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Location! Location! Location!

Let’s discover why the best photos often come from unexpected places. This article challenges the myth that location is everything in photography, revealing how spontaneity and ordinary settings can lead to extraordinary results. Learn to trust your instincts and find beauty wherever you are, with or without meticulous planning.

We've all heard the saying, “Location, location, location,” usually in the context of real estate or business. For a long time, I thought the same rule applied to photography. I used to believe that the perfect shot could only be captured in the most exotic and awe-inspiring locations. I would spend hours, sometimes even days, planning my next photographic venture. Maps would be sprawled across my table, and I'd skim through travel blogs and magazines, searching for the ‘perfect' place to capture that postcard-perfect shot.

However, as I've grown older, my perspective has shifted dramatically. I've come to realize that the best photos often come from places you'd least expect. Contrary to my earlier belief, it wasn't the meticulously planned trips to far-off destinations that yielded my most cherished shots. Instead, it was the spontaneous moments and unexpected locations that made the most lasting impact.

I remember a specific trip where I'd planned everything down to the last detail. The location was a picturesque beach, lauded as one of the top spots for landscape photography. I had checked the weather, aligned my schedule with the golden hour, and packed all my high-end equipment. But when I arrived, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The lighting was terrible, despite the forecasts. The beach was crowded, making it impossible to get a clean shot. I left feeling defeated, my camera bag full but my SD card empty.

In stark contrast, one of my all-time favorite photos was taken on a complete whim. I was driving back home when I noticed the sun setting over a nondescript field. On any other day, I might have driven past it without a second thought. But something told me to stop. I pulled over, grabbed my camera, and took a few shots. There was no planning or expectation; it was purely a moment of inspiration. That photo now hangs in my living room, a daily reminder that beauty can be found in the most unexpected places.

You might wonder why unplanned shots often turn out better than planned ones. One reason is that spontaneity eliminates the pressure to capture the ‘perfect' photo, allowing you to focus on the act of creating rather than the end result. Your mind is open, your senses are keen, and you find beauty in ordinary places simply because you are not bound by preconceived notions.

Another significant benefit of embracing spontaneity is the development of your instinctual skills as a photographer. When you're not confined to a list of planned shots, you have the freedom to experiment. Different angles, varying light conditions, or an unexpected subject become opportunities rather than obstacles. Over time, this practice helps you sharpen your skills and trust your instincts, making you a better photographer, irrespective of the location.

Of course, this isn't to say that planning is entirely irrelevant. Research and preparation still have their place in photography, especially for professional projects or specific types of shots. The key is to strike a balance between planning and spontaneity, allowing room for both in your photographic journey.

One thing that continually surprises me is how ordinary places can transform into extraordinary scenes through the lens of a camera. Think about your daily commute or a walk around your neighborhood. These are areas you might pass through every day without giving them a second thought. Yet, when you start to look at these spaces as a photographer, you see potential everywhere. The way the afternoon light filters through the trees or how an old building's texture seems to come alive—suddenly, the mundane becomes magical.

What makes a photograph truly unforgettable? Most would say it's the story it tells or the emotion it captures. You don't need to be in a grand location to find compelling stories; they're happening all around us. Whether it's capturing the laughter of kids playing in a suburban backyard or the grit and grind of a local coffee shop, meaningful stories can be found anywhere. When you focus less on the location and more on the moment, you tap into the true essence of storytelling through photography.

Earlier in my journey, I was fixated not just on finding the perfect location but also on having the perfect gear. Over time, I've realized that while good equipment can enhance your work, it shouldn't limit when or where you shoot. In fact, some of my most spontaneous shots were taken on my smartphone. The saying, “The best camera is the one you have with you,” rings especially true when you embrace the power of spontaneity.

Interestingly, limitations can actually foster creativity. When you're not in an inherently awe-striking location, you're forced to look deeper and be more innovative in your approach. These constraints make you pay attention to details you might overlook otherwise—like the way shadows form interesting patterns or how an ordinary object can become a fascinating subject when viewed from a unique angle.

Another unexpected but welcome outcome of adopting a more spontaneous approach has been the connections I've made with people. Striking up conversations with passersby or even other photographers out on their spontaneous shoots has enriched my experience and even provided new perspectives that I hadn't considered before. Sometimes, these impromptu interactions lead to collaborative projects or lifelong friendships, adding another layer of reward to the practice of photography.

As someone who once meticulously planned every detail of a shoot, learning to let go of the quest for perfection was both challenging and liberating. No longer burdened by self-imposed expectations or societal definitions of what a ‘great photograph' should be, I found freedom in the imperfections. These imperfections, whether it's an unexpected blur or an unconventional composition, often add character and authenticity to the shot.

Another advantage of this newfound perspective has been the joy of revisiting places I had previously deemed ‘unworthy' of photography. Seeing these places with fresh eyes and a willingness to experiment has often resulted in some surprising and rewarding shots. It's almost like a scavenger hunt where the prizes are moments of creative fulfillment.

Taking a step back to evaluate the trajectory of my photographic journey, it's evident that my most meaningful work didn't require the most breathtaking landscapes or iconic landmarks. What made these shots special were the unplanned moments, the unexpected interactions, and the sheer joy of capturing something real, no matter how ordinary the setting might have been. 

So if you find yourself getting caught up in the logistics and losing the joy that drew you to photography in the first place, remember this: the world is full of opportunities for a great shot—you just have to be open to seeing them, no matter where you are.

Now go and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation through your lens!

About the author

Will Moneymaker

Will has been creating photographs and exploring his surroundings through his lens since 2000. Follow along as he shares his thoughts and adventures in photography.