Photograph Close to Home to Improve Your Photography

Photograph Close to Home to Improve Your Photography


Think about the most interesting place that you could possibly go to take an incredible photograph. What comes to mind?

Maybe it’s Machu Picchu, New Zealand, Yosemite, a safari in Africa, a city like New York or Paris, or wherever is featured in the latest National Geographic Magazine. These locations are very special occasions for travel and photography. However, they are usually once in a lifetime trips, and once you are there, you often have a very limited amount of time for photographing, along with everything else planned.

Deer, Backyard, New Jersey by Neil Persh

All images in this article courtesy of my student, Neil Persh. Here is his backyard.

So what if I told you that the most interesting place you could photograph is much easier to get to? It’s in your own neighborhood, and its surrounding locations.

I am told fairly frequently by photographers and students that they cannot, or do not feel like, photographing where they live. “It’s too boring” they say, or “There’s nothing interesting to photograph. I only do my photography when I travel.”

This is great of course, as passion for travel and photography go hand in hand, and it’s often when people do their best work. But, thinking that way can also make you miss the whole point of photography.

Shop Window, Rutgers, New Jersey by Neil Persh

Shop Window, Rutgers, New Jersey by Neil Persh.

When students mention this to me, I get them to do a specific exercise, I suggest that you try it as well. Spend a few weeks photographing areas within close proximity to your house. Leave your home and go for a long walk in any random direction. Take it even further by thinking about the most uninteresting area that you can imagine photographing, and go there. Maybe it’s a mall parking lot, an empty street corner, or behind a convenience store. Stay there, and figure out how to take an interesting photograph.

Many people tend to take their own location for granted. Your surroundings may seem routine and banal to you, but they’re not. If you were to take someone from a different part of the world, or from a different time period, and park them right where you are – they would probably find things very weird and fascinating. They would probably photograph so many things that you may currently be overlooking.

Step outside, and try to see these areas in that way. What makes this area interesting? How are these scenes going to look as the world changes? How can you make these everyday things beautiful and interesting? Figure out why you might find an area uninspiring, and then photograph that. That is an fascinating idea in itself.

Road, New Jersey by Neil Persh

Road, New Jersey by Neil Persh.

The most experienced photographers have learned how to take unique and interesting photographs anywhere. They usually do not take anything for granted. I think this is a skill that you can practice and learn, and it goes to the heart of what being a good photographer is all about. On a practical note, these areas are right outside your door, so you don’t have to pack up all your equipment and plan a lengthy trip. You can walk outside three times a week for 30 minutes with your camera, altering the times of day and the route. If you are a once or twice a month photographer, this will have you practicing much more often. This alone will make you a much better photographer, over the longterm.

Photography is an exciting past-time. I first got into it for the simple fact that I liked to walk and daydream. As you improve and learn more about photography, as you eye better gear, as you think about creating grander images, and as you look at the work of well-traveled photographers on a daily basis, it can pull you away from this simple idea. One of most powerful aspects of photography is that it is a reason in itself to go and take an enjoyable walk. It is a reason to relax and daydream; it is an excuse to wander. It is also a great ice-breaker for meeting other people.

Subdivision, New Jersey by Neil Persh

Subdivision, New Jersey by Neil Persh.

Take a look at the work of William Eggleston, Lee Friedlander, or Alec Soth. Look at some of the areas where they photographed. The places probably did not feel that special, or inspiring, to the photographers on the surface. But these photographers were able to see past it, and show in their images how the areas were unique.

Any time that doubt creeps in, and you think that it is impossible to take a good photograph somewhere, I want you to stop yourself and slowly look around. Figure out how to take the best possible image that you can right there, and then go explore another block. Something new will be around the corner.

New Jersey by Neil Persh

New Jersey by Neil Persh.

The work of one of my students, Neil Persh is shown throughout this article. Neil frequently takes day trips into New York City, along with traveling to many interesting places to capture wonderful images. His work in these areas has gotten very good, and he clearly has an enthusiasm and passion for photography that is contagious. However, when he had to go photograph his neighborhood for an assignment, he struggled with the idea for a while. Then, when he finally commit to it, he began to get over his trepidation, and started to photograph his area more frequently. I was blown away by the images. The work shown here was taken over months, not years, and I find them to be much different from what you normally see.

