A good photographic exercise is to search for different perspectives when you’re photographing, whether it is abroad or close to home.
When travelling, although I will take the postcard picture everyone else seems to admire, I always try to capture a different view of the places visited. It may not be the most exciting image, but it probably has more of me than a photo similar to the thousands taken from the same spot.
There is nothing wrong with taking postcard pictures. After all, postcard photos, are sometimes, the best way to share a place, and that’s the reason why they’re so popular. Postcard pictures are, also, many times, the result of the laborious work of a local photographer, able to come to the same spot over and over, to get the right light, and everything else. If you’re travelling, you probably do not have the time to explore a place in the same way.
Still, many people will snap a photo from the same perspective, dreaming of being able to get the perfect photo with their smartphone or modern fully sophisticated camera. Others will methodically photograph the subject, tripod, filters, everything else, hoping for the best. They will usually fail.
There are multiple ways to discover the most popular spots people use to photograph everything, from popular landscapes to famous monuments. Checking the postcards available in local shops is one of them, the other being to investigate where large crowds of people holding an object to their face or, as is modernly seen, at arms’ length, gather. The third method, which is, somehow, always mentioned, more because it is amusing than a verifiable truth, is to check for marks of tripods on the ground. If there are many, it’s a sign the spot is a photographer’s cove… meaning, many times, it should be avoided.
For a long time I’ve followed one advice from photographer Elliot Erwitt, when it comes to my photography. He wrote this: “If you’re out and about amongst lots of people, follow the crowd for a while, then turn around 180 degrees in the exact opposite direction to change things up and introduce new perspectives. It’s always worked for me!”
Let me add that it always works for me too. I continue to believe that although photography is a community practice when it comes to sharing, it’s a lonely practice when it comes to SEEING the world with your eyes. It’s a vision I share with people and one I will try to demonstrate here, through some examples.
Free the Web from “me too” photographs
There is a reason behind the idea of writing this article: to help readers free the Web from another batch of photographs that are very similar to billions already there. If I manage to make it happen, simply by inviting you to read these lines and look at the photographs published with them, I will be happy. You’ll also, dear reader, discover a new approach and passion for your photography. Because it extends from being a simple reproduction of what others did on the same subjects, but your own point of view, as a result of daring to explore beyond the most obvious. Isn’t that one of the main goals of photography: to express one’s perspective? How can you reach that goal if you simply try to copy what others have done?
This approach can be used when travelling to new places, but it can also be explored when photographing close to home, as a way to find new perspectives of places we think we know from every angle. This challenge, because it really is, fuels my photographic passion and makes me want to wander around and try to discover new paths, new roads giving me a point of view that may not be the most fantastic, but offers an alternative framing that enriches my collection on a certain subject.
Exploring your own surroundings this way, not only contributes to a broader knowledge of the place you live in, it also keeps the practice of photography fun, giving it a never ending precise goal: to keep your eyes wide open, as you never know what you’ll discover when you decide to scout a new area.
Searching for a new point of view
Exploration of any new area can and probably should begin online, with Google Maps and Google Earth, applications which give you the tools to understand how a subject you’ve selected may appear in relation to its surroundings. Both tools are part of my “explorer kit” at home, and I will spend hours scouting virtually locations I want to visit. That preview work at home does help to define some spots to scout, but it’s only the field work that will give you the full scope of a subjects’ potential. Sometimes offering you pleasant surprises.
For this article I picked a series of photographs, all related to the idea of finding a different point of view, and I will start with one that is a good example of what I mention in the paragraph above. The image of Palácio da Pena (Pena Palace) in Sintra, Portugal, results from using Google’s tools for a first exploration. Previous explorations of the area, from the valley beneath the place where this image was photographed, suggested the potential for an interesting perspective, but nothing in Google Earth revealed what I found when scouting for a diferent view of Pena Palace.
Before we continue this journey, let me ask you a favour. Open your browser and search for “Palácio da Pena” or “Pena Palace”, You’ll get thousands of images, all revealing one constant aspect: the palace dominates the surrounding hills. The picture I created tells a different story, and results not from any computer editing, but from scouting the area around the palace in search of different perspectives. It’s not a matter of it being better or worst: it’s mine. And it certainly is different.
