I did an evening program a few weeks ago for a local camera club. Afterwards, a former student came up to me to say hello and ask me a question. He said that at the end of the workshop he was in he asked me what he should work on when he gets home.
“What did I say?” I asked, a bit leery, wondering if I was paying attention back then (always iffy) and said something silly or if I had actually given him a good answer. Since he wasn’t rearing back with a clenched fist I felt pretty secure that at least I wasn’t going to be ducking a punch.
“You said to photograph locally.”
“And did you?”
“I did and it has been great. I live in a little town in Connecticut. I used to not photograph while I was at home thinking that all the pictures were elsewhere…in the national parks out west or in the wildlife refuges in the south. That’s where everyone else went to take pictures so it must be where I should go. Nobody ever comes to Connecticut to photograph.
But then you said to photograph locally and I started to think about it and I realized that nobody photographs in Connecticut…nobody photographs in Connecticut…nobody–photographs–in-Connecticut. Ding! I have the state to myself!
It has been the best thing I have ever done photographically.”
“Well, that’s great. I am glad it worked out so well for you.” Turning, I head for the door, anxious to start the long trip home.
I stop and turn back to him. “Now what?”
“Yeah. Now what should I do? What is the next step?”
“The next step?” I turn again and look longingly at the exit.
“Yeah. What comes after photographing locally?”
Okay, I can wait five more minutes. I actually get this question a lot. What should I do now? I suppose that people think I should know what they are doing now so I can tell them what they should do next. I don’t but luckily, the answer is in two parts so chances are I have a pretty good shot of at least telling them something worthwhile.
The first part of the answer is photograph locally. The second part? I told him to “photograph a story.”
“Yes, a story. Pick a theme and illustrate it. It can be anything…anything that you care about and are interested in. It is best to pick something that you are passionate about but for now just pick a theme, an area of concentration. Follow a stream from its start to where it empties into a river. Do the seasons of a pond, or a meadow, or a reserve or your garden. Tell the history of that old barn you drive by or the historic building downtown. Interview the oldest person in town and tell his or her story in pictures. Or go to the local hysterical society, I mean, historical society and take now-a-days pictures of back-then pictures from the same spot.”
“A story, I’ve never thought about a story. I like that.”
“It will be the best thing you will ever do creatively and your photography will be new and exciting and unique. Plus you will have something to share with people so you will be in demand and you will be the local expert in your theme. Think stories rather than single pictures.”
“Stories, okay. Local stories. I can do that.”
“You’re gonna be surprised how much fun it is.”
“I’ll catch you next time and good luck with your new company.”
“Thanks, and good luck with your stories.”