See The Extraordinary In The Ordinary

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Have you ever found yourself with your camera in a place where there is nothing interesting to photograph? The quality of light is poor or the surroundings are boring?  You go home with an empty memory card and full of self doubt.  Well, that happens to every photographer, but it can be easily turned into a journey of new discoveries.

Friends say that I have the ability to find something interesting to shoot everywhere I go, no matter the light or the surroundings.  I am never bored when I am with my camera! I love the challenge of photographing an ordinary object and try to make it look interesting. I may be only experimenting with composition and depth of field, but isn’t it through such exercises that we learn and grow the most in our craft?

While out for ice cream with the kids I notice the lines and the sun light through the yellow umbrella. I climbed on a chair to get just the right angle to make the shot interesting. Sure, people at the other tables were a bit puzzled by it but I learned to ignore their stares a long time ago!

Sometimes it's all about isolating an object that you would not normally pay attention to.

While recently following the work of a few photographers who just completed their first 365 photo-a-day adventure, I noticed a pattern.  Clearly, their plan was to capture something exciting for every day, not for a moment thinking ordinary household items might fit the bill.  However, to maintain that daily photographic commitment, each photographer eventually needed to become resourceful enough to see the extraordinary in the mundane. It is at this stage that I always see them take a big step forward in their work.  It’s as though they suddenly get the urge – and the confidence – to experiment, and this teaches them to see the ordinary world around them with new eyes.

Try this exercise.  Look around your house for something ordinary to shoot. Better yet, open a kitchen drawer and take out any object.  Now using just one lens, shoot it from different angles and depths of field.  Then let some direct sunlight shine through it or bounce a flash on colored paper.  This exercise can be done anywhere in your house. Now take your camera outside.  Walk down the street, stop randomly and look around.  Pick an object, study it from different perspectives and then shoot. Play with shadows and light.  Get down on the ground or shoot from above. The sky is the limit!  If you enjoy working in the digital darkroom, let your creative juices flow.  Add filters. Play with those sliders.  The camera you use doesn’t matter. This is all about vision – your vision! And have fun!

Pick any ordinary object in your house and experiment!

Walk down the street, stop randomly and look around. Pick an object, study it from different perspectives and then shoot.

You may surprise yourself by how much you “accidentally” learn from this exercise, so I encourage you to do this often.  Mostly, you will also get to know your camera and its capabilities better, which will prepare you for the time when you need to shoot something really important for yourself or a client.

The next time you visit a modern art museum, notice how often ordinary household items are incorporated into the art.  They are used all the time and in any medium.  Soon, you will see the extraordinary in the ordinary!

I will end this article with a quote from Vincent Laforet’s book Visual Stories.  This resonates with me because it describes perfectly how I strive to live every day I spend with my camera. “Images are happening around you every second. You can photograph anything in a million different ways, but what I always try to remember is to photograph something as if I’ve discovered it for the first time. And if I have photographed it before, I find a way to see it as I’ve never seen it before.”

We learn from each other, so please share your stories and ideas with the dPS community in the comment section below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Valerie Jardin

I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it’s an obsession, almost an addiction. When I’m not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! I am also thrilled to be an official X Photographer for Fujifilm USA. Visit my Website
Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram. And listen to my Podcast!

  • Ben Arnold

    I know that situation and one of my tries to make something ordinary look interesting is also a shot of my glasses lying on paper in B&W.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/banjipark/5996079632/

  • sillyxone

    hello from Minnesota, too. Shooting in this cold weather with your numbing fingers is a lot more fun and challenging 😀

    Your compassion for photography is amazing. I used to shoot a lot of “ordinary” thing too, to develop my feeling for light and composition, and to improve my skill. As I’m not a pro (I’m a software developer), and as I’ve achieved the feeling and skills I wanted, I gradually stopped shooting photos without having a story, or something meaningful attached.

    Sometimes I looked back at the “ordinary” images I took in the past, found something interesting, some even bring back the memories. But I rarely have the “feeling” for them anymore, I guess it’s just simply because I’m not an artist.

