52 Photo Tips #21: Shoot your neighbourhood

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This is the 21st post in a series in collaboration with Film’s Not Dead.

Look back through old family albums, and you often see photos taken in one of two situations – holidays and momentous family occasions. The ordinary life in suburbs and neighbourhoods gets only a passing look. The camera seems to have been taken to beaches and birthday parties, and little else.

When you’re starting out shooting film, getting into the practice on seeing and shooting is vital. You don’t have the convenience of digital, where you can review what you’ve shot seconds after you’ve taken it.

Unless you’re incredibly talented or incredibly lucky, photography takes many hours of dogged practice before you start to see result.  Leaving the camera on the shelf and only using it now and then is a surefire way to let those skills ebbs away. So don’t wait for a city break or a summer holiday – shoot your neighbourhood, the stuff you see every day.

One of the big bonuses with using digital cameras is that there’s a camera with you – usually on your phone – the whole time. You might argue, scanning through people’s Instagram feed, that there’s sometimes a little too much ordinary life being documented, but getting into the habit of taking your camera with you everywhere you go is a good one.

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There’s an old adage that ‘the best camera is the one you have with you’ – it’s no point having a top-of-the-range Leica if it’s sitting in its case at home.

Taking your camera with you doesn’t mean you have to burn through film and spend a fortune. You might only fire off a few frames, but it’s more about getting into the practice of working on all those movements that combine to make a good photograph; focusing, composing, pressing the shutter at just the right moment.

If you’re shooting familiar streets, it makes you work even harder to find scenes worth capturing. The shops and houses you walk past hundreds of times blend into the background – it doesn’t have the novelty of a street or an alleyway you’ve walked down for the first time. But it’s all good practice. And the more you do it, the more you’ll develop that photographic eye.

Many photographers cut their teeth shooting close to home. Many of the iconic New York pictures of Garry Winogrand, for instance, were snapped only blocks away from his house; this single-minded dedication to shooting close to home, every day, helped create his extraordinary archive of hundreds of thousands of photographs.

 

Not many of us will have his time or deep pockets, but we can at least follow his lead – if the light’s good, take your camera with you. All the images in the gallery above were taken when I lived in north west London; many taken only a few minutes from my house. I got in the habit of taking my camera everywhere.

One of my favourite photographs was taken 10 minutes from home – a woman and her dog shot in front of a sunlight mural on a street in Kilburn, the dog stopping with perfect timing in front of a shaft of sunlight.

Dog and woman on Kilburn High Road

If I hadn’t have had my camera with me, I wouldn’t have captured it. I probably wouldn’t even have seen it.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I sometimes wonder if my neighbors wonder what the heck that dude is doing always walking the neighborhood with some camera or other. I live in a suburban subdivision; it’s all ranch houses out here. I think a “real” neighborhood with shops and sidewalks would be much more interesting to shoot.

  2. The last image is one of my favorites 🙂
    Nice article. I also like to wonder around my neighborhood looking for interesting subjects, you just have to be on the lookout.
    It also helps me clear my head after work.

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