Years ago, I had the opportunity to hear a National Geographic photographer speak at a conference. Besides admiring his beautiful work, his core message has always stayed with me. When you’re looking for the perfect image, remember not to shoot the obvious view. Take a look around; the better shot may be behind you or off to the side. In other words, consider every angle and always be on the lookout for the more interesting capture.
Yes, it sounds obvious and simple, but if you reflect on what we typically see shared online, the same images cascade our daily feeds. Undoubtedly, there’s a reason for that consistency; there are simply some venues that are so visually pleasing that we succumb to the opportunity. It’s a challenge to step back and think about what else you can frame to provide another point of view.
Sometimes it simply means being ready to capture an unplanned shot. I try to follow this principle — and occasionally succeed. A few weeks ago, I rode the train to Providence, RI to attend a party. My husband was meeting me in front of the train station, which happens to face the Rhode Island state capitol building. When I exited the station, my full focus was on finding him. As I dashed over to jump in the car, I happened to look up and noticed that the evening sky was just emerging and the statehouse’s white stone profile was majestic in contrast. I pointed to the building and took out my iPhone for a quick capture, which I would have otherwise missed.
So take a look around, whether photographing the obvious or focused on another task. There’s always another view — and sometimes those are the most valued.
I’ve been spring cleaning lately; not because it’s the season, but we’ve decided to sell our home and move closer to the city. Purging drawers of kids-meal toys and soccer tournament patches is straightforward, along with packing long-forgotten clothing for the donation bins. What has taken far longer is wading through my daughters’ stacks of photos (and which were somehow always printed in double quantities!). Thanks to these treasures, I’ve revisited their early years, ranging from school trips to family holidays. It’s been a happy trip down memory lane.
However, this look-back also clarified what we memorialize. We amateur photographers only chronicle happy moments — whether capturing ourselves as tourists, playoff champions or birthday celebrants — we like to smile for the camera. There may be no better proof that we are optimists than our tendency to happily pose for group photos.
I’m not disappointed by the absence of more unfortunate images, as events that were hard will never be forgotten. It just made me think a little about our inclination to filter our camera lens a bit.
Today, most photo images are digital, which means we’re viewing them online or if you’re highly organized, perhaps in a digital frame slide show. Yet as I cleaned drawers and closets, I couldn’t help but feel a bit more engaged as I had to physically touch and sort through those printed images. Was it simply nostalgia or something more? I don’t have a ready answer but I will admit to having saved 80% of those pictures. Yes, they will move with us and maybe someday get sorted and even organized into an album or digitized for eternity. And on those occasional moments that we’re inclined to look at them, I’ll be happy to focus on the good times.
Is there a more elegant welcome to spring than blossoming trees and shrubbery? Whether it’s the cherry blossoms or dogwoods, those canopies are just begging us to step outdoors to enjoy the warming weather. In our yard, we have a lone – but substantial – lilac bush that climbs over our deck and peeks through the window overlooking the kitchen sink. We can’t take any credit for the perfect positioning, as it was here when we bought this house. The best part about it, however, is what it rekindles. My early childhood home in Oregon (yes, we lived there before it became trendy) had a wall of lilac bushes that may have been the extent of our landscaping. And just one look at our blossoms each spring takes me back to my early self, marching around our backyard and pulling on those lilac branches to smell the flowers up close.
Nostalgia is an interesting emotion. It doesn’t necessarily suggest reliving a moment; it just lets you step into a memory. For me, it’s typically something simple that triggers that feeling. It comes unexpectedly or in anticipatory moments, such as vacationing at the same destination or attending a school or family reunion. It’s an affirmation of what we experienced and a reminder of how far we’ve come.
I think I finally get what Yogi Berra meant when he famously quipped “It’s deja vu all over again.” Nostalgia isn’t a once and done experience. For me, as I enjoy those lilacs over the next few weeks and remember my Oregon youth, it recycles what I’ve thought about each May we’ve lived in this home. Maybe this year I’ll even cut a few branches and bring those memories indoors.