Most of the photos that I take are to complement the travel articles that I write. I’m usually on the lookout for very specific shots that help illustrate my words.
I also like to take photos for my own pleasure, and for these, I love Instagram.
With Instagram, I’m able to share moments that touch me with my friends and followers—photos that I take simply for the joy of capturing moments in time, without having to worry about whether or not they might be deemed “useful” to an editor. These are the photos I can freely edit, oversaturate, and filter, without feeling like I’m breaking some great editorial code of honor. For me, it’s art for the sake of art.
But when I scroll through my Instagram feed, I almost always notice a few recurring themes: lots of cats, lots of sunset-kissed landscapes, and very few photos of people (and none of me).
However, what sticks out the most is that I rarely post photos that I take in my own hometown of Portland, Oregon.
I grew up and currently live in this increasingly booming Pacific Northwest city, and while Portland is filled with glorious natural beauty, charmingly gritty urban landscapes, and tons of street art and colorful murals, rarely do I stop and appreciate it. I’m blinded by familiarity.
To wrap up 2017, I decided to do a little experiment: I would take and post one photo per day from Portland. When I teach travel-writing workshops, I frequently tell my students that one of the best ways to get started is to position themselves as niche experts on their hometowns, to make concerted efforts to look at their cities through the eyes of a traveler. Yet I find myself often writing about and taking photos elsewhere, forgetting how important it is to keep a fresh eye on the place where I spend a good portion of every year.
(I did break my rule one day and take a video instead of a still photograph.)
Here’s what I learned over the course of my 10-day experiment in taking local photos.
1. Art is everywhere! While it’s easy to be on constant bedazzled-mode when you are in an unfamiliar and different environment, no matter where you are on Earth, you’re always surrounded by visual stimuli. Conscientiously telling yourself to be on the lookout for potential good shots will trick your brain into noticing things that might not otherwise pop out at you. Like all habits, after a few days, it becomes second nature.
2. “The best camera is the one you have with you.” I’ve heard this quote a gazillion times, and it’s absolutely true. There are a few shots I really wish I’d gotten but I missed because my phone was tucked away in my bag.
3. People love nostalgia. While the photo of my parents’ cat garnered the most “likes,” photos of scenic “Old Portland” institutions and buildings are what got conversations going. Like all art, photos tell stories but can also inspire other people to tell their stories. If you really want to engage your audience, sometimes it’s good to post content that they can relate to… and not just images of far-off locales that they might ooh and ah over but won’t ever visit.
In the same way, I’ve noticed that people react positively to photos with people in them… especially if those people are their friends or acquaintances. This is because people are relatable.
Off the back of this project, my goal for 2018 is to take more photos of friends and people I meet along the way. Because as lovely as landscapes are, it’s people—and their stories—that I will want to remember for years to come.