Finding Good Photographic Subjects in Your Own “Backyard”

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How many of us have difficulty finding a subject to photograph?  How many of us leave our cameras and lenses in their case on a shelf until we’re ready to take a trip or are attending a special function?  It’s easy to find subjects to photograph if you live in Kansas and you’re visiting the Oregon coast for the first time, or if you live in Florida and you’ve taken a trip to Vermont in October.  What you see in these away from home locations is new and strikingly different than what you see every day.  But what we see every day can yield interesting images as well.  It really isn’t necessary to take a trip to take photos.  When you can’t find a subject, try turning around.  It may have been behind you all along. Many good subjects can be found in our own backyard. 

Earlier this year I took a photography class entitled Digital Photography II, an intermediate level course.  It was something to do and I believe that it’s always possible to learn something new.  At the first class I learned that there would be a number of assignments during the eight week course and that the first assignment was to take at least two landscape photos that would be due the following week.  My first thought was, “How am I going to do that.”  I work full time and I already had plans for the weekend. 

One of the difficulties I faced in this assignment is how I perceive a landscape photograph subject.  When I hear the words ‘landscape photograph’ my mind sees a sweeping vista of mountains, maybe with a deep blue lake in the valley below.  Or an early morning shoot in Monument Valley.  However, I live in Florida where the highest elevation in the entire state is barely 600 feet above sea level.  I also live in the smallest county in Florida where the population density is over 1,200 people per square mile.  Where was I going to find a landscape to photograph?  I had no idea what I was going to do. 

After class I told the instructor that I had in my mind a beach scene where there was a barrier island a couple of hundred yards from the beach but that I didn’t have time to go there.  He laughed and said to me, “In photography you have to work with what you’re given.”  To me, that comment alone was worth the cost of the class.  It provided me with a different perspective to consider when searching for photography subjects. 

The next morning, less than a mile from my house while driving to work, I saw my first possible photo.  I took this photo at 7:45 Sunday morning.  It’s the street leading out of my neighborhood. 

Alaqua Lakes

The next subject was suggested by my wife when she asked, “What about the lake behind Panera’s.”  This photo, taken at 8:45 on Saturday morning is the lake and it’s less than two miles from my house.


I learned of the assignment on Thursday evening and by Sunday morning I had completed it.  But the point is that I drive down that street 700 or 800 times a year.  I had always considered it just the way out of the neighborhood, not as a possible photograph.  I’ve had breakfast at Panera’s many times and had always thought the lake was nice to look at but I had never considered taking a photo of it.  All too often a great, or at least a good photographic subject is right in front of us and we don’t see it.  We don’t see the photograph because it’s a subject that has become familiar and while we see it, we don’t really SEE it.  (I put that in for the Avatar fans)

As a challenge, look around near where you live and find the things that have become commonplace to you.  Try to identify those that would actually make a good photo if you viewed them in a different light.

Photo credits (all): Steve Russell

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  • Lance

    Oddly enough, a good percentage of my images are captured in our backyard. We are blessed (or pestered, depending on how you look at it) with around fourteen different types of birds. They play out their daily lives, feeding – or fighting – at the seed trays; drinking or bathing in the water bowl we provide. Some are just content to sit in the trees and warble away. There is a huge tree in a yard diagonally behind us. This acts as a focusing point for most. Some even build nests, but we have yet to see any young emerge from those endeavours. Not that we are mad-keen gardeners, but we do have plants and trees that flower. These provide opportunities for normal, close-up and macro shots. Yes, a backyard is a good source of photographs, that is for sure. Some of my efforts are on Flickr:n

  • Flash&Flair Photos

    I tend to photograph my backyard a lot! The actual yard itself, and the direct surroundings on my, so good as daily, walks. Normally I take the same route, and always with camera. And always there is something to shoot. So I am truly happy that you wrote this post Steve! Lovely to get people aware of what is right in front of them!!nnVery exciting news is that in a months time I will have moved house, so a brand new backyard will be my next target!!

  • Sam Thurlow

    i, about 90% of the time, take all my photos in my garden – its a 3 acre woodland which is rich and teeming with life!nI especially love taking photos of the wonderful insects found on every flower.nBut i take all my photos with my compact camera so i cant get any good wildlife shots, but fortunately flowers and insects don’t move very fast!n

  • B Melinda14

    I have sat on Panera’s patio enjoying the view that you captured, yet never thought of it as a photo opportunity. I think I need to revisit the places that give me simple visual pleasures with my camera…and blinders off!

  • Tiffany

    Steve, another excellent article. I sometimes feel stifled, living in suburbia as I do, and don’t feel that I live in surroundings that inspire creativity. You have convinced me to take another look at my neighborhood and see beyond the crowding.

  • Richard Devita

    Great article Steve….this will make me break out the gear and find some creative angles right in the neighborhood!

  • Tyler Wainright

    I feel as though finding beauty in our immediate surroundings can be very challenging. I live and work in pretty dull environments and I find it hard to even begin to look for photographic subjects.

  • corina

    That’s what I do too… find things to photograph in the backyard, literally. I haven’t run out of subjects, yet..although, sometimes I lack the motivation…but that’s another post, LOL.

  • TaylorMay!!

    Grr I need to find a subject for my photos…….:(

  • TaylorMay!

    Cool cool