  • I do the same thing. I may seek to photograph light versus shadow, texture, color, order, or something else abstract, where the actual subject isn’t as important as its aesthetics.

    I like to do this outdoors in the city, capturing buildings, plants, and sometimes moving things like people, cars and animals.

  • Alexander DiMauro

    I actually love shooting ordinary things. While many of the pictures turn out, well, ‘ordinary’, every once in a while you get something special that you wouldn’t have expected. Those few pictures make it worth it to me.

    You don’t have to spend that much time, either. Just pick up a camera and start shooting while you are walking around the house, going about your daily business. Every once in a while, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

  • and once you’ve done that, why not swap lenses and carry on?

  • Very good example of “get close, closer, no even closer”.

    merci Valerie

  • This was shot during event coverage – there was a break in the panel sessions so when I spotted this ordinary gavel, I knew I had my shot!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/heed-the-gavel/

  • Alexander Rose

    Bonne lecture!
    Merci mille fois, Valerie.

  • I tried the close up on my Alvarez… I discovered using my 60mm macro lens is very tricky as far as having the “film plane” the same of the surface of the guitar.

  • raghavendra

    To me this is not new.
    I don’t know about others
    One picture always makes sense and beauty would be the clouds
    It can be added in the list.

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/

  • I should pay heed to this, as I work full time and I have to look at everyday things if I want to shoot continuously. I got this bird on a foggy day while going to work!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2010/12/black-winged-stilt.html

  • I like the idea of finding something special in ordinary objects. I really like the repeated pattern in the bench photograph in the post.

    I recently wrote about photographing common objects in public for historical purposes:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2011/8/29/photographing-common-objects-in-public-for-historical-purpos.html

    When I see old photographs of common streets scenes I think how valuable they are to show how things used to be done. This is one of my ongoing personal photography projects, to photograph how street work is done so that in the future when it is all done by robots, kids will be wowed to see actual people doing it!

  • WOOT, another great article, Valerie!!

  • Scottc

    A great reminder that extraordinary subjects are all around us.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5820893568/

  • Vic

    Object of the lesson reminds me of comments by a great Canadian photographer, Freeman Patterson. One of his lessons is to go in your own backyard with your camera and just sit there NOT shooting for 30 minutes then turn on the camera and start taking pictures.

  • Mathew Selvaraj

    After taking interest in photography I have become much more observant of things around me… and am able to appreciate God’s wonderful creation even more..

  • Average Joe

    Great way to think of it!
    I really need to try one of those 365’s… Maybe that’ll be my new years resolution this year! 🙂
    Enjoyed this article! Thanks!

  • Cobi

    I’m surprised that no one liked it on StumbleUpon. ThankGod I liked it the first time because I’m sure this article is going to be read by a million people out there. Brilliant STUFF!!! 🙂

  • kitty

    Like your suggestions. Keep up the great work! Only thing I struggle with is when I shoot in too tight, I can not frame the shot without losing some of the essentials, so keep in mind, pull back a little so you can frame what you really want!

  • Everything is ordinary to somebody. I love the african safari pics, but someone living there might care less. Others love longhorns and cowboys, but I see that every day.

    flickr:

    http://bit.ly/oufr4c

  • I like your photo style, Simple items. You can pass it out to be very interesting.

  • I shot this frozen pothole in Toronto this past Thursday. Love the abstract swirls in the ice 🙂
    [url=http://www.garypaakkonen.com/Photography/Abstract-fartin-around/6988124_Z89ZQX#1625384576_ztwwvd3-A-LB][eimg url=’http://www.garypaakkonen.com/Photography/Abstract-fartin-around/i-ztwwvd3/0/M/20111208-GPP0023-3-M.jpg’ title=’20111208-GPP0023-3-M.jpg’][/url]

  • I shot this frozen pothole in Toronto this past Thursday. I love the abstract swirls in the ice 🙂

    http://www.garypaakkonen.com/Photography/Abstract-fartin-around/i-ztwwvd3/0/X3/20111208-GPP0023-3-X3.jpg

  • This is exactly the kind of stuff I tried to fill my 365 project I did last year. It worked perfectly, but felt a lot harder to do this year. There’s always something to see in the details.