You can do the same. Go for a walk this week!

Ham Radio Operator's House, New Jersey by Neil Persh

Ham Radio Operator’s House, New Jersey by Neil Persh.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

James Maher is a professional photographer based in New York, whose primary passion is documenting the personalities and stories of the city. If you are planning a trip to NYC, he is offering his new guide free to DPS readers, titled The New York Photographer's Travel Guide. James also runs New York Photography Tours and Street Photography Workshops and is the author of the e-book, The Essentials of Street Photography.

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  • Sona

    My goodness, as a newbie I have no understanding of Eggleston. The other two I can see.

  • Basavaraj Murigerudrappa

    We can do lot of interesting photography near our surroundings. I have a photo taken adjacent to my home with a fast lens. Posing a few. Comments welcome.

  • Michael

    It’s always very much beneficial for any photographer to know the exposure settings and the focal length of each photo taken by other photographers. I always try to estimate the exposure settings just looking at a photo. Well, I know that it can be way off as there are many combinations of the exposure triangle giving almost the same results except f/stops. I have lost the count of how many tines I photographed my streets, my house, backyard and the whole area where I live. Some people ask me if I am from a real-estate company.

  • OldPom

    Unfortunately my travelling days are over due to age – but fortunately walking my dog within a couple of kilometres of home provides plenty of opportunities. In golden hour yet !

  • kswyo

    I disagree with these being interesting. Taking a plain photo and making it black and white doesn’t make it interesting.

  • I’d argue that the reason why they seem plain to you is a major reason why they are interesting, at least to me.

  • Eggleston’s photographs grow on you over time – at least they did for me. They were quite revolutionary when he took them, both from a content and a color perspective.

  • Brett Ossman

    Interesting and plain are both subjective. I can take plenty of photos in Florida that may seem plain and common to Floridians, but they may be VERY interesting to somebody in Minnesota or in the desert.

  • George Citizen

    Good article! Good point. I’m always trying to think of near places to go, but none of those are as near as my home town. As for the deer in his backyard, I could only hope the deer in my suburban yard were as emaciated. (It’s not cruelty. It’s a desire for them to migrate away!) Unfortunately, mine are well fed from my garden. There’s one that even gets on its hind legs to dine in my hanging bird feeder. I never catch her with camera in hand…some day!

  • George Citizen

    I liked most of the pictures because they tell a story. The sidewalk in the subdivision leads the eye into the dull, conformist life which some are forced to live. I like the absence of people and its vertical symmetry. I think this is one example of where following the rule of thirds would have ruined the composition. I loved the Ham Radio house despite the wires across the view. It made me wonder who is this owner? Does he glow at night? What do his neighbors think? What happens in a good August New Jersey electrical storm? Then there are those enigmatic ladders. Does he actually climb up their frequently to make adjustments or is he adding yet another to his collection? The black and white sharp contrasts is what help make this picture. I don’t think in color it would snap in the same way, especially with the antennas against the clear sky. That’s the good and bad thing about photography – it’s subjective!

  • Really liked this comment George. This is what it’s all about!

  • Completely agree Brett! I found these so interesting because I’m a city kid. They all tell interesting stories.

  • Leah M

    I have chronic health issues that force me to stay home much of the time. Last year I did a Project365. Needless to say, I made good use of my neighborhood walks and household curiosities! I think it also helps to be fond of a minimalist style, or have a “make the ordinary extraordinary” philosophy. I studied plants in school so I’ve documented just about everything at different times of the year, I have a construction site nearby that let me get some industrial themed photos, and I invested in a reversed lens attachment so I could make macro images of insects and still lifes of my indoor habitat. Having photogenic pets helps too. My friends and family may not appreciate the subjects, but the aesthetic is there and I’m happy with what I got.

  • Jennifer Carrera Turner

    Excellent article ???

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