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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Essence Of Place

Move past the obvious and obligatory to make more expressive images

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This is usually the first thing I do when traveling, especially when experiencing a new place for the first time. And, true to form, the magic photographs always seem to come right after I've exhausted the obvious.

Find personality in the details. Sometimes the places we visit have as much personality as the people we encounter. Learning to look for it, training our eyes to really see it, is key. More often than not, the true character of a place can be found in the details—in color, pattern, texture, in the imperfections and quirks. It's an oddly placed sign, a collection of colors, evidence of years and years of wear and tear. Focus on these kinds of details to really bring the story into focus.

Consider scale. Use clever, unusual ways to showcase scale. Bring figures into the frame, use physical presence of friends (or strangers) to reveal scale in funny or profound ways. This can be as simple as including the movement of passing pedestrians up against enormous buildings or silhouetted figures against scenery. It's all about juxtaposition, using what or who you have in the frame to showcase the size, and thus, a little bit more of the story, of a particular place.

Throw the focus, embrace the blur. By intentionally throwing focus off while shooting, your images take on a completely different feeling. Intentionally blurred, out-of-focus images tend toward a dreamlike, painterly quality. The type of blur (or out-of-focus) image you get will depend on the kind of camera you're shooting with and the amount of control you have. It will take a little bit of play and experimentation to figure out what you can do. Move the camera slightly when you shoot. Play around with low ISO or choose a wider aperture and set your camera to manual focus mode. Adjust the focus until you get an image that feels right. There are no rules; go by feeling.

Wait for the right moment. There are times when it pays to wait. Sometimes you just need to sit and observe a place for a while, soak in all the activity, all the movement, consider the entire scene before you shoot. Let things unfold a bit before you raise your camera. Look at every little thing around you, note the sounds you're hearing and the quality of the light. It's in these more mindful moments that we actually slow down and, in the process, compose more thoughtfully. And the resulting images tell not only the story of a particular place, but an extraordinary moment, a specific frame of mind.

Photographer, writer and teacher Andrea Corrona Jenkins is a contributor at Shutter Sisters, a core contributor for UPPERCASE magazine and instructor of the "Instant Magic" polaroid photography workshops. See more of her work over at her blog, hulaseventy.blogspot.com.

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