Encouraging Exhaustive Exploration

Do you ever feel like every single one of your photographs has been done before and done better?  This feeling usually comes about once you get past the beginner stage and start looking at lots of work by other photographers.  It feels bad, but it’s a good thing because it will push you towards creating better, more unique work.

I recently visited Victoria, BC and my hotel was near the Parliament Buildings.  This was fortunate because I was able to take pictures there at all different times of day and from lots of different angles.  It’s easy especially on vacation to simply take the first shot that appeals to you and call it a day.  Zoom lenses are particularly good at enabling this kind of behavior.  The Parliament Buildings are beautiful and I wanted to make sure I didn’t settle on a  couple of boring pictures from obvious viewpoints taken at noon.

I don’t know about you, but my brain often works against me so I have to trick it into doing what’s best for me.  Some of the ways I forced myself to explore my photographic options were:

  • Use a prime lens – the only prime I had with me was a 50mm, which is equivalent to a 75mm when mounted on my DSLR and 75mm is far from ideal for capturing architecture.  However, bad is good when you’re trying to spark creativity.
  • Use film and digital – I didn’t get any film shots here, but I carried a film camera around with me.  The point here is to get out of your comfort zone and try something new.
  • Pay attention to the light – it’s always changing and the way you use the light can make or break your shot.
  • Pay attention to the people – some people want their vacation photos to be completely devoid of other people, but that desire can lead to boring pictures.  People can add emotion and a sense of scale.  If you want an idealized view of a location, there are postcards available in the giftshop.  If the location is crowded, show us the crowd.  Take a picture of the dad balancing precariously over a ledge to get a shot of his kids.  Take a picture of the bully photographer who just has to set up their tripod right in front of you.  Don’t rule anything out.
  • Walk, don’t drive – there’s not always a choice on this, but walking always results in better pictures

I’ve included some of my favorite shots of the Parliament buildings below.  Some are fairly standard, but I think I got a decent variety of angles and times of day.

Do you have any tips of your own for how to completely explore a photographic subject?  Any links to galleries where you’ve taken lots of different photos of the same subject are more than welcome.  If there’s enough participation, maybe I’ll even write a follow-up and share my favorite examples.


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