Photo Playing with Lights

I Have a Theme

When traveling, I’m always on the move, seeing different places and people every day, but when photographing locally – within a hour’s drive of my home – I often see the same things again and again.


But not so! Repeating photography opportunities are not to be avoided. Returning to the same place or event multiple times is valuable for developing photographic skills and exercising a creative photographic eye.

Photo Playing with Lights
I take lots of photos of the St. Louis Gateway Arch especially from the east side of the river. Night shots are some of my favorites. On this clear evening, I played with long exposure and zoom.
Sony A7II 28mm 10sec@f16 ISO100

To keep these places fresh, I often return to places or events with a theme in mind. This helps me see something new each time I visit a place and helps me keep the sense of discovery and exploration I love when I’m traveling.

I live in St. Louis so I have plenty of photos of the Gateway Arch, our biggest claim-to-fame. I have lovely photos from the Arch grounds and from a park across the Mississippi River. But the Arch can be seen from many parts of downtown and from many angles – sometimes not even retaining the iconic arch shape.

Photo Sliver of Arch
There are many views of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I caught just a sliver of the Arch between the many layered texture of the city which includes the abandoned, vintage buildings next to modern skyscrapers.
Sony A7II 187mm 1/250@f6.3 ISO 400.

So with the theme “Glimpses of the Arch” in mind, I headed out into downtown St. Louis to see what photos I could make of this iconic landmark.

In this photo, I caught just a sliver of the Arch between the multi-layered texture of the city. I loved the layering of the city buildings, which show a cross-section of St. Louis: modern skyscrapers next to old, abandoned (and graffiti-ed) structures. The hint of the Arch in the void uniquely places the photo in a city.

Quick Tip for Travel Photographers: Most parking garages are free to walk into (or cheap for an hour’s parking) and as long as you’re not messing with the cars, the parking attendants usually don’t mind you being there. The tall ones give great views over the city especially if they have open rooftop parking.

When I travel, I usually only have one, maybe two, attempts to capture a photo, but photographing locally means I can make as many photos as I want – returning multiple times with different themes in mind.

Because I work close to the City Museum, I can visit over and over again, looking for new opportunities to experiment each time.

I’ve visited the City Museum with the theme of “Doorways”.

Photo Doorway to the City
Doorway to the City. Photo taken on the rooftop of the City Museum. The sculptural doorway frames the skyscrapers of the city.

I’ve visited the City Museum with the theme of “Macro”.


Photo Gears
My macro lens comes out for more than just nature. I love to get in close to interesting mechanisms focusing on texture and detail. This is part of an old safe at the City Museum in St. Louis – a place full of texture and detail!
Sony A7II 90mm 5sec@f8.0 ISO100

I’ve even visited the City Museum with a model.


Photo Girl and Snake
Model in graphic outfit poses laying down beside a sculptural snake at the City Museum

And I’ve visited the City Museum both during the day and at night.

Photo Sunset on the City
Sunset on the City. This photo was taken at sunset from the roof of the St. Louis City Museum – a place of whimsical architecture. Sunset was uncertain, but the sun did sneak under the clouds. A couple climbed into this cage-like structure to watch the last rays.

Themes even work when photographing recurring events like annual festivals and parades. After a while, all parades start looking the same, but by focusing my attention on one aspect of the parade, my photography choices shift.

For instance, there’s a large parade in St. Louis every 4th of July – the Veiled Prophet parade. There are always interesting characters and lots of street photography to be had at this event, but sometimes it’s just too overwhelming and my photos start looking “samey-samey”. It helps if I go to he parade with a theme in mind.

Last year, my theme was “Faces of America”. The theme fit with the 4th of July patriotism and forced me to focus on individual people. I even made quite a few street portraits – something I rarely do.

Faces of America

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I encounter a similar challenge when I travel to visit family. How can I re-visit the same place again and again and keep the photography fresh?

I go to London often, not because of my travel photography, but because my husband is
British and his family lives there. I’m lucky to be able to repeatedly travel to place like London which is full of photographic opportunities and travel adventures, but I’ve been to all the major tourist attractions – many times. I love London, but I’ve seen it all — or have I?

I’m always trying to find another photographic opportunity that’s off the beaten track.

The last time couple of times I was in London, my theme was “spiral stairs”. The theme help my husband and I get out of our normal routine. I did a bit of research online, taking suggestions from local photographers like Aaron Yeoman and my theme also gave me an excuse to talk to other London-based photographers at markets and ask them for suggestions. Sam Warr was one of the photographers who I talked to in the Greenwich market and he gave me some suggestions that I hadn’t yet discovered.

It was an adventure and took my husband and me to parts of London that I’d not been
to – Somerset House, Queen’s House Greenwich, the Wellcome Collection, and even the exciting NCP carpark off of Oxford Street! (It’s not that exciting. It’s a bit grungy if I have to be honest. But there’s a brilliant square spiral 10+ story spiral staircase in the middle of the carpark).

The Wellcome Center was a particularly good find – neither my husband nor I had ever heard of this place and it was in an area of London that we’d not been to before. The Wellcome Center is an interesting place full of medical information – sounds boring until you see the rarities and oddities in this strange and wonderful place! Why had we never discovered this place before??

The trip to the Wellcome Center taught me that sometimes it’s not the thing you’re looking for that  is the best thing that you find.

There is a proper 10-story spiral staircase in the building as well as this strange contemporary one. The contemporary staircase is only about 3 floors, but I liked this one the best! And, yes, I was laying on the floor to capture this image.

Photo Strange Stairs
Sometimes it’s not the thing you’re looking for that you find. My theme for London was “spiral stairs” which took me to the Wellcome Center – a place I’d never been before. This is an interesting place full of medical information. There is a proper 10-story spiral staircase and this strange contemporary one. I liked the contemporary one the best! And, yes, I was laying on the floor to capture this image.

Themes can be anything from objects to places to colors. If you’re searching for an idea, try my Photography Inspiration Generator. If a picture is worth 1000 words, can a 1000 pictures be inspired by just one word? Let’s find out!

Weekly Photographic Inspiration 

 Photograph something smelly

Can’t help you with this one, but make it a REALLY smelly photograph!

Use the comments below to tell us about what themes you use to inspire your photography.


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