A panorama you can create
While this kind of scouting is easier for someone living in the area – and hence its importance for a renewed vision of your photographic experience close to home – let me use another example of a photograph from Pena Palace that is well within reach for any visitor, and again, will be different from the approach visible in the thousands of photographs available online. My other image of the palace is a panorama which I left, on purpose, distorted, because it helps to enhance the unique atmosphere of the magic palace.
The tools available in most modern day photo editors allow for an easy creation of panoramas, so it makes complete sense to use the technique, in order to bring home photographs from places visited that are more than the simple rectangle in landscape or portrait form captured by the camera. This image was taken early in 2009, while I was photographing different aspects of the palace and Sintra region for one book. Again, if I browse for images of Pena Palace on Google, I will not find many photos similar to mine. In fact, I only saw one, recently, which I believe was taken after mine, and probably by someone that saw mine while browsing the web. On the other hand, if you “google” after “Pena Palace Jose Antunes”, you’ll immediately get my panorama on the first results. So, it does pay to try something different.
Panoramas are part of that “being different”, when it comes to new perspectives. A panorama will always allow you to share more with those viewing your photograph, while it gives you a unique memory of the visit to a place. I picked another panorama from my archive that fully supports that idea, one more image from Pena Palace and the park and forest surrounding it.
Two views on the Atlantic coast
This second panorama results from some 20 single images and shows everything from the coast line, on the left side, to the forest beyond the statue of the Giant – in fact the Architect responsible for the palace – which is placed atop some boulders, in one corner of the park (the opening between the trees). My aim was to give people an idea of the placement of the palace in relation to the statue, while showing the whole extension of trees between the two points. This perspective is the only one I know that works such a view. It is also not a common image, as you’ll discover if you browse the web after similar photographs.
Let’s change scenery, but stay with panoramas. Now we visit the coast, close to Sintra and my home, and explore the photographic potential of Praia das Maçãs (Apple’s Beach), which got its name from apples that falling to the river from the orchards upstream were often seen here, at the mouth of the river, before vanishing into the Atlantic Ocean waters.
As this is an interactive article, please go online and “google” for images of the place, using its Portuguese name, which will offer more results. Most of the images, even panoramas, are very similar. I’ve more images of this place, panorama or not, in my archive, but I picked two panoramas that are good examples of trying something different. One of them is more “common” taken from the top of the cliff, but the fact that it covers almost 180 degrees of view, from the Atlantic Ocean to the mountain of Sintra, with the silhouette of Pena Palace on top (perfectly viewable on the big size original) gives it the edge when it comes to panoramas of this coastal village and beach.
Try different compositions
The second image covers a similar angle of view but was created from a lower viewpoint, closer to the water, and the dynamic is completely different. The clouds in the sky almost form an arch, which contributes to hold the image together and give it a unique feeling.
Finally, a single image that shows the beach and its relation to the typical houses of the village, points to a framing that follows the trend you’ll find in many of the images available online. Still, the relation between the diagonal rock on the right side, the line of foam on the sand and the reflection on the water and finally the diagonal cloud up in the sky create the necessary balance for the photo to be more than a holiday snapshot. There is a lot of thinking going into it, despite the simplicity of the composition.
The final series of images takes us to Sintra and the National Palace, with its unique chimneys. The three images of the palace itself, all taken from similar angles, show how composition can change, simply by placing different elements in the foreground. If you take the time to search for images online you’ll discover, again, that these stand out from the crowd. The secret is one: taking the time to explore the area around a monument allows photographers to capture views that offer a different perspective.
The final photograph is, again, a panorama from the village of Sintra and its palace. It follows the same logic but explores the options given by capturing multiple images to create a larger final photograph. I sincerely believe that’s one asset photographers should explore, when trying to create images that are different. I hope this little article helps you to (re)discover the places close to where you live, or explore with a new eye when travelling abroad.