  • Tom

    I’m a newbie. I love your ideas. I went into my backyard this morning and took a bunch of shots of the water cascading out of my jacuzzi (sorry it’s like 70 degrees in So Cal today). It was a great learning exercise.

  • hey there, loved your article. i’m actually thinking of doing the 365s, it looks like a really good way to practice and form a new perspecitve. regarding the article, i believe we can all find extraordinary things every single day, everywhere. the point is to just look around more carefully and pay attention to details.
    i think i’m going try that more often.

  • Just today I was thinking why I fail to look at small elements in a frame. There cannot be a timely post than this !

    A big thanks !
    Puru

  • Just a few weeks ago, when I was working on my new shield, I shot some pictures of the process. I played with a small depth of field and by paying attention to the details. Here what turned out: http://usedglass.blogspot.com/2011/11/schildbau.html

  • marty

    To my view, this process is almost entirely one of perception. If one accepts that every object is a form of extraordinary, if we don’t see it, the lacking is our responsibility. I constantly forgive myself for my lackings since I am an imperfect being. But this “intellectual framework” has helped me to internalize this belief & more consistently “scan” my surroundings no matter what my activity is at the moment.

    Once seen, then an individual’s photographic skills & preferences come into play in the process of communicating their vision. Even if one fails to communicate the vision, the fact of seeing it is no small matter & valuable unto itself.

  • Carroll Owens

    http://ceowens.zenfolio.com/p354562257/h19259867

    During my 365, wife’s earrings on the bathroom sink around 11:45 pm.

  • At my colleague’s desk

  • Kapi
  • Kapil
  • ArturoMM

    I’m reading a book wich is all about this kind of phtography:

    The Practice of Contemplative Photography, Seeing the World whith Fresh Eyes.
    Andy Karr and Michael Wood

  • Haxn

    this is my 2012 year resoluttion, thanks for the ideas…

  • Very neat and consise article, which was actually quite inspiring…. thanks.

  • DevinS

    I tried this and was surprised at how interesting ordinary things are when you put them in a different perspective. Very cool!

  • Very cool, its always great to see other peoples interpretation of everyday things that surround us:)

  • One thing I forgot to mention is that everything has an angle that makes it look its best. Of course this is open to interpretation and in no way means it will look good:) But it may look its best! Look at some everyday object, walk around it, look at it from above and below, change lenses,use different lighting and you will see what I mean:)

  • Pooja Varshney

    beautifully written and so many great advices to be a better photographer. i am just a beginner and these tips gonma help me a lot.
    as of now too most of the times i do it same way… i just roam around with my camera clicking anything from different angles and perspective. most of the time i end up clicking plants with flowers from above,side, or bottom. to know more about what angle works best for my thoughts about that focused object.

Some Older Comments

  • Benn March 16, 2012 04:43 pm

    One thing I forgot to mention is that everything has an angle that makes it look its best. Of course this is open to interpretation and in no way means it will look good:) But it may look its best! Look at some everyday object, walk around it, look at it from above and below, change lenses,use different lighting and you will see what I mean:)

  • Benn March 16, 2012 04:39 pm

    Very cool, its always great to see other peoples interpretation of everyday things that surround us:)

  • DevinS January 15, 2012 02:09 pm

    I tried this and was surprised at how interesting ordinary things are when you put them in a different perspective. Very cool!

  • PaulB January 13, 2012 03:11 am

    Very neat and consise article, which was actually quite inspiring.... thanks.

  • Haxn December 18, 2011 10:40 pm

    this is my 2012 year resoluttion, thanks for the ideas...

