View Full Version : Photography in the Suburbs

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11-03-2010, 12:46 PM
Hi there

I live in a fairly boring suburb of a fairly boring town called Reading, in the UK. As you'd expect I often feel a little envious of people coming back with great photos from really great locations (Yellowstone, Cornwall, Scotland, etc etc.) What is there to photograph in the suburbs? What exercises/studies can I do? I've been looking at Chris Crawford's work and it is an inspiration of sorts - any more ideas?

My neighbourhood is available on Google Street View: Erleigh Road, Reading, UK.



11-03-2010, 12:51 PM
It is always easy to find low hanging fruit everywhere else but home.

Just start at your front door and take 10 photos every third step. Shoot every thing in sight; high , low, etc. don't censor yourself. Do this for about a block or so. You might be surprised at what you come up with.

Richard Wasserman
11-03-2010, 01:05 PM
I too live in a boring suburb–photos are everywhere, it's a matter of seeing them (best to have no preconceived ideas). For years I carried a camera with me when I took our dog for a walk and was delighted with what I found. Unfortunately Rocco died not too long ago...

11-03-2010, 02:02 PM
everyplace is kind of boring.
the trick is make believe you don't live there

good luck !

11-03-2010, 02:13 PM
I am certainly acquainted with that feeling, but I believe it requires a little fine tuning of the imagination. If you wander through the galleries on this site I think you will find examples of all sorts of possibilities. For example, zero in close to objects, reducing some small portion of a scene to an abstract, emphasize texture, that sort of thing. There's no denying the stunning aspects of viewing snow-capped rocky mountains, but there are other patterns with interesting interplay of light and shadow, hard line against soft objects, etc. that people walk past every day without noticing. The trick is to see some of that. Am I good at it? No! :D But I do try to think along those lines as I wander armed with a camera.

11-03-2010, 02:14 PM
Shoot what you wanna shoot. If you don't wanna shoot nuthin', then don't shoot! You'll figure it out.....or not! It'll be ok either way.

11-03-2010, 02:50 PM
Check out Bill Owens' Suburbia

Mike Wilde
11-03-2010, 03:02 PM
The other trick is to try to find the time to take in the usual sights at a different time of day.

I too live in the land of the bland.

But when I find the will to get up Sunday am at 5:00 on a day predicted to be light on clouds, I am out for a walk before the sun has risen.

I have pre-scouted possibiilities , and get great shots off all sorts of things in the hour or so before the light becomes part of the usual blandness again.

Yes, macro and texture can be your friend too.

I usually drive to work after dropping the kids off at school, but when we bike I can usally see intersting things, and the effect is even more pronounced if I walk. It is just a matter of getting an extra 15minutes in into the morning routine to walk in rather than drive, since I live close to work, but that 15 minutes always seems to go to other more domestic tasks.

11-03-2010, 03:15 PM
everyplace is kind of boring.
the trick is make believe you don't live there

There is something to this. Familiarity can make something boring to you that might be interesting to someone else, or you would find interesting if you were a visitor. I was thinking about this at lunch, when I was looking around, seeing the stuff I see every day, that I could see tourists taking pictures of. I see ghosts, too: places that used to be bookstores, cafes, etc., and are now cell phone shops, banks, chain clothing boutiques. It's a challenge to throw off your own blinders.

Casey Kidwell
11-03-2010, 03:25 PM
That's what LSD is for. Kidding, just kidding. But if you do try it, shoot in auto. And post your pics!

David William White
11-03-2010, 03:27 PM
Cities and Suburbs change. Even an empty field with one sad cow in the middle is valuable twenty years later when the place is all built up. So you can document for future residents, just shooting as it exists today. Might take on meaning later.

You can also do a 'day in the life', starting at dawn with the garbage trucks, newspapers, etc. Then school getting out for lunch, then commuters coming home, street lights coming on.

Failing that, there's always people. They crack me up. You could wander around, chat, take pictures, show pictures, everyone in the neighbourhood gets to know you. Someone gets a new car, or graduates, or has a sister visiting -- you take the picture.

Art (capital A) sort of happens along the way if you just make photographs, I think.

11-03-2010, 03:38 PM
I live in a fairly boring suburb of a fairly boring town called Reading, in the UK.

