shoot images of those subjects and themes that are within our sight and the cameras focal range. As I spend have my nights in hotels I also spend a lot of time walking around the hoods of the hotels. We can learn to see more details and subjects when we practice this walk around stuff.I like your project and hope you continue to pursue it. I’ve called it taking my camera for a walk since I do not have a dog.

    I’ve done the travel thing, spent the money and time to get there and not been pleased with the images I brought back. Strange how that is because my first impulse is to go back and try it again. The thought process being that now I’ve been there I know what I can do the next time. 🙂

  2. What’s ‘close to home’ for us may be an exotic locale to others. I sometimes see vacation ads for Denver and wonder why anyone would want to come to Denver for a vacation! Of course, then you think about it and there’s so much here to offer it makes complete sense.

    For me the problem with shooting close to home is to overcome the familiarity and look beyond the ordinary – start putting compositions together, try to see extraordinary things for the mundane. If you can make appealing images starting in your own backyard, you can do it anywhere.

    I’ve just discovered your blog – it’s great! I’ll be visiting often.


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