The romance and adventure of travel photography is the dream of many photographers. Travelling to far away places, recording the scenes and stories of the different landscapes or cultures will no doubt inspire, especially when visiting for the first time. Unfortunately, regularly experiencing travel photography is only feasible for some so in this post we will explore the benefits of the more accessible local photography. The familiar or even mundane may not immediately inspire those photographic juices in quite the same way as the new or glamorous locations we all see on social media, but remember, what's normal or mundane to you might well look exotic to those living in other parts of the world, you may just need to work a little harder to see past the familiar and find those subjects that inspire you. This post will run through 6 of the benefits I feel when photographing my local area.
One important point to note from the get-go is that it really doesn't matter what photography style you prefer, any photography enthusiast can read this post and use some, if not all of the information below.
What is local photography?
Let's face it, anywhere you might travel to away from home could technically be classed as travel photography so there is no single rule that determines what location would be classed as local. In the Australian outback, your next door neighbour could be tens of miles away making your local community larger than some small countries, where in New York City, you might consider just a few blocks to be local. There is, of course, no right or wrong answer here so decide what's best for you.
My take on it is that anywhere I can travel to within 35-40 minutes in the car is local. The surrounding towns, villages or countryside within this time are familiar and I know the area quite well.
The image above is called "End of the West Pier" and was taken in Brighton, East Sussex, UK and is on the limit of what I call "local" with it being a 40-minute drive from my home. This structure was called the West Pier and has suffered fire and storms since closing and just some of the metal structure remains. With the silhouette set against a simple backdrop, the detail in the structure really stands out so for this image only a long exposure would do.
1. Removes all that pressure
The thing about visiting somewhere new and for a limited time is that you may feel the pressure to capture that portfolio shot during your one and only visit. I know I certainly have. I've visited New York, Paris, Prague and so on and as these locations are exotic to me and have cityscapes and structures recognisable across the world, I could not help myself and attempted to capture the classic shots during my stay. Most of the photos I took were holiday snaps at best and rarely did I get a great shot. The thing is, unless you get really lucky, getting the best shots sometimes means visiting a location time and time again before all the elements come together such as weather, light, timing and so on. When shooting locally, this pressure to get it right on your first attempt is instantly removed as you don't have to get that shot and you can visit again and again until those elements come together for the shot you are trying to capture.
2. Find those hidden gems
This point is related somewhat to point one above. When you have the opportunity to visit a location multiple times (removing the pressure) and the portfolio shot is in the bag then the real exploring can begin. You start to see the hidden compositions and capture shots that you may not have seen before, documenting the location in new and innovative ways.
The shot below was taken at a place called Colley Hill in Surrey, UK. and was actually close to where I grew up. Now it is around a 20-minute drive from where I live. It took a number of visits to capture the shot I wanted of the moment the sun created this starburst effect as it dropped behind the hills. Capturing this image did not mean I stopped visiting. Since then I have started to explore the area further, trying to isolate subjects in the area and capture new compositions.
3. Takes up less time
Let's face it, most of us who do not practice photography full time can only dedicate so much time to the craft and the further we travel, the less time we have available for actually taking pictures. Staying local means less travel and more photography. This means I don't have to dedicate an entire day or afternoon to a shoot. I will regularly pop out an hour or so before sunset and still be at the location with 45 minutes to scout the locations and set my shot up.
The benefit of not having to dedicate long periods to a shoot is that it makes the decision to go out a lot easier and I find that I get out more often. The positive side effect (aside from the fact that I am out with my camera, doing what I love) is that I am using my equipment more often. This helps me build up more equipment experience and muscle memory that allow me to focus more on the image and less on using my camera.
4. A Lighter bag
When I travel, I have to think hard about what I take with me. The thought of missing that portfolio shot as I don't have the right equipment normally means I pack as much as I can sensibly carry. Local photography means there are a couple of alternatives to this approach. First, if on foot, how about just taking a camera and one or two lenses. With the pressure reduced and opportunities to return I can take less equipment with me which not only lightens the load but has the added benefit of allowing me to occasionally restrict myself to just the one lens during a shoot. It is widely known in the photography world that creating artificial restrictions can help a lot with the creative process as you learn to overcome these restrictions with different compositions or take images you might not have seen using another lens. Alternatively, shooting local for me usually means I have my car nearby so without fully committing to taking just the one lens I can leave some of my gear in the car, so it is nearby at least.
5. Explore and exploit your local area
There is something I enjoy about finding new places that I didn't know existed close to where I live. Although close to London, my immediate area isn't particularly well documented photographically so that leaves plenty of places to go and discover myself.
Bonus benefit alert! For those looking to make a bit of money from their photography, exploring and taking images of your local area can actually generate a revenue stream. You can look to attend local art and craft fares and sell mounted prints to local residents or sell images to small businesses such as coffee shops and cafes.
6. Just getting out with the camera
Yes, this one seems a bit obvious but as mentioned previously, shooting locally can often mean less travel planning, logistics and time so with hurdles removed, getting out with the camera should come easier an as such something that can be done more often. Having a good hike around the area has it's obvious health benefits as it can get the heart beating and the blood flowing. The health benefits of anything you enjoy doing should be exploited wherever possible.
The picture below was taken only a few minutes from my home. It's just a tree in a field I drive past all the time. It was winter and I was drawn to the strong shape created by the bare tree on the horizon so one evening I just popped out, parked just behind where this image was shot from and spent 30-45 minutes taking the photo and headed back home.
There are, without doubt, more reasons or benefits to photographing your local area than the six I listed above but these were some of the benefits I think about and are important to me which really help with the motivation, let's face it, we all need some time to get out there and take photos.