An excellent destination and digital photography challenge is to tell a compelling story of Small Town America, especially if you’re a big city boy or girl. You may not discover as much excitement as the big city (although you may be surprised), but you will find interesting subject matter in the way people work and play and the opportunities to try to capture the essence of why so many people prefer a small-town environment.
Many small towns are situated in beautiful natural settings, be it riverside, quiet valley, flat, open plains, mountains or seashore. Look for these landscape photography perspectives as you approach a small town. Consider an angle from above on a mountain town, a low angle on a rural town in the middle of American farm country or a view from the river running through an old mill town.
Small towns don’t typically have grand architecture and monuments, but many have courthouse squares or open central areas that may define them specifically. Look for exterior and interior architectural details of picturesque courthouses, old hotels and quaint stores, such as doorways, arches, stairways, lights, flooring, signs, furniture and fixtures.
Many American small towns have preserved their Victorian-era homes or American Craftsman style homes. They often line heavily treed streets that create both amazing and subtle lighting effects during different times of the day and seasons. You may also find classic diners and eateries and ice cream parlors with old-style signage and interior décor from a past era.
Being just as personable and friendly as most small-town Americans will provide you with casual portrait opportunities, and even being welcomed into people’s homes and businesses. Because without pictures of the people who live there, your story will be incomplete. Explain that you want to tell an interesting story of their town in digital photos and you may be surprised as to the access you’re afforded. Every small town has its characters and eccentrics and their lifestyle portraits will take your portfolio of images over the top.
You may be fortunate to arrive in a small town during an annual festival or other celebrations, providing you with even better subject matter for your digital photography. People are apt to be even more willing to have their pictures taken during these events. Even the weekly farmers’ market will offer still-life images of the bounty of the harvest and a revealing look at the relationships among the local people and their small-town spirit.
Look for any historical elements that may help to tell the story of any American small town. Often, there is a historical society or a person or group who preserves the history and will direct you to interesting places. In addition, don’t hesitate to call on the mayor or the editor of the local paper. They are likely sources of people and places to photograph. By establishing contact with the newspaper editor, you may have an opportunity to send him or her a few of your images for publication.
If you’re summer digital photography road trip to Small Town America proves to be successful and enlightening, consider returning to capture the same town during different seasons. Remember that any scene or subject is enhanced when photographed during the magic hours of the day, dawn and dusk, so plan to spend some time roaming a small town during these periods of the day.
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Photograph by Photography Talk member Mike Watson