  • ArturoMM December 18, 2011 04:53 pm

    I'm reading a book wich is all about this kind of phtography:

    The Practice of Contemplative Photography, Seeing the World whith Fresh Eyes.
    Andy Karr and Michael Wood

  • Kapil December 18, 2011 07:00 am

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2421331685083&set=oa.312786535400384&type=1&theater#!/photo.php?fbid=2417256263200&set=oa.312786535400384&type=1&theater

  • Kapi December 18, 2011 06:58 am

    http://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?fbid=2421331685083&set=oa.312786535400384&type=1&theater

  • Kapi December 17, 2011 04:24 pm

    At my colleague's desk

  • Carroll Owens December 16, 2011 11:56 am

    http://ceowens.zenfolio.com/p354562257/h19259867

    During my 365, wife's earrings on the bathroom sink around 11:45 pm.

  • marty December 16, 2011 09:19 am

    To my view, this process is almost entirely one of perception. If one accepts that every object is a form of extraordinary, if we don't see it, the lacking is our responsibility. I constantly forgive myself for my lackings since I am an imperfect being. But this "intellectual framework" has helped me to internalize this belief & more consistently "scan" my surroundings no matter what my activity is at the moment.

    Once seen, then an individual's photographic skills & preferences come into play in the process of communicating their vision. Even if one fails to communicate the vision, the fact of seeing it is no small matter & valuable unto itself.

  • Jake December 16, 2011 08:13 am

    Just a few weeks ago, when I was working on my new shield, I shot some pictures of the process. I played with a small depth of field and by paying attention to the details. Here what turned out: http://usedglass.blogspot.com/2011/11/schildbau.html

  • Puru December 12, 2011 05:41 am

    Just today I was thinking why I fail to look at small elements in a frame. There cannot be a timely post than this !

    A big thanks !
    Puru

  • Simona December 11, 2011 10:45 pm

    hey there, loved your article. i'm actually thinking of doing the 365s, it looks like a really good way to practice and form a new perspecitve. regarding the article, i believe we can all find extraordinary things every single day, everywhere. the point is to just look around more carefully and pay attention to details.
    i think i'm going try that more often.

  • Tom December 11, 2011 11:28 am

    I'm a newbie. I love your ideas. I went into my backyard this morning and took a bunch of shots of the water cascading out of my jacuzzi (sorry it's like 70 degrees in So Cal today). It was a great learning exercise.

  • Jaina December 11, 2011 09:24 am

    This is exactly the kind of stuff I tried to fill my 365 project I did last year. It worked perfectly, but felt a lot harder to do this year. There's always something to see in the details.

  • Gary Paakkonen December 11, 2011 08:02 am

    I shot this frozen pothole in Toronto this past Thursday. I love the abstract swirls in the ice :)

    http://www.garypaakkonen.com/Photography/Abstract-fartin-around/i-ztwwvd3/0/X3/20111208-GPP0023-3-X3.jpg

  • Gary Paakkonen December 11, 2011 08:00 am

    I shot this frozen pothole in Toronto this past Thursday. Love the abstract swirls in the ice :)
    [url=http://www.garypaakkonen.com/Photography/Abstract-fartin-around/6988124_Z89ZQX#1625384576_ztwwvd3-A-LB][eimg url='http://www.garypaakkonen.com/Photography/Abstract-fartin-around/i-ztwwvd3/0/M/20111208-GPP0023-3-M.jpg' title='20111208-GPP0023-3-M.jpg'][/url]

  • mukem December 11, 2011 01:21 am

    I like your photo style, Simple items. You can pass it out to be very interesting.

  • Gnslngr45 December 10, 2011 11:55 pm

    Everything is ordinary to somebody. I love the african safari pics, but someone living there might care less. Others love longhorns and cowboys, but I see that every day.

    flickr:

    http://bit.ly/oufr4c

  • kitty December 10, 2011 11:15 pm

    Like your suggestions. Keep up the great work! Only thing I struggle with is when I shoot in too tight, I can not frame the shot without losing some of the essentials, so keep in mind, pull back a little so you can frame what you really want!

  • Cobi December 10, 2011 10:01 pm

    I'm surprised that no one liked it on StumbleUpon. ThankGod I liked it the first time because I'm sure this article is going to be read by a million people out there. Brilliant STUFF!!! :)

  • Average Joe December 10, 2011 04:40 pm

    Great way to think of it!
    I really need to try one of those 365's... Maybe that'll be my new years resolution this year! :)
    Enjoyed this article! Thanks!

