How to Make Pictures in the Suburbs

If you live in the suburbs, and have a hard time finding inspiration to make pictures… this post is for you.

At heart, I’m a city boy. I love the freedom of walking. I hate feeling cooped up in a suburban hell.

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I’m currently in the OC for a few days, spending time with family, before Cindy and I go to NYC for about a month, then to Europe for my EUROPE TOUR.

I’ve been loving time with the family. Simple joys, like eating Korean BBQ, having simple conversations at the home, going hiking, etc.

But the problem is… I still feel artistically frustrated while in a suburb. I’m not sure why… but perhaps it is the lack of walking (we drive everywhere), maybe it is because all the houses look the same… and perhaps the lack of randomness in the suburb feels restrictive, or perhaps I’m just trying to fight my jetlag from Japan. I have no idea what it is… but I always find it difficult to make pictures in the suburbs.

Cindy at Starbucks

But good news— I’ve been photographically productive while being in the suburbs, and I think I’ve discovered some secrets. I wanna share them with you here.

1. Shoot lots of snapshots

I think what hurts us in photography is that we feel like we need to be these super “serious” artists and photographers, and that somehow by taking snapshots, we are harming ourselves.

For myself, I have been shooting with the RICOH GR II, in JPEG, and have been having so much fun. I just have been shooting snapshots everywhere. I keep the Ricoh on my neck (I’m currently using a prototype ERIC KIM NECK STRAP), and whenever I see something that interests me visually… I don’t censor myself. I just shoot it.

The more snapshots you shoot, the better.

Why? The lifeblood of every photographer is to just SHOOT MORE PICTURES! Anything that motivates us to shoot more is good.

I love snapshots, because they tend to be more personal, more real, and more loose. Snapshots are more honest pictures…because snapshots are of everything— of our everyday lives, of our family, our food, street scenes, urban landscapes, and everything in-between.

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The snapshot overcomes all boundaries and genres in photography and art. You can shoot “landscape” pictures, “personal photography”, “street photography”, “self-portraits” and anything and everything.

2. Shooting pictures from the car

To be safe, be in the passenger seat while taking pictures. I’ve been shooting a lot of pictures while in the “shotgun” passenger seat in front, and it has been fun using the pillars inside the car as a natural frame.

Also, I’ve been making some pictures while parked at the stop light (while driving). It’s pretty dangerous, but I’ve made some pictures I have liked.

Best is to just park the car, and if you see something interesting, don’t get out of your car. Just shoot it from the driver seat.

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3. Shoot street portraits at restaurants

Family at Lucille’s BBQ.

If you’re going to dinner with your family, bring your camera along. If you see other interesting folks, ask them to shoot a portrait of them or their family.

Much of us don’t have the opportunity to always get into the city— know that every opportunity is a good chance to shoot.

I also love family restaurants, because you get a diverse mix of people, and also you get interesting decor, and architecture inside different restaurants. And we all gotta eat anyways.

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Processed with VSCO with a6 preset. Selfie at sunrise.

When you got nothing to shoot, just shoot a selfie of yourself. Do it when you see good light, a sunrise, during sunset, in a mirror, reflection, in your house, outside hour house, or anywhere.

5. 99 Cent Stores

I remember seeing pictures by Andreas Gursky of his critique on consumerism and capitalism in his 99 cent store project. I realized that after spending a lot of time outside of America, the concept of a 99 cent store is strange.

You see interesting products, people, things.

Also the 99 cent store is interesting to me, because it is generally for “poor” people, or folks lower on the social-economic ladder.

There is a stigma associated with shopping at a 99 cent store… but why? The value is incredible. And no, you won’t die using their products.

It’s also fascinating… to see what products they sell for 99 cents. Like the Bible.

Also in the “strip malls” where these stores are, you also see a lot of people walking around, and other interesting stores.

I see shooting at strip malls, 99 cent stores, a fascinating thing… a cross-over between street photography, urban landscape, and photographing class differences.


My mom reading the (Korean) bible

My concluding thoughts are this:

  1. You can make interesting pictures anywhere and everywhere… as long as you have a discerning, critical, and perceptive eye. Turn any boring situation into an interesting one, but looking at things differently. For example, when living in a suburb, what do you find weird or strange about it? I personally find it weird there are no sidewalks in the suburbs, people are so overly obsessed with their cars, and these unnecessarily huge houses.
  2. The more random snapshots you take, the better. You will have a larger reservoir of images to draw from, and it will keep you inspired to keep shooting. Either use your phone, a small compact camera, and use the simplest settings. Shoot things randomly, and just have fun doing it.
  3. See every opportunity as a photo opportunity: shooting at the mall, at the grocery store, at the restaurant, while stuck in the car, at the gym, etc.




How do you stay inspired with your photography in the suburbs? Share your tips, insights, and advice in ERIC KIM FORUM.

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