Re-Photographing The Familiar

Written by stuestler on July 13th, 2009

In contrast to the week in Guatemala, where everything was new and exciting, I’ve just returned from a long holiday weekend spent with family at a lake we’ve been visiting for the past nine or ten years.


We go at about the same time each year (around July 4th), stay at the same house we’ve stayed at each year, and after that much time it all has the look and feel of familiarity that we all find in our own every day surroundings.

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler



Now don’t get me wrong – it’s a beautiful location, it’s great to spend time together with the family, and there’s plenty to do at and around the lake. It’s hardly a boring vacation.


But after this long, I found myself working much harder to find new and different photo ops. Being a bit laid slowed down by an injury this year kept me from being as active and from ranging as far afield as I usually do, and that certainly played a part.


One of the first reactions in a place like this is to zone in on the beauty of the place and the ever-changing scene unfolding as weather moves up, down and across the lake.


But after ten years, I found myself thinking, “OK, so I don’t have a photo of the lake with THAT particular cloud formation, but I’ve got eleven dozen with cloud formations that look an awfully lot like that one.”


Of course, there will always be the shots of family and our activities, which are a never-ending source of subject matter. When we look back, it’s those pictures that keep the memories of those wonderful times alive.


We may always go up to the airport for the Fourth of July Pancake Breakfast, but this is probably the only time that I’ll see my niece’s son – would that be my grand-nephew? I’m still confused about all that stuff – probably the only time I’ll catch him surveying his handiwork on his pancake breakfast like this.

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler



In fact there was barely time to lift the camera and press the shutter before the moment was gone. No time to carefully compose, and avoid the bright orange shirt behind him. A bit of localized saturation and tone reduction helped reduce that a little – believe me, that shirt must be neon international orange!


When the exciting becomes the ordinary, it’s helpful to go back to the basics, and take a look at things through different eyes.


Are you used to framing grand, sweeping panoramas? Switch to a long lens and take a much closer look at things. Concentrate on design, on color, on form instead of on what the subject is.


Select a particular focal length lens – even if it’s a particular setting on a zoom lens – and shoot everything, near and far, with that lens.


Get closer to your subject, for more intimate shots of people than the comfortable distance you may be used to shooting at.

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

In the end, it was on the last morning there, sitting by the water having coffee, that the patterns of light through the water, painting the rocks below, gave me some of my most successful photos.


There’s always something new to see no mater how familiar a subject is. It just takes looking at it from a different point of view.

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