  • Mathew Selvaraj December 10, 2011 02:23 pm

    After taking interest in photography I have become much more observant of things around me... and am able to appreciate God's wonderful creation even more..

  • Vic December 10, 2011 02:12 pm

    Object of the lesson reminds me of comments by a great Canadian photographer, Freeman Patterson. One of his lessons is to go in your own backyard with your camera and just sit there NOT shooting for 30 minutes then turn on the camera and start taking pictures.

  • Scottc December 10, 2011 09:48 am

    A great reminder that extraordinary subjects are all around us.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5820893568/

  • Carolyn December 10, 2011 07:34 am

    WOOT, another great article, Valerie!!

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer December 10, 2011 06:20 am

    I like the idea of finding something special in ordinary objects. I really like the repeated pattern in the bench photograph in the post.

    I recently wrote about photographing common objects in public for historical purposes:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2011/8/29/photographing-common-objects-in-public-for-historical-purpos.html

    When I see old photographs of common streets scenes I think how valuable they are to show how things used to be done. This is one of my ongoing personal photography projects, to photograph how street work is done so that in the future when it is all done by robots, kids will be wowed to see actual people doing it!

  • Mridula December 10, 2011 05:18 am

    I should pay heed to this, as I work full time and I have to look at everyday things if I want to shoot continuously. I got this bird on a foggy day while going to work!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2010/12/black-winged-stilt.html

  • raghavendra December 10, 2011 05:01 am

    To me this is not new.
    I don't know about others
    One picture always makes sense and beauty would be the clouds
    It can be added in the list.

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/

  • hugh December 10, 2011 04:41 am

    I tried the close up on my Alvarez... I discovered using my 60mm macro lens is very tricky as far as having the "film plane" the same of the surface of the guitar.

  • Alexander Rose December 10, 2011 04:07 am

    Bonne lecture!
    Merci mille fois, Valerie.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck December 10, 2011 03:27 am

    This was shot during event coverage - there was a break in the panel sessions so when I spotted this ordinary gavel, I knew I had my shot!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/heed-the-gavel/

  • Anna-Elizabeth December 10, 2011 03:02 am

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/annaelizabeth55/sets/72157628313686245/

  • Maxime Gousse December 10, 2011 02:59 am

    Very good example of "get close, closer, no even closer".

    merci Valerie

  • Chris December 10, 2011 02:49 am

    and once you've done that, why not swap lenses and carry on?

  • Alexander DiMauro December 10, 2011 02:46 am

    I actually love shooting ordinary things. While many of the pictures turn out, well, 'ordinary', every once in a while you get something special that you wouldn't have expected. Those few pictures make it worth it to me.

    You don't have to spend that much time, either. Just pick up a camera and start shooting while you are walking around the house, going about your daily business. Every once in a while, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

  • Louis Frayser December 10, 2011 02:16 am

    I do the same thing. I may seek to photograph light versus shadow, texture, color, order, or something else abstract, where the actual subject isn't as important as its aesthetics.

    I like to do this outdoors in the city, capturing buildings, plants, and sometimes moving things like people, cars and animals.

  • sillyxone December 10, 2011 01:16 am

    hello from Minnesota, too. Shooting in this cold weather with your numbing fingers is a lot more fun and challenging :-D

    Your compassion for photography is amazing. I used to shoot a lot of "ordinary" thing too, to develop my feeling for light and composition, and to improve my skill. As I'm not a pro (I'm a software developer), and as I've achieved the feeling and skills I wanted, I gradually stopped shooting photos without having a story, or something meaningful attached.

    Sometimes I looked back at the "ordinary" images I took in the past, found something interesting, some even bring back the memories. But I rarely have the "feeling" for them anymore, I guess it's just simply because I'm not an artist.

  • Ben Arnold December 10, 2011 01:09 am

    I know that situation and one of my tries to make something ordinary look interesting is also a shot of my glasses lying on paper in B&W.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/banjipark/5996079632/

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