Top 10 Subjects to Help You Tell the Story of Your Neighborhood

Top 10 Subjects to Help You Tell the Story of Your Neighborhood

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In this article, you will get 10 photo story ideas to help you connect with and tell the story your community including; bus stops, your community garden, and the grocery store.

Finding a unique and extraordinary scene to photograph can take a lot of energy. Thanks to the internet, you’re bombarded daily with exotic scenes caught on camera from all around the world and suddenly your own community or neighborhood feels commonplace by comparison.

What we often forget is that magic happens in our own backyards. What feels mundane to you, can be fascinating to people from other regions, countries, and cultures (and looking back from future decades).

Animal - Top 10 Subjects to Help You Tell the Story of Your Neighborhood

To get that magic working in photographs of your community, tell a clear story with a mix of long shots, mid shots, close-ups, and extreme close-ups. You’ve already overcome the first hurdles. You know what the light is like and probably have an idea of some settings to use. Chances are, you speak the language and understand the culture.

You know the best place to pick up a coffee, and what time the trains, boats, or sheep go past each day. With technical and communication issues sorted before you begin, you can work on breaking some (photographic) rules. Push your creativity by experimenting with composition, framing, and movement to further convey the vibe of your neighborhood.

Need some inspiration? Here are my top ten subjects to help tell the story of your neighborhood:

1. Bus Stop Narratives

Bus stops speak volumes about the neighborhood. Whether your closest one is posh or plain, busy or quiet – there’s always something there to photograph.

If the bus stop is a building, look for strong lines and shapes. If it’s busy, experiment with different shutter speeds to show the movement of vehicles and people. Perhaps it’s just a seldom-used seat overgrown with weeds.

Use wide angle shots to convey a feeling of space and emptiness as the light fades at the end of the day. Get friends or family to pose to provide context and scale to the scene.

Bus stop Top 10 Subjects to Help You Tell the Story of Your Neighborhood

2. Animal Life

For some, photographing animals in their neighborhood means capturing images of local domestic pets, or common birds. For others, it means finding larger, scarier animals (the rest of us are jealous).

Even the common sparrow can be a beautiful subject to photograph, and it can help tell the story of your community. Get familiar with where local wildlife (or pets) hang out, and the times they show up. Take snacks and water for yourself, and a good zoom lens if possible.

Using a fast shutter speed is ideal for photographing animals but reduces the amount of light entering the camera, so you might need to increase your ISO to compensate. Try a shallow depth of field for slow animals, and greater depth of field for the less predictable species.

Animal - Top 10 Subjects to Help You Tell the Story of Your Neighborhood

3. Found Neighborhood Alphabet

This subject is super fun and easy to get a bit obsessed over. The idea is to find an alphabet made entirely of shapes and forms, but not actual letters. You might come across twigs making the shape of an E, a roofline that looks like a V, or stonework in the shape of a J. This makes you look at details in quite a different way and is a great exercise for your brain.

There’s a catch to this – you actually have 27 photographs to make. The 27th is the ampersand, which is the “&” shape (and not particularly easy to find)!

4. The Grocery Store

People have a love/hate relationship with grocery stores. It might be a place you associate with stress and fatigue . . . but also with ice cream! All that shelving and stacking provides fantastic lines, repetitive patterns, and colors.

Perhaps your neighborhood store is small and full of old character, or it might feel vast with plenty of reflective surfaces and wide aisles. Keep an eye on your White Balance setting, as it might need some adjustment with fluorescent lighting.

As with photographing any business, talk with the management first about your project, and be prepared to share your results with them.

Grocery - Top 10 Subjects to Help You Tell the Story of Your Neighborhood

Grocery - Top 10 Subjects to Help You Tell the Story of Your Neighborhood

5. Signage

Signs come in all shapes and forms and have a wide range of purposes. Street signs, shop signs, road works signs, lost cat signs, temporary signs – they all tell a unique narrative of your neighborhood.

