Look for Something Interesting in the Ordinary

AND – Then Make the Ordinary Extraordinary

Yesterday I wrote about making your work original. That’s often easier said than done.
Here’s a thought about one way to go about that. In your everyday life, look at ordinary things that you encounter 100’s of times daily just in the course of living. Surely in all of that visual stimulus you’ll see a few things that are interesting. That’s your starting point –

You “see” something interesting in an otherwise ordinary subject. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

What do you do next? Simple πŸ˜‰

You find a way to make the ordinary extraordinary.


Here’s an example. The following three images were based on interesting things (to me) that I saw in a rather ordinary subject (identity to be divulged later).

What I saw was an old barn & silo. An image of that subject depicted as what it was – a barn – wasn’t going to be original. (A dozen or so photographers came and went while I was there – they stood off at a distance in order to get everything in the frame, shot the mandatory “documentary” shot, and left. The subject had so many possibilities that I, on the other hand, stayed for two hours and could have spent two days.)

There were many interesting things to see here – almost too many. My three example images attempted to make the ordinary extraordinary by extracting parts of the subject from the whole and presenting those parts in an abstract manner. I wasn’t shooting a barn – just interesting parts of the barn – and showing that there was a barn involved had no bearing on my goal. I took my normal approach which is to start further off and gradually work my way closer (in this case while constantly circling the barn).

  1. Top – Roof line dividing the image into two triangular shapes. Each shape contrasts with the other by distinguishing color and texture. Classic visual design composition.
  2. Center – A part of the silo tilted on its side for visual interest. Shapes, textures, lines and colors – running obliquely for a more dynamic presentation.
  3. Bottom – Closeup of barn siding. Colors, textures and lines with the elliptical shape of the knothole providing a center of interest (but not centered – otherwise it would literally look like a bulls eye).

This part of the post could also be titled “Working the Subject”. Why stop after just one (or a few shots)? Attention Deficit Disorder? πŸ˜‰
A little closer to home –

Wife doing the puzzle. Full of ordinary things (except the yellow pencil – if you look closely you’ll see she’s one of “those” who does the puzzle in pen & ink so for her a pen is ordinary; I got her to pick up a pencil just for the leading line that I wanted. πŸ˜‰ It grabs the eye because of its bright contrast & color in the midst of an otherwise mostly monochromatic scene.)

I had just gotten a 12-24 wide angle lens and was looking for something to illustrate its potential. Needless to say, before this day, I walked by this mirror in my dining room 1,000’s of times without “seeing” this ordinary object.

A bird’s feather covered with morning dew found in my driveway (where I spent the better part of an hour on my knees with a macro lens – furthering neighbors’ suspicions about my mental state).


A “trick” in all of this is to “forget” the true nature of what you’re looking at. Forget that it’s a barn! Only by doing that can you begin to see photographically. It’s all about seeing and not about looking. What you want to see are shapes, lines, textures, tones and colors. Those few things make up the language of an image – photograph, painting, whatever – and they are how you write your story. Recall the Monet quote I’ve cited before –

β€œWhen you go out to paint try to forget what object you have before you – a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, …. (Claude Monet)

0 thoughts on “Look for Something Interesting in the Ordinary”

  1. Ed, I loved this post. You are so right – we are always looking for the “big picture.” You’ve really inspired me. Thanks so much!

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