Berenice Abbott once said, ““Photography helps people to see.” I would add that because it helps people see, it also helps them connect. Photographers see their environments differently than those who are not looking at the world through a camera lens. because of their unique outlook, they are capable of connecting to a place on a very deep level. Here are four ways that you can connect to any environment through the practice of taking photos — whether it is a brand-new place to you, or one you have lived in for years.
Explore The Setting Fully
Take time to explore your surroundings with your camera in hand. You’ll connect to a setting best when you know it intimately. Go down the side streets, ally ways, and in and out of little known shops. Take walks on trails, drive down winding roads, and take find the limits of the environment.
This is most important when you are dealing with travel photography. While you may know your home environment intimately because you have experienced every nook and cranny of your neighborhood, this is likely not true for your travel destinations. I first learned this tip from Summit Shah, who begins to explore places he will soon photograph even before he physically sets foot in them. This can easily be done online.
Get To Know Your Environment Through Different Hours Of The Day and Night
You can deepen your connection to a geographical setting by seeing it through your camera lens at different times of the day. When you take photographs, you are attuned to finer levels of lighting differences than when you are focused on something else — like getting the groceries or going to the bank. Use that fine-tuned perception to increase your love for the place that you live, or a new place that you are just meeting.
One thing that I have noticed over the years is that when I am in “photographer mode”, I often look in different directions than when I am in my day-to-day life mode. I look up at architectural details, and find out that the town I am in has buildings in it that are centuries old. I point the camera up to the tree-tops so that I can catch the sun streaming through, and I wind up seeing the tree’s upper branches for the first time. When we go through life with blinders on, looking only straight in front of us, we maintain only a shallow connection to the physical setting that surrounds us. Photography can help us get to know the area’s upper aspects, which we may have been entirely ignoring.
Think In Moments
Summit Shah has described his photography as a way of “thinking in moments”, and this is such a powerful practice when it comes to connecting with a place. If you rush through an environment, like a park, city street, or garden, without ever savoring the small moments, it is like you were never there. Some people pass through environments in a physical way, but mentally they are a thousand miles in the distance, thinking about a different place entirely.
Try thinking in moments the next time you are in a place that you want to connect with. Look for beads of dew on a leaf, or the way a tree bends because it is weighed down with snow. See the rust on the public-access bicycles, or the way a pigeon sits on a cement bench and looks at passer-bys. These little moments reflect the heart and soul of a physical setting, yet they are often completely overlooked.
I hope that these four ways of looking at the world help you connect with your environment on the level you desire. Physical places have so much to give us and teach us. They can be very nurturing, if we allow the relationship to grow and develop! Use your photography practice to help you strengthen your relationship to place.