Avoiding The Obvious, And Other Philosophies

A photowalk the other day took me along the river Medway in Kent, and when the tree line broke I was greeted with this kind of view.

The city in the distance, the marshland littered with grounded, rusted boats in the foreground, and the river meandering in between, was pretty spectacular.

But I’m not one to go for the obvious shots with photography.

I made the above shot with my phone, just as a visual note of where I’d been, and continued with my usual approach of seeking out interesting and beautiful compositions on a much smaller and closer scale, with my trusty Lumix FZ38.

I think a couple of personal motivations are at work in these kinds of situations.

First, I don’t especially like going for the obvious in anything.

I’d rather be an outlier of some kind with my choices than ride the mainstream.

In photography this manifests in the gear I favour (these days generally 10-15 year old CCD sensor digital cameras), and entirely avoiding the upgrade parade.

In terms of subject, I also try to avoid the obvious – in the case above the sweeping landscape – and go for something more intimate, more unusual, and perhaps more memorable.

Second, my photography is also congruent with my general philosophies in life.

Ideas like –

– You don’t have to spend huge amounts of money to enjoy yourself (or in this case, your cameras). In fact investing larger amounts can often increase expectations, and then lead to greater disappointment when you realise spending so much hasn’t given you anything like a proportional increase in enjoyment, if any increase at all.

– Newest isn’t always best (and rarely is). I’ve had so much fun with 15 year old digital cameras and 50 (or more) year old film cameras, that I know I wouldn’t have with a new high end model.

– The beauty is nearly always in the tiny details. Whether that’s the tender hollow of someone’s lower back, or the curve and sweep of their collarbone, rather than their body viewed as a whole, or a burned old bit of driftwood with a rusty chain hanging from it, rather than the riverside panorama behind it.

How about you? Do you try to avoid the obvious shot with your photography? How do your general life philosophies influence how you photograph?

As always, please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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10 thoughts on “Avoiding The Obvious, And Other Philosophies”

  1. It is always a challenge to create something unique, especially if you like to capture landscapes as I do. Your photography certainly leans toward the overlooked textures and shadows of often decaying commonplace objects, and you have developed your own style I think, with the result that your work is interesting and unique. At the end of the day, I like to try and capture something I would be proud to see hanging on a wall, and that celebrates the places and landscapes that make me go “wow” when I see them!

    1. Thanks Steve.

      For me, the fundamental issue with landscape photographs is unless they’re life size or close to it, they just don’t do the scene justice. A print that’s say 3 foot by 2 foot, of a beautiful landscape, is starting to get large enough that you can lose yourself in it. Trying to view landscapes on a computer screen, or worse a tablet or phone, just doesn’t work, you’re compressing and dumbing down the awe and majesty of it.

      I think this is why I generally photograph things up close, so they’re often larger than you would normally see them. It’s a way of drawing the viewer’s attention to something they might just walk by in reality without a second glance, of magnifying that beauty that’s around us every day, and we don’t need to visit some widely acknowledged great natural wonder of the world to experience.

      1. Dan, I can’t travel far but love nature and landscapes and even love what humans get up to changing the natural landscapes. I experience great awe and wonder even when I see a tiny scene on my iPhone. I have an incredible imagination so I am absolutely there in the scene. It’s wonderful

      2. That’s great that you can do that, travel through the images of others. I think that’s the key to a good landscape, being vivid and real enough to draw the viewer in as if they were there. Just for me an element of this is the physical size of the image. I need it much bigger than a phone screen! 🙂

  2. Dan, I must admit I was surprised at your mention of “Tender hollow of someone’s lower back” and “the curve and sweep of their collarbone”. I am so used to your detailed appreciation of things you’ve discovered on your walks and very rarely people, certainly not diving into the details of a person in this way. Wonderfully beautiful in my mind’s eye though as my father taught me an appreciation of the human body in such beauty as you wrote about. As for me with my photography I still mostly do very very quick photos of my home, my neighbourhood, my garden, nature, dogs and cats and birds in my neighbourhood. I take photos of works of art at the art galleries I go to. I rarely photograph people. I am single and mostly alone and don’t enjoy intruding on people by taking photos. I do though communicate with people when I am out and about and like honouring them being in my life in passing. My photos are for me to reflect on in showing me what is important to me in my daily life and to inform my art work of painting, textiles, mixed media etc etc My photography and other art is a way for me to deal with the immense suffering that goes on in the world and that for me as an empath is so hard to cope with on a daily basis with my severe mental illnesses and chronic illnesses. PS I took a photo the other day of some metal and rust and painted numbers and letters on an electrical post because it reminded me of you Dan and I want to include a copy of it in my artist journal

    1. Thanks Susan, I’m so pleased you took that rust picture the other day in honour of me!

      Well you probably recall I was a poet long before I was a photographer, and it’s my first language for capturing and recording beauty. I’ve written endless words and poems and haiku about the things I find beautiful, and often that’s the human form.

      You might enjoy this poem I wrote about how I photograph a few years back.


      1. Dan, I forgot about your poetry as I’ve been so focused here on your photography and family life etc It was lovely to read one of your poems. Thank you.

  3. I would say… take all the pictures 🙂 The obvious and the not so obvious. I do like scenes and landscapes. My favorites are always the ones that have a more normal FOV, up to short telephoto (anything in the 40mm to 100mm equivalent, or in my case 28mm to 70mm in APS-C terms). Sometimes I have to shoot wider but that’s not the perspective I prefer, because I can’t get into an image that I think is portrayed correctly – though by careful framing I can make a wide angle picture look natural, as long as I avoid including anything in the picture that is too close to me.
    I also like to take pictures of objects, whether it be flowers, or details off a wall or the way certain leaves look on a bush. I like pictures of people both in context of their environment, but also just their face or even part of it.
    So many pictures, so little time 🙂 🙂

    1. Yes, so many possible pictures, this is why I generally stick with a prime lens, or use a zoom lens fixed in one position so it’s like a prime lens. It just cuts down the options, which can be overwhelming to the point of paralysing.

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