Photography: That Tree and other things

Old town view, photo by Jilly BennettThe best way to develop a photographer's “eye” is to look at photos every chance you get. Study the ones you like or wish you had taken so you have some idea what your personal photographic tastes are and what is technically possible (almost anything is). It's amazing how many people wander past great opportunities wondering what to photograph, so set yourself a few simple photography projects that will help you notice things that are visually attractive or interesting but which you might not notice otherwise.

Some people choose tried and classic themes like doors, fences, flowers or animals but almost anything goes. Why not have several subjects on the go at once? As I travel quite a bit I prefer themes that I can find anywhere; bicycles and squashed beverage cans are two I favour at the moment. Have you noticed how cans left on a road become flattened into photographically interesting shapes and colours? The changes are endless if you get into the habit of keeping an eye out.

You shouldn't have to look far from home for inspiration. Professional photographer Mark Hirsch drove past the same bur oak tree near his Iowa home every day for 19 years and had never taken a picture of it. Trying out the camera of his new iPhone (which he thought he'd never use) he snapped a photo of that tree one day in March 2012. Then he decided to take a very different photo of the same tree with that same camera phone every day for a year. He called his project “That Tree” (www.thattree.net) and he made a book of some of the 365 photos – and what a collection it is. He accomplished this without expensive equipment; nothing more than a phone camera, a daily stroll and a well tuned eye. Anyone could have done it, but the story behind an interesting photo project is often analogous to the legend of Columbus and the egg.

Market seller, photo by Jilly BennettCould you shoot the same subject somewhere on the Riviera for 365 days and come up with a very different shot every time? Of course. Try it for a couple of weeks by photographing the café where you have your daily coffee, the beach where you have your daily swim, your pet, your lunch, a member of your family or a plant in your garden. Choose a different time of day, change your setting and seek out an interesting angle each time. You might surprise yourself.

The Riviera offers endless possibilities for those who don't just walk past them. If you need convincing you could do worse than visiting the photo blogs of Jilly Bennett (see www.mentondailyphoto.com and www.montecarlodailyphoto.com). She hasn't been a photographer for very long and rarely goes far from her home in Gorbio, yet Jilly comes up with captivating shots of Monaco, Menton and nearby Italy with remarkable regularity (like the two photos illustrated). She's not timid about trying new things and you shouldn't be either. After all, with a digital camera or Smartphone you no longer have to pay Kodak or anyone else to see the results of your clicking.

Polish amateur Pati Robins (http://probinsphotography.weebly.com) sets another good example of how to turn everyday scenes, people, animals and objects into interesting photos. She doesn't charge for her work and lets charities use it with prior permission. Pati now lives in Wales and supports charities like Many to One, Friends of Cardiff Dogs Home and Maximum Effort in support of wounded veterans. In 2011 she won the Guardian Best Picture award with a stunning self-portrait. The portfolio on her site is well worth studying. It shows just how much you can make of mundane subjects.

Photos by Jilly Bennett

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