Rad A. Drew Photography: Photographing in Your Own Backyard

Continental Divide at Dawn

Continental Divide at Dawn
Continental Divide at Dawn

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Photographing in Your Own Backyard

10 Things You Can Do 

To Find Photographs at Home

Wolf Moon on a Winter's Night
(View from my front yard last week)

While I love traveling and photographing in different parts of the world, I also love photographing in my home state of Indiana. 

When I began my photography business in 2009, I was still working my day job and travel to the far corners was not possible, at least not very often. 

I watched fellow photographers and my mentors traveling the world and I felt deprived, sorry for myself, as if stuck in my own "boring" surroundings. 

Then one day, Cher stopped by and slapped me twice across the face. Hard. Snap out of it! she said.

And I did! As I considered my dilemma of being "stuck" at home, I reminded myself that the only things anyone needs to make photos are a subject, a camera, desire, and, light. These things are everywhere! You'll find them all in your own backyard. 

For the next year, I went crazy photographing my city, my neighborhood, area parks, and the amazing countryside within a day's drive of my home. The following year, I self-published my first book, In Good Light, Images of the Circle City(Click the PREVIEW button on the page this link takes you to if you'd like to see these images.)

In Good Light, Images of the Circle City

I share this with you today, not because these are exceptional photos (in fact I look at some from all those years ago and I cringe, or at least think about what I might do differently today!), but rather because it was such a big epiphany for me to accept that I can do photography anywhere.

Since then, I've had the privilege and joy to travel and lead workshops all over the world, and I truly enjoy that. 

As I think about why I (and many of us) love traveling, there are a lot of obvious reasons: to see new and different landscapes, to experience other cultures, to "get out of Dodge" for a change of pace.

After all, it was Mark Twain who wrote:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.

I subscribe to Twain's idea, but I also think that "travel" can mean going to an old town in your own state, or, visiting an unfamiliar landscape that is not all that far away.

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking we live in a boring place or that the scenery isn't very good, or whatever we want to tell ourselves. We get in a rut with the same old same old. 

But what if exotic travel isn't in the stars for you, or what if you're between trips? 

I think the secret is to mix it up at home to find new sights and explore different places in one's own environment. No matter where you live, there are subjects to focus on and light to illuminate them. 

Here are 10 things I do to keep making photos at home interesting:

  1. Walk your neighborhood, but go down streets you rarely go down. Is there interesting architecture, trees, flowers, creeks, people?

  2. Visit your city's skate board park. We have the Major Taylor Skatepark in Indianapolis. It's a great place to go to photograph action, leaps, and other feats done by interesting subjects.

  3. If you're still working, leave for work an hour earlier than you need to and take a different route to work each day, always on the look out for things that grab you. 

  4. Visit the parks in your neighborhood. Ellenberger Park is walking distance from my home and is full of trees, a stream, pathways, and more that I've enjoyed photographing over the past 30 years. I'm also a short drive away from the great Eagle Creek Park where there are deciduous trees, trails, and a beautiful lake, and the park is home to birds, aquatic life, deer and other wildlife. And there's Ft Ben State Park, also just a short drive away, with the beautiful Delaware Lake. These are the things near me, but what is near you?

  5. Check out the cemeteries in your area. Old cemeteries are often especially beautiful as they were designed to be places families wanted to visit, often driving through or picnicking. For me, historic Crown Hill Cemetery is a favorite location to photograph all year around. 

  6. If winters in your area can be inhospitable like they are in Indiana, look for places where you might photograph indoors. Not far from my home is Garfield Conservatory, where I often go on cold, inclement, winter days. It's a tropical garden, so it's always warm and cozy when it's 0º outside!

  7. Don't be afraid to brave the winter elements or rainy days. (Remember, there is no bad weather, only bad clothes!) Dress for the occasion and get out even when it's cold, overcast, snowy, rainy, foggy, etc. These conditions, while they require a bit of preparation to endure, often yield wonderful photo opportunities. 

  8. Go out with a fellow photographer! Sharing the experience with a buddy can make it that much more enjoyable, plus they are likely to know of places you've never been.

  9. Drive in the country. One of my favorite things to do is to pick a direction and then drive in that direction with no particular destination in mind. When I come to a crossroads, I choose the smaller of the two roads. I often find myself on gravel or dirt roads, in beautiful woods, or near farms and barns that are wonderful subjects. It was on a drive like this last year that I discovered that Indiana has a cypress swamp. I would have never guessed! I plan to go back this spring when it's teeming with new growth.

  10. Photograph your city at night. I like to go downtown when there are events happening and photograph light trails of traffic, or the office lights. Experiencing the city at night opens a whole new world full of opportunities.

Here are just a few of the photos I've made of locations in my home state over the years. Some are several years old and others are from as recently as last week.

Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis

Big Walnut Creek, West of Indianapolis, Winter

Big Walnut Creek, West of Indianapolis, Fall

Rural Indiana Barn

Barn, Brown County, Indiana

Alley, Downtown Indianapolis 

European Weeping Beech in Snow
Crown Hill Cemetery
(This tree is no longer there.)

Indiana Barn, Winter

Abandoned Edison Concept House, Gary Indiana

Abandoned Apartment Complex, Gary Indiana

Ginko Tree, Crown Hill Cemetery

Iron Truss Bridge, Hendricks County Indiana

Behind an Old Barn, Rural Indiana 
(This barn is no longer there. The truck has been restored.)

Indiana Barn at Sunset in Winter

Winter Day, January 1, 2023, Eagle Creek Park, Indianapolis

Arched Sycamore, Rainy Winter Day Last Week

Island in the Fog, Eagle Creek Park, Last Week

Heifers, Indiana Farm

Argyle Building at Night with Passing Bus, Indianapolis

Giant Oak, Rural Indiana

Abandoned Truck, Rural Indiana

The Late Mosey, Work Horse at Conner Prairie, Fishers, Indiana