Story Telling Photography: Finding The Essence of a Place

By Geoff Harris

How to create a cameo photograph.

When you head off to a new location with your camera, it’s always fun to look for a cameo picture that sums the place up, as well as taking the more general, overall views.

bhutan monastery

This applies especially if it’s a well-known, much photographed place – for instance, cities such as Venice, London, or New York, or iconic buildings like the Eiffel Tower, or even rural scenes such as the lavender fields in Provence.

When you come back from a place or a country that you’ve visited, you obviously want to have photos that show it in a general way, even if you know that the pictures are more of a record view than something creative.

But on top of these, it’s even more satisfying to try to find your own, personal angle on a place.

Sometimes this more personal photo can result from using an unusual viewpoint, a high or low angle, or in the case of a building, using a telephoto lens to pick out just a part of the whole.

Or it may be a case of photographing a small detail which somehow sums up the essence of the location.

I was lucky enough some years ago to visit Bhutan, an amazing country where the landscape is very unspoilt, and all the buildings are in a traditional style.

While I was there I photographed the palaces and monasteries, such as this fabulous monastery perching on a sheer cliff face.

It would have been strange and sad to come back from Bhutan without any photos of these places – but I knew at the time that I wasn’t doing anything different from hundreds of other photographers.

So all through my trip I kept my eyes open for a smaller picture, a detail or cameo that said “Bhutan” to me, but wasn’t the obvious view.  As in other Buddhist countries, prayer flags were everywhere, continually fluttering and moving in the breeze.

prayer flags

So I decided to photograph some prayer flags, and chose a few which were rather more brightly coloured than some of the others.  I isolated them against the blue sky, and used a polarising filter to saturate the colours.

I didn’t want to freeze the movement, because the prayer flags I saw were never static, so I put my camera on a tripod, and set a shutter speed long enough to give me a little movement blur.

I couldn’t have ignored the general views in Bhutan, especially as it’s a place I’m only likely to visit once in my lifetime – but the other, cameo, more personal photos like the prayer flags added the extra dimension which I was hoping for.

If you would like to know more about travel photography why not consider taking Keith Wilson’s Travel & City Break Photography course or Nigel Hicks’s Capturing The Essence of Faraway Places

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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