Alex, I go to Reading once a month with my job and I always take a camera because there's quite a few interesting buildings and the light does nice things with buildings, especially this time of year with the lower sun. I always buy a roll of film from that little camera shop near the train station.

tim k
11-03-2010, 03:51 PM
Its just boring where you live. You get used to seeing it. I have to laugh every time I see a tourist in front of a 30 ft tall cactus with their camera out. I see it every day and think so what. They see it for the first time and think OMG.

This is my strategy for saving money on film, when I'm home. It takes something new for me to get inspired.

11-03-2010, 05:17 PM
I too live in a boring suburb–photos are everywhere, it's a matter of seeing them (best to have no preconceived ideas). For years I carried a camera with me when I took our dog for a walk and was delighted with what I found. Unfortunately Rocco died not too long ago...

Well, I live in the boring suburb two towns to the north of you, and I'd say Wilmette is a cornucopia of interest compared to Glencoe. :) The Bahai Temple, the harbor, an actual downtown, Gillson Park, the el. My gosh, you have alleys even. :)

To the O.P., might I suggest driving a few suburbs over? I'm guessing we all tend to get too used to where we live, if I am drooling at the very thought of Wilmette.


Worker 11811
11-03-2010, 05:42 PM
What about picking a theme?

I often take my camera, hop on my bicycle and pedal around town looking for pictures that fit into my theme for the day.

One day I'll shoot, "urban grunge." I'll take pictures of old, run down buildings and industrial lots.
The next time I'll shoot "broken stuff." I'll walk around looking for broken bottles and smashed up car fenders, etc.
Some other time I might look for "diagonal lines" or "abstract closeups."

There have been times where I'll go a week or more shooting "grunge" or some other theme. After I have shot a roll or two, I often start seeing pictures everywhere I look, even just ten feet out my back door. There's an old, dead tree in my back yard with the branches broken off. I spent an hour shooting that tree from every angle. Another time, I saw the picnic table in my back yard all covered with snow. There went another roll of film over an hour's time shooting that picnic table from every angle.

After I've been doing this for a while, it often gets hard to STOP seeing photographs! ;)

11-03-2010, 06:10 PM
Just be careful of over zealous suburbanites! I was challenged by a woman for taking pictures of her wood pile (which was on the “public” side of her fence). She was none to pleased….I’m sure she thought I was a wood terrorist. The suburbs are the best breeding grounds for today’s and tomorrows red necks, but hey, I have always been a suburb dweller and I think I have come out reasonably OK

To the Original Poster, I will be very interested to see how you go. I have often wondered how photographing the suburb I live in will look to other people. I have ideas, I just now need motivation.

11-03-2010, 06:16 PM
Think small. Focus on a single leaf, insect, or tin can. Change format, change lens. Take a day trip to a different part of the area. Shoot unusual film (very slow, vary fast, or IR). Take night shots!

Ham radio operators have the same problem... after working all countries with 1,500 watts, we need to do the same but using 1 watt or less.

Colin Corneau
11-03-2010, 06:57 PM
If the place you are doesn't meet your expectations or pre-conceived notions...then you have 2 logical choices.

You change your place.

Or you change your pre-conceived notions.

(for what it's worth, I live in a small and what many people think is boring town. I walked past things for years and didn't notice, but lately I've made it a personal project to do street photography in my downtown. It's been very rewarding and a surprisingly deep well of material...my photoblog for it is www.reservedatalltimes.com -- think about it for your place. Remember, it's a personal choice and what you bring to your photography is up to you. Don't think, just do.)

11-03-2010, 07:00 PM
Thanks for all the great advice - this is one of the most informative forums on the Net that I know of by quite a long way!

OK let's give some more details. Mulling over the dullness of my home town made me think about an assignment to try to bring that dullness out. The architecture here is often very uninspired (unless you like long rows of identical brick terraced houses) so I might have a play around with symmetry, geometrical shapes and such, not to mention an urban decay I pick up along the way.

I'll be using my trusty Leica R3 with the 50mm Summicron (the only R lens I can afford!). Film is FP4 at EI 200 for the mostly cloudy overcast weather we get here and souped in good ol' D-76, it's a combo that gives a really classic, timeless look with great tonal range. I will certainly post some results! (eventually .. lol)

Paul Sorensen
11-03-2010, 07:43 PM
Don't have expectations and start seeing things in different ways. Here is a link to a classic from William Eggleston for inspiration: http://www.artsmia.org/viewer/detail.php?id=2620&i=6&v=3&dept=7&artist=913

I think it is less about what is being photographed than how it is done.