You’re in a beautiful place. Taking great photos should be a piece of cake. Shouldn’t it? Nope. I actually find it much harder to take good photographs in beautiful places. Recently, I was in York which is an incredibly beautiful place. You’ve got the Minster, you’ve got the Shambles, you’ve got the Castle, you can even climb on board a red double-decker bus (above) and do a tour in order to see every possible angle of this beautiful, beautiful city. And as you’re snapping away, you actually think; ‘I’m really capturing the beauty of this beautiful place on my beautiful SD card’.
No. No, no, no, no, no. When you’re taking pictures in a beautiful place, every one of your shots turns out to be a post card. I wouldn’t say post cards are beautiful exactly. Post cards are pretty. Just like jigsaw puzzles and chocolate boxes are pretty. I don’t regard pretty pictures as good pictures, necessarily. They’re mindless. When you’re faced with something of beauty, all of your choices are taken away. You’re a zombie.
The subject is so beautiful that it makes it impossible to photograph it in any other way. For example, if I was at the Pyramids, there would be no point in photographing anything other than… the Pyramids! And if you’re thinking you might get an original, quirky, new slant on the Pyramids… forget it. Every possible angle has been covered a million times in photos taken by millions of tourists over the years. I would actually rather take photos of the toilets at the Pyramids. Or the dodgy, sweating coach driver who got you there. What’s the point in replicating the photograph of the Pyramids that you’ve seen a trillion times before and which you can see another trillion times by typing Pyramids into Google Images?
I reckon a good photograph doesn’t just capture the subject; it also captures the photographer. It tells you something about the person behind the camera because he or her has chosen to take a photo of this particular subject from this particular angle. The photographer is saying something about themselves and their feelings about the subject. When photographing the Pyramids, because they are so amazing, you feel that your own view of them must be irrelevant.
The same was true in York when I was there a few weeks ago. Everything there is so utterly beautiful that you have no chance whatsoever of taking an interesting photo. Your chances are much higher in some grotty town in North West England (like the one I live in, maybe?). Oddly, you’re freed in places that aren’t beautiful. You’re free to find the less obvious in these places. You’re not compelled to take that one shot that everyone else has taken. You can find something ironic or funny or poignant. So maybe you should cancel that holiday to the Taj Mahal. Instead, come and visit me in Widnes. And bring your camera. You won’t take a single pretty photograph here but you might take a good one.
Here’s a couple of ‘pretty’ photos I took recently in York. Pretty they may be because the subject is pretty. But good? No, I don’t think so.