new way of seeing

A different look at Brugge

by Steve Brock on February 6, 2014

Brugge SunsetSpeaking of memories (as I was doing last time about Brugge, Belgium), bear with me on this little road trip down memory lane for one more post here on The Meaningful Traveler.

Last time I showed you several photos that represented some fond memories of the Belgium city. But this time, I want to show you a shot (above) of the most photographed view of the place. It’s like the overlook view of the Grand Canyon or Machu Picchu: everyone takes it.

So while there, of course I wanted my own little digital version of it as well. But not the usual. So what did I take? I photographed the same location everyone else does, but not the same subject. In this case, shooting late in the afternoon as the sun descended, my target wasn’t the usual canal or buildings or perhaps a passing boat. Instead, I focused on the sun itself as it turned everything else in the shot into silhouettes and shadows.

I’ll let you be the judge if it works as a photo. And yes I did add some texture to it in Photoshop to give it some added punch since the sky was pretty boring. But even if it is only a nice attempt, to me that’s a success. Why?

There’s great value in approaching the familiar with a new take just to create something fresh. But another benefit is that the exercise forces you to think about and see things differently. That, in turn, equips you to apply that new insight to other places and situations in the future (see, for example, my shots of Arches taken a month after this trip to Europe but also directly into the setting sun).

What started as a desire to not do the same old shot as everyone else now becomes another tool in my tool chest of photography, creativity and perception.

Creativity begets creativity. With ideas, it’s one area where more really is better. The more ideas you have, well, the more ideas you have. And better ones. Quantity leads to quality.

So go out and find a familiar sight. Then try to discover at least a dozen ways to photograph it, even if it is just with your smart phone. Not all (or even most) will be great. But the exercise will make you not only a better photographer, but a better traveler.

You will have expanded your visual vocabulary and that is definitely something that will come in handy on your next trip, or in life in general. It is just one step further along in helping you better see the world in a new way. And after all, isn’t that really one of the main reasons you travel?

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Look closely

by Steve Brock on September 4, 2013

If I’m talking to people about contracts, legal fine print or instructions for using their new smart phone, the phrase I hear is this: “The devil is in the details.” If, on the other hand, the subject is more pleasant like unpacking the meaning of a great movie or the secret ingredient of a recipe, I’ll hear this: “God is in the details.”

Which is it?

I’ll let you decide based on the circumstance. However, when it comes to finding new ways to perceive the familiar, I’ll land squarely in the God camp. Often the best way to see something with fresh eyes is to look at the details. That’s where you often find the hidden wonder.

I’ll stick with the Arc de Triomphe for one more example. Most people look at the Arc and what do they see? A large triumphant, Roman-like victory arch. The monument itself.

La Marseillaise-overviewBut look more closely.

The Arc’s facade is covered with six sculpted reliefs. In addition, there are four main sculptures around the Arc, each monumental in size as the image above shows. This particular one, The Departure of the Volunteers by Francois Rude is more commonly known as La Marseillaise. It’s an impressive piece of work showing an allegorical representation of France as she leads her people.

Just taking time to pay attention to the sculptures themselves is one thing, but the wonder comes when you go even closer. Check out this shot of the face of the lead figure:

La Marseillaise-detail

Not a face you see every day. I might have missed this altogether and gone my way content with the views from the top of the Arc. Thankfully, in the small museum near the top they have placed this version of La Marseillaise which made me curious to see the bigger sculpture outside:

La Marseillaise-interior

It’s easy to walk right past sculptures and public art. But on this day, I was given the reminder to look closer. Pay attention. Notice the details.

I reluctantly visited the Arc de Triomphe just so my family could take a quick look. But by looking more closely at the details and later, at home, reading up on the history and background of it, I have a whole new sense of appreciation.

It’s still a big, brazen monument smack dab in the middle of Paris. But now I realize it is also something much more.

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Turn around

by Steve Brock on August 28, 2013

Want to see the familiar in a new way? Turn around.

“What?” you ask, “how can I see something if I’m looking the other way?”

You can’t.

And that’s the whole point.

View from the Arc de TriompheI’m sticking with the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France for this example as well. When you climb to the top of the Arc via that wonderful spiral staircase, you get a 360 degree view of Paris.

You could see any part of Paris you wanted. But where do most people look or take pictures? One of two places.

Either they try to get a shot with the Eiffel Tower in it or, even more popular, they try to get a shot of the Avenue des Champs Elysees. The above photo is a panorama that captures both with the famous street right smack dab in the middle. To view the details of that image, click on the photo above and then again on the smaller photo that will appear.

But why look where everyone else looks? Turn around. And when you do, you might see something you didn’t expect. In my case, turning around meant going to the other side of the Arc from the Champs Elysees. And this is what I saw:

Avenue de la Grande Armee from the Arc de TriompheThe street, the Avenue de la Grande Armee, leads toward the Place de la Porte Maillot, sort of the downtown business center of the city where you see all those buildings. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen, or at least paid attention to them before. But I think they are more interesting than the Champ Elysees, at least photographically. Granted, adding the texture to the photo as I did also helps enhance this image. But I still find the subject as or more visually rewarding than the more traditional look down the Champs Elysees.

I remember once in central Taiwan ascending a famous mountain in the dark of pre-dawn morning so that I and several hundred other visitors could witness the sun rise over the clouds beneath the summit. I don’t have the photo handy (it was taken on slide film and is buried somewhere in a file), but while several hundred people gawked at the sun and took photos of its rise over the horizon, I turned the other way. I ended up with a great shot of myriad sunglass-clad faces all mesmerized and focused on the same thing. It was a much better image than the sunrise.

Sometimes what you seek isn’t in front of you but behind you in a place you’ll never find unless you do one simple thing.

Turn around.

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Looking on the inside

by Steve Brock August 20, 2013

Next time you want to see a place in a new way, don’t just look at the outside. Look inside. Even in places you didn’t think you could…

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Looking beyond what you see

by Steve Brock August 14, 2013

As I discovered photographing the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, sometimes the best way to see something is to look beyond (or in front of) what you actually see.

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Start before you leave

by Steve Brock August 6, 2013

Why wait until your destination to start looking for wonder on a trip? It may be closer than you think but you have to be present and prepared to see it.

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Stories beyond words – Part 4

by Steve Brock April 18, 2013

Ever take a picture that seems rather blah with boring, faded colors? Convert it to black & white and tell a better story at the same time!

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