Photographing the mundane

Words/Photographs: Tony Eveling

Photography is beautiful, and just because the photographic subject is made of gray concrete doesn’t make the photograph less beautiful!

Overpass road in the French town of Calais, France
Overpass road in the French town of Calais, France

One definition of mundane could be the things that you see everyday, things that you usually just walk past. Those things and objects most people tend to ignore.

But how about you?

Do you see beauty in concrete slabs or metal railings? You should do.

If you can create visually arresting photographs of this type of subject matter, and you can get fired up to take compelling photos of this type of subject, then those drop dead gorgeous sunsets and sunrises will be easy!

Composition techniques in photography

Compositional technique don’t change between urban and rural landscapes, these skills are transferable between photographic genres! So a concrete overpass on a freezing cold rainy day whilst waiting for a bus has just as much photographic potential as a beach scene at dawn in summer.

Creative and imaginative compositions of seemingly mundane objects and making them look beautiful in some way, is a great photographic challenge.

Bridge over a railway line, view of a man walking a dog as viewed through a set of railings
Bridge over a railway line, view of a man walking a dog as viewed through a set of railings
Detail view of a block of flats and four balconies
Detail view of a block of flats and four balconies

You may think that the place right outside your door is less photogenic than a mountain range or a rainforest far away, or a remote beach. But photography is photography…it’s about creating compelling images from any subject that is in front of you.

Your photos don’t have to be packed with colour, contrast or moody skies in the remotest places. Of course that is nice, but what is outside your door right now?

Maybe you are lucky and have a beach or a mountain range. Maybe like most people you have a road and a row of houses the other side, or maybe a shopping centre down the road.

Not so photogenic? Well, yes it is.

Everywhere, whether urban or rural is photogenic. The trick is to get the composition right. Choose your subject, frame it correctly and you will take visually impressive photographs of any subject, anywhere, and at any time of day.

An example of a ‘mundane’ subject

Detail view of a block of flats and four balconies
Detail view of a block of flats and four balconies

When I took the photo of the apartment block in the above photograph (and to the left here) it was a sunny day in the middle of summer in the middle of the day. Those orange/red bricks changed colour in the sunshine, becoming the bright orange that you see.

The harsh shadows provide crisp detail in the brickwork and on the balconies.

So when I saw this orange architectural block I thought it would make a nice photograph.

But it’s mundane, right? It’s not a mountain or a beach.

Not dawn or dusk.

Well, all that is true, but no reason not to attempt a composition that will create something that makes people want to look closer in some way.

However, your compositional choices are absolutely critical to success.

So I chose this flat, geometric composition that showed off the evenly spaced balconies set inside the neat brickwork, with the balconies covered in random human stuff. Each balcony has it’s own unspoken story. Four groups of people living so close to, but independently of each other.

The point with this photo is that I am concentrating on a detail of the apartment block, rather than a wider angle shot which may not have suited the harsh bright sunlight.

And you may ask, why did I choose that particular composition? My answer to that would be that it came from intuition, or gut feeling…or as I normally put it, I had a ‘moment of inspiration

As you’ll know if you have read any of my other blog posts, that the ‘moment of inspiration’ is critical to good composition.

A second example of a ‘mundane’ composition

With the photograph of the yellow railings I couldn’t resist the repeating patterns of the yellow painted railings, and the shadows that cast across the railway bridge. The yellow against the blue sky creates a great contrast. Then a piece of good fortune in the form of the dog walker finished off the composition nicely.

Bridge over a railway line, view of a man walking a dog as viewed through a set of railings
Bridge over a railway line, view of a man walking a dog as viewed through a set of railings

Again, it’s a mundane subject, but a great graphic obect too, as well as being enhanced by the bright sunshine and the bright colours.

So why is this a visually appealing photograph? Ultimately it’s the composition. It’s the way I’ve composed the railings, to create those leading lines. The contrast of the blue sky and green railings helped me too.

Again, I was wandering around, minding my own business, and I had a ‘moment of inspiration‘.

The compositional skills required to get these shots can be employed in any genre of photography.

Sharpening your compositional techniques

Shooting what might seem pointless mundane scenes can help to sharpen your compositional skills for when you make a once a year trip to your dream photographic destination. And you will also increase the depth and variety of your own personal photographic portfolio.

  • I couldn’t agree more with you Tony. As I have become more serious about photography I have started to look at everything around me in a completely different way. It makes you look for the beauty in the mandane, and it makes life so much more interesting! Although I have to admit I would still rather be up on a mountain with a camera than walking down my street. Thanks for visiting my blog today, much appreciated.

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