Eight tips to inspire you to take a slightly different approach to photography where boring takes the place of beautiful but remains visually interesting and saleable
As photographers, many of us strive to take the most eye-catching, dare I say it, prettiest photos we possibly can. And this is irrespective of the subjects we typically shoot. Capturing stunning images often comes with a sense of achievement which can be further validated by likes and positive comments on social media, but it’s far from the only approach to photography from both a personal and commercial point of view.
Photography has the unique ability to elevate the everyday, the boring, the ugly and the decaying to the level of art. This type of photography is a strand of street photography that may or may not include people, and many professional photographers have made exceptional careers by focusing on capturing everyday scenes, and are highly respected in the world of art and photography.
Banal images of the everyday can be a winning formula for commercial photography because image buyers aren’t always looking for pretty images. Sometimes, it’s the harsh and gritty reality of life and the downright boring that they’re looking for. So, if you only have a gallery full of beautifully taken landscapes, portraits or still life, for instance, you’re potentially missing out.
Shooting everyday scenes can be rewarding financially, but it can also be gratifying on a personal level because it can be almost meditative and stress-free; you’re not chasing that elusive perfect sunrise or tackling complicated lighting in a studio, but you’re still doing what you love – taking photos. And you don’t even have to travel far to do it. Images of the everyday are all around us; in our homes, gardens and the towns and cities in which we live.
When shooting banal images of the everyday, there will inevitably be times when you capture logos and brand names that may not be suitable in a photo for sale commercially. So, if this is the case, check out our tutorial that shows you how to effectively remove logos and brand names from your photos.
1 Always carry a camera
It’s a well-worn cliché, but the best camera you have really is the one you have with you. And although most of us always carry a smartphone with a great camera, often capable of capturing images in Raw as well as JPEG, images from a ‘proper’ camera will always be of better quality. Plus, you have much more control over creative settings such as aperture to control depth-of-field.
The idea here is to always have a camera with you to capture everyday images as you see them and, ultimately, so you never miss an opportunity. In an ideal world, having a prestige compact camera such as the Fujifilm X100V or the Ricoh GRIII is perfect because these are small, lightweight and provide full control over camera settings alongside delivering excellent image quality. But if you don’t have one of these, carrying your DSLR or mirrorless camera with a compact prime lens or even a kit lens is still a fairly lightweight setup.
2 Take advantage of Auto ISO
There may be times when you need to work quickly to avoid missing a fleeting moment, or as Henri Cartier-Bresson would have called it, ‘the decisive moment’. One way to do this is to shoot in aperture priority so that you have control over the aperture and ultimately depth-of-field, while the camera takes care of shutter speed for you.
Shutter speed could still be too slow for handholding the camera, which introduces the risk of camera shake, so using Auto ISO is another great time saver. In this mode, the camera will set ISO for you to ensure that the shutter speed is fast enough to support the focal length of the lens. Alternatively, shoot in Manual mode with the desired aperture and shutter speed set, and let Auto ISO work its magic.
3 Handheld or tripod?
Whether you shoot handheld or with a tripod is entirely up to you. A tripod means lower ISO settings, but they can introduce a barrier to always carrying a camera because while a camera can be carried in a small camera bag or even a standard backpack, a tripod could be a burden to carry. Shooting with Auto ISO will help to ensure sharp shots in most light conditions, but in low light you’ll inevitably experience noise in images due to higher ISO settings being required.
Modern cameras handle high ISO exceptionally well, but the new AI-powered Denoise feature in Adobe Lightroom is a highly effective way to reduce noise and improve detail in high ISO images. In the examples above taken at ISO 4000, the full image on the left looks fine at this size, but when you zoom in you can see the noise present in the middle image. On the right, Denoise has been applied and has massively improved image quality.
4 Light can still be important
One of the advantages of shooting the everyday is that you can shoot in almost any light conditions and weather; it’s often, what’s in the image and how it’s presented visually that’s most important. There are, however, times when a certain type of light, whether that’s golden hour or side light from a low sun can bring a scene or subject to life.
The image above is pretty boring, but that doesn’t make it a bad photo and it was taken this way and in the lighting conditions on purpose. The sign in the centre is the focal point and there’s no mistaking why it’s there, but it’s the side lighting that reveals the poorly laid bricks of the house and creates a sense of depth. The sign says no dumping, but the brickwork looks like it was dumped rather than laid.
5 Use compositional devices
Photos of the everyday can at first appear to be almost careless snapshots to the untrained eye. This is, in many cases, part of the aesthetic and dispenses with the conventions of more commercial styles of photography. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with any style of photography – they’re just different approaches to conveying visual and conceptual information – and photography is richer for the variety.
The difference between this style of photography and a simple snapshot is that despite an apparent appearance of a snapshot, photographers put much more thought into the process and often use compositional devices to visually balance images and to draw viewers in. The rule-of-thirds, lead-in lines, foreground interest, diagonals and centrally composed subjects can be applied in the same way you would with more scenic images.
6 Work to a theme
Going out with no clear aim and effectively ‘fishing’ for potential images works well. And after all, if you’re carrying a camera with you most of, if not all of the time, you have the means to capture images as they reveal themselves. But with this approach, you can experience droughts where you can’t find images that work, or where there’s simply a large space of time between finding one shot and the next.
One way to alleviate this problem, and to supplement the random images you stumble upon, is to set yourself a theme. This could be a word, a colour, a particular object or an idea or concept. The images above were taken with the idea of tension between the natural and built worlds in mind; capturing images where natural elements in urban environments appear to be fighting for dominance.
7 Always be alert
It’s one thing to always have a camera with you, but it’s something completely different to have it out and ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. This idea links back to tip #2 where you have your camera settings dialled in before you shoot but takes the idea further by having your camera out, switched on and ready to shoot as often as possible.
Sure, it’s not always convenient to have your camera in hand or hanging around your neck, so there will naturally be times when your camera is tucked away. But having it to hand does provide the opportunity to instantly respond to what’s happening around you, whether that’s an interaction between people or a few seconds of amazing light that transforms the scene around you.
8 Don’t forget about editorial space
You don’t always have to shoot images with editorial space because not every image will have copy overlaid, some will simply be used to illustrate a point within an article. But it still pays to consider how the images you’re capturing might be used and leaving editorial space in some can be beneficial.
Editorial space is a clean or clear area of an image where text can be positioned in magazines, newspapers or in adverts. This area ideally needs to be uncluttered, so no contrasting colours, and positioning the subject to one half of the frame or leaving more space around a centrally composed subject can work well.
James is a freelance photographer and journalist producing content for photography magazines and websites and is a former deputy editor of Practical Photography magazine. He’s also the author of The Digital Darkroom: The Definitive Guide to Photo Editing.View all articles