Early springtime in Michigan is a strange season, when everything takes on the color of a brownish gray hue. It’s torture for the vivid color seeker. Photographically though, drab colors allow other colors to pop. Also, there’s an authenticity to drab colors, even if vivid colors are absent.
Many photographers try to capture the best picture using bold and beautiful color and light. Those characteristics are important and can indeed result in fabulous images. There is an importance, though, to also capturing natural colors as they are. A photograph with those qualities are an authentic representation of a scene, and can also be considered beautiful because of this.
A perfect example would be to look at photo work by Jason Lee. His work is straight forward and honest.
With springs “colors” ready and some beautiful light overhead (soft, subdued light), it was the perfect time for a road trip.
For a treat, I decided to go to a small town—Sand Lake, Michigan—I’d never visited. I can’t recommend this enough! Visiting a town—or anywhere really—previously unvisited by you can be a major boost to your creativity.
Film was my medium of choice for this excursion. The Leica M6 was it’s vessel. Everyone has their photographic preferences and I’m no different. When I want, no, need to slow down, film is what I use with Kodak Portra 400 being my preferred roll. There are a lot of options out there. But, lately, instead of experimenting, I’ve been preferring to stick with a consistent style. There are enough considerations to make when making pictures, it’s been nice sticking to one film and knowing what the results will be.
Heading into Sand Lake and driving past old grain elevators and mechanic garages made me feel like I was stepping into a Norman Rockwell painting. The sun was setting and its rays seemed to be intent on covering the entire downtown with evening light. As is typical with small towns, there were hardly any people out. A person was mowing a lawn while another was walking down a sidewalk. This all disappeared by the time I parked my car.
Walking vs. Driving
Photography is all about observing. It’s about noticing and capturing what you want. This could be done by slowly, methodically and thoughtfully creating a composition, or it could be by clicking the shutter based on an instantaneous reaction. No matter what your technique and approach is though, the best way to be observant and notice someplace is to walk.
Driving through somewhere is too easy. It’s comfortable and it’s convenient to tell oneself that “maybe I’ll just keep driving”. Walking though connects you to a place. It’s remarkable how much more you’ll see of a place by using your feet instead of your vehicle.
This was the case in Sand Lake. While walking around a corner I was immediately stopped in my tracks by a TV repair shop. The sign was weathered and faded and it looked like it had repaired TVs since the beginning of TVs. It was a beautiful shop. The red of the sign was eye catching, especially in comparison to some of the more surrounding subdued colors.
Small Town Photography
What attracts me most to places like Sand Lake is that they’re real. Buildings aren’t perfect and things aren’t polished, like life. Each town has its own pace, style and feel. To walk around with a camera and be a part of that is special. It not only lets you experience those things but it lets you capture images that represent a part of that town and may showcase aspects of a town like they haven’t been shown before.
Try to make time to visit a nearby town, or even your town, city, village, etc., but make sure to slow down, walk and appreciate the small nuances.