Updated: May 29
If, like me, you enjoy doing street photography you will know that the best places for doing this type of photography are big cities and towns where there are lots of people and a lot going on.
But many of us don’t live within everyday commuter distance of large cities, and even if we do it may not be possible to travel there all the time. What if we live near a small town with very few people on the streets? Is there any point in going out with our camera in this type of environment?
I am going to suggest that there are lots of benefits from doing photography in small towns. For a start, every time we go out with our camera, no matter what the location, we are learning something new and improving our craft. We are also spending time enjoying the outdoors and doing what we love, and that can’t be bad.
But what are the more specific benefits of doing photography in small towns?
I have identified 7 particular benefits that I have discovered from my own experience but there are probably many more.
1. It is great for beginners
Doing photography in a small town is a great way for beginners in photography to ‘cut their teeth’. The pace is slower, you have plenty of time to wander and look around and decide what you want to capture, and you begin to discover what I believe is an important concept in photography - what it is that conveys the essence of the place you are in.
When I first started street photography I went to a busy place with a lot going on and I really didn’t know where to start. Being in a small town, strolling around with your camera and soaking up the atmosphere, gives a sense of the street without the hurried pace and confusion of the city. That will come later!
2. It encourages observational skills
Arguably we could say that all types of photography encourage observational skills but I think small town photography does this in a particular way. We are not focusing on people so the emphasis will be on what could be called still-life street photography, and this gives us ample opportunity to observe buildings, markets, street furniture, street sculpture, street art, advertisements, signs, shop fronts, displays, reflections, features unique to that place, and so on.
Street sculptures can make imteresting images
Colours and shapes make interesting images and often show up in small locations. Graffiti can make an interesting abstract image. Even rubbish bins can feature in this type of photography when captured from a unique angle.
3. It can be done in any small town, village or hamlet
If we can vary the location so that we are not visiting the same location all the time we will have a new experience each time. Every small town and village has its own unique character and features. Some have a river nearby, others have unusual buildings. Some places make creative use of colour in their environment, many make a great effort to welcome visitors and to be inviting to strangers. This ethos permeates their town or village and is reflected in their street environment. When I get a feeling in a town that it is open and inviting to visitors I want to stay there for a while, amble around and capture some of this atmosphere. It is a uniquely different type of street photography.
4. It helps you find ‘triggers’
Working in a small town helps you watch for 'triggers’ in a relaxed environment. Many street photographers go out with some triggers in mind, some particular ideas as to what would make a good photograph, and they watch out for these or try to seek them out. Again, a small town can be a training ground for spotting triggers and I have often seen catchy shop names or signs in small towns that are not so prevalent in cities. Another option is to take a shot that has potential but isn’t quite there yet, and make a note of how it could be improved and what it would need to make it a worthwhile image. Even if the answer is more people or a busy environment it is still a worthwhile exercise. For example, I like taking pictures of threes. When I keep a lookout for threes in a small town environment, even if the subject is not very interesting, I am training my eye to spot more interesting threesomes when the opportunity presents itself in a busier place.
5. It facilitates the hunting approach to street photography
There are often considered to be two common approaches to street photography – the fishing approach and the hunting approach. In the fishing approach the photographer finds a background or scene that he or she likes then waits for a good subject to come along. Some photographers wait long periods of time to get the picture they are looking for but it pays off if they come away with a successful image.
The hunting approach is where the photographer keeps moving around, watching what is happening, on the alert for an interesting scene or subject, ever watchful as a hunter hunting its prey.
The fishing approach requires people to move into a scene whereas the hunting approach can be adapted to hunt for ideas, hints, suggestions, and sometimes nothing more than potential images but in the midst of many misses there may be one hit, one gem that stands out in some way, and the hunt has paid dividends.
This image is not that gem but I think it's a good example of finding something when you spend time hunting and trying to be a bit creative with what you find.
6. You get to see the real place
Usually in street photography there is a tendency to go to more crowded spots. That’s where the most people are and where most things are happening. But it’s often not where the real people are. In small towns, or the outskirts of bigger towns we can get a more authentic view if the place and appreciate the location from the point of view of the locals.
7. You can look for abstract images
Abstract images can be found anywhere and are not unique to small towns yet the unhurried pace can lend itself more to looking for these type of images or creating them from the scenes around us. I plan to do a whole photography shoot taking only abstract images, just for enjoyment and to see what I can capture.
Benefits of photographing in a small town: final words
I have tried to give some suggestions as to why I think it is worthwhile considering small towns and villages as legitimate street photography venues. Even if these places are not considered proper street photography locations they are good for our overall photography, even if just for practising our skills and enjoying a photography outing.
Do you do photography in a small town? Share your experiences in the comments below.