While the graphic design of some signage can be beautiful in itself, try photographing signs with some of the surroundings in the frame. Look for groups of signs, clever signs, and signage that evoke emotions. You don’t have to include the whole sign in your frame – perhaps pick out specific words or colors that have meaning.

Combined, a series of signage photographs can tell a story figuratively or literally.

Signage - Top 10 Subjects to Help You Tell the Story of Your Neighborhood

Signage - Top 10 Subjects to Help You Tell the Story of Your Neighborhood

6. A Year of a Community Garden

If you’re lucky enough to live near a community garden, you’ve got a fantastic year-long photographic project ready to start. Talk with the garden organizers about access and the best times to photograph gardeners in action. Return regularly to capture the changing colors and textures.

The photographs don’t have to all be pretty. Use a macro or zoom lens to photograph the decomposition and composting processes. Take a small ladder to photograph garden patterns from a fresh viewpoint. If it’s surrounded by buildings, celebrate the contrast of colors and shapes that the garden provides.

Garden - Top 10 Subjects to Help You Tell the Story of Your Neighborhood

7. Ground-Level Series

A lot goes on at ground level, regardless of what type of environment you live in. In our day-to-day lives, we scurry on by without noticing the details at our feet. At ground level, your neighborhood might be full of sand dunes, grasses, and bare feet. Or maybe you’re surrounded by fences, road markings, and running shoes.

Try shooting from a standing position using a bird’s eye view angle, or you can sit or even lie down so that you’re at the same level as the subject.

Hot tip: Take a small mat or tarpaulin to lie down on and make sure you aren’t a tripping hazard!

Ground Level - Top 10 Subjects to Help You Tell the Story of Your Neighborhood

8. Street Art Story

My favorite subject to photograph is street art. I love documenting other people’s creativity – particularly if it’s temporary artwork that is scheduled to be covered up or torn down. Every town and city has their own unique art vibe.

If you live in a community with lots of street sculptures and paintings, find out the stories behind them. Photograph their relationship with the surrounding buildings at different times of the day. Capture people interacting with the artwork, and include some of the environment around it by using different angles.

Street Art - Top 10 Subjects to Help You Tell the Story of Your Neighborhood

9. Demolition Documentary

This won’t work for all neighborhoods, but you might live in an area where there are lots of physical changes happening. Buildings coming up and going down are fantastic to photograph. Apart from the changing lines, shapes, and angles, this is a cool way to document an interesting moment in time for your community.

By using a shallow depth of field and/or by getting close-up to safety fencing, you may be able to get a clear shot of the subject without the fence getting in the way.

If there’s an authorized opportunity to get onto a building or demolition site – grab it! Follow health and safety guidelines at all times, and get to know people at the site so you get a heads-up of upcoming activity to photograph.

Demo - Top 10 Subjects to Help You Tell the Story of Your Neighborhood

Demo - Top 10 Subjects to Help You Tell the Story of Your Neighborhood

10. Doorways

If you have great neighbors who you’re on good terms with, have a go at photographing a doorway series. The good thing about this theme is that you can stick with one lens and work to easily measurable straight-lines.

Places of worship and heritage buildings can have beautiful doorway architecture, but don’t underestimate the aesthetics of barn doors and slick city business entrances.

Hot tips: Photograph the doorways closed and avoid private properties unless you have permission. Watch out for reflections in glass or polished surfaces. You might need to use the distortion or upright tools in your post-production software to make sure the lines are nice and straight.

Door - Top 10 Subjects to Help You Tell the Story of Your Neighborhood

Conclusion

Exploring your neighborhood with your camera is a great way to get back to the basics of photography. You can make mistakes and test out new techniques without feeling like you’re wasting time and money. It compels you to find beauty and diversity in everyday objects and push the boundaries of your creativity close to home.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Heather Joy Milne is a photographer and writer, and is obsessed with finding the beauty in patterns and details. She specializes in street photography and social commentary, and is passionate about using her photographs as learning tools in the community through exhibition work. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, where the post-earthquake city scene (and coffee) provides constant inspiration for her work.

  • Stacey

    Great articley – given me lots of ideas for getting out and getting local for some of my upcoming projects.

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