There is a popular book in the UK called Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places to Live in the UK. It uses boring photography to highlight the dullness of some British cities and towns. It has also been a major success, spawning two sequels. This got me thinking. Many of us do not live in spectacularly beautiful cities where photogenic wonders are ten a penny. Many of us live in small, perhaps slightly dull towns or suburbs. So how can we get shots of our local area that would not be a candidate for any upcoming Crap Towns sequel?
Get In Close
As boring as a location might be, there will always be some little details that make it attractive. Interesting doors or windows, gargoyles or even a pretty mosaic. Look for the attractive little details around you and you will soon find there is plenty to shoot.
Another thing you can try is to go close and defocus the background. Perhaps a macro of some pretty flowers in a park with a shallow depth of field. Keep enough focus for locals to recognize the location, but to avoid showing how dull it is.
Go Wide Or Go High
Your town might be a little dull close-up, but you can add a lot of drama by going wide. Find a reasonably attractive subject, perhaps a fountain and move in close to it with an ultra wide angle lens. Shoot a smallish aperture to maintain a decent depth of field. The end result will be a dramatic shot that easily identifies the location, but makes it look more attractive than it might actually be. Good light will also enhance this technique. A deep blue polarised sky can make many places look much more attractive.
As an alternative, go high. Towns can take on a whole new appearance from above. Gone is the uninspiring concrete jungle, replaced by interesting patterns and colour contrasts. You can use a drone from a safe location or find a local high point, a church spire or a surrounding hill.
Shoot The Blue Hour
Even the most mundane towns take on an element of beauty in the blue hour. As the sun drops below the horizon the city lights come on and make everything look different. Even the most bland office block can take on a whole new feel in the twilight. Add in some car light trails and you have the perfect recipe for an interesting photograph. The best time is around 15-30 minutes after the sun has set. This is when the city lights come on and the sky has that deep dark blueness that makes these types of shots look so attractive.
Black And White
Sometimes a color image of a location will just not do it justice. You can often a make a dull location look much better by going black and white. Look for shots that have interesting contrast, that will have depth. If possible, use filters to push out a dramatic sky. White clouds on a deep blue sky translate well into black and white adding much drama to even the most mundane scene. Architecture is another genre that can benefit from the monochromatic touch.
Even the dullest town will have one element that is interesting and colorful. Sometimes it is its inhabitants. Photographing people is a great way to contrast the life of a location's people with its actual environment. Adding the human element to your shots will portray the location in a more interesting light. You can shoot candid street images to convey humor or perhaps approach local characters to portray them in the open environment. Street photography can reveal hidden interests in any town or city.
Tell A Story – Embrace The Bad
Sometimes you just need to go with the flow and embrace the bad points of your local town. This can be with dramatic photography of derelict buildings, or the less salubrious aspects of the place. It could even be a full-on documentary feature about the social and environmental problems faced. Both would give you great scope for long-term photography.
Even the dullest location is often filled with little photographic gems. The key is in spotting them and translating them into great looking images. Hopefully, some of the above tips will inspire you to paint your town in a new light.