Here’s something that I’ve discussed before, though when last I spoke about it, it was a bit different than this. It’s the idea that we need to get to know our surroundings or subjects to photograph them most effectively. Today, I’m framing it a bit differently because the thing is, we photographers have a habit of always going after something new. New places, new subjects—we want to expose ourselves to as much new and unique as possible. It’s all in the name of creating new and unique photographs. Most of us operate on the belief that if we’re seeing as many new things as we can, then we’re photographing new things that maybe haven’t been photographed as much by other photographers.
To an extent, this is a good thing. Where would photography be if none of us ever left our backyards? Most of the world wouldn’t have been explored through the lens!
But there’s also a little bit of conflict here. You see, I think that most of us when we do meet these new subjects or locations, we do take time to get to know them. Perhaps it’s an hour of conversation or an afternoon of study. If we’re on a photography trip, then we might spend a week focused on a particular destination, spending a lot of that time simply getting to know the area.
This is all well and good—necessary, even—but when I say “extreme familiarity,” that’s not the type of familiarity I’m referring to. Rather, I’m speaking of the kind of familiarity that comes from revisiting the same place again and again over the span of years. Maybe it’s your hometown or a favorite national park, but whatever it is, it’s something you keep going back to.
Now, those of us who are highly motivated to always be questing after new things might argue that going back to the same places year after year is an exercise in futility. Eventually, you’re going to run out of ideas and inspiration. Eventually, these people may say, you’ll end up taking the same images again and again—or you’ll come home empty-handed because you’re bored to tears with well-trodden territory.
Perhaps that’s one way to look at it. But another way—a more productive way, I think—is to embrace that kind of extreme familiarity with a subject or destination. To my mind, this level of familiarity is actually incredibly beneficial because it allows you to learn the moods of a place. You become familiar with it down to the very geology. You know all the plants and trails. You gain an understanding of the weather and what it will do in this place.
This is the kind of in-depth knowledge that allows us to truly dig into our subject material and see it from new perspectives. When we have this level of familiarity, we go beyond the easy surface-level shots to dig deeper. We’re using the knowledge that only we have. It’s the information we’ve spent years gathering, and it enables us to tell a rich, deep story that can only be told through the lens of experience.
Now go and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation through your lens.