This article was previously published in Outdoor Photography Canada (OPC) one year ago. The newest issue of OPC is a visual treat and we highly recommend a subscription if you love outdoor and nature photography!
We know a lot of photographers who only dig out the camera when they travel. It’s easy to understand why. Most of us are inspired by a change in scenery and travel gives us that needed change plus a good dose of visual novelty. Fresh views open our eyes. We are no longer blinded by our contempt for the familiar like we are at home. We see photos everywhere!
But relying on novel experiences to bring out the creative eye is like relying on drugs to make you happy. Once the drug wears off you are miserable… and then to feel good again you need an even higher dose of the drug. For travel-addicted photographers one exotic trip begets another even more exotic trip. To see ‘fresh’, the travel-addicted photographer needs a higher dose of novelty. Soon the photographer gets jaded because they have seen it all.
To get off the roller coaster rush of travel as a forced way of seeing, my partner Samantha and I think that photographers should adopt the 100-Mile diet. Just like the food version where you try to source most of your nutrition locally, the 100-Mile Diet for Photographers asks you to source the bulk of your visual inspiration locally. Doing so will force you to see the magic in the mundane, make something from nothing and grow as a visual artist. You’ll learn to make compelling images of things most people would not even notice. And here is the hidden perk: if you can make evocative images of the everyday world around you, then what will happen when you travel to a new location? Your images will soar because you already have the skills to make great images anywhere. You’ll see the travel destination with the freshest eyes making images that go beyond the clichéd and predictable. Your images will have your unique stamp on them. What could be better?
So how do you start the 100-Mile Diet for Photographers? Easy. Just get out into your neighborhood, local parks, natural areas, the mall, the main street of town or wherever your life takes you day to day. Pretend you are a visitor from a foreign country or an alien from outer space. What you used to take for granted visually, now becomes inexplicable and intriguing. Don’t judge; just shoot anything that catches your eye. Keep it to the details. Visit frequently. It helps to have a small portable camera like a digital point-n-shoot or even your smartphone. You won’t want to be lugging around your giant bag of lenses to the local coffee shop!
A 100-mile Diet helps you develop the essential skills of ‘learning to see’ that seem to elude so many photographers. Both Samantha and I have travelled around the world and photographed incredible places. But it wasn’t until we gave the same respect and attention to our own neighbourhoods that we saw improvement in our creative skills. We believe this skill is so essential (yet so overlooked) that we created a workbook called Learning to See with plenty of fun exercises to get you flexing your artistic muscle! So don’t rely on ‘exciting’ subjects or iconic destinations to make images that in the end have often been done before. Learn to ‘see’ the wonders in your own backyard for a lifetime of creative photography.