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Okay, so the title of this blog post may sound incredibly cheesy and remarkably like a stereotypical photographer, but bear with me. It’ll get better.
This thought bizarrely came to me on my first day at base camp in Madagascar. On the boat journey there, I was struck by the extraordinary beauty of the place. The palm trees and the golden sands honestly made it seem like a picture from a postcard. Later that afternoon, I was sat in a hammock reading (the hardships of Madagascan life, am I right?) the Lyrical Ballads by Coleridge and Wordsworth, and their description of the British landscapes from Cumbria to Warwickshire made me feel a little bit homesick. Sounds silly right? I’m sat in a place of outstanding tropical beauty, but was missing the rainy, rolling fells of England.
I’m here in Madagascar in the capacity of photographer and journalist on the Media and Journalism Internship. While I’m taking many photos here of the incredible things around me, I realise that I am only taking as many images daily, as I would on a dog walk at home. For me, this is a case of being able to recognise the beauty in everything I see around me, regardless of where I am. Beauty, as it is defined in the dictionary, is a combination of qualities that together make something aesthetically pleasing. To find beauty, then, in everything requires numerous things combined into one experience. So, whether you’re in the suburbs of London or the forests of Africa, here are some tips on how to find that beauty for yourselves.
1. Look out for the little things
So often, the best photos I take are not of the vast landscapes or dramatic sunsets, but of the little things. Of course, the sunsets are beautiful too, but even if you don’t have those stunning natural landscapes around you, there will still always be that butterfly landing on a flower or on that leaf that’s just starting to turn golden on the brink of autumn. Or in the city, there will be those dramatic diagonal lines across a street caused by the angular shadows of a skyscraper, or some graffiti on a wall that wasn’t there yesterday. All of these things are amazing, and it’s often their smallness, their seeming insignificance, that makes them all the more so.
2. People have their stories to tell
I’m not a people person, generally speaking. I am an introvert who likes my own space and my own company. However, I have found, through talking to people in a journalistic capacity and taking their photos, that every person has a story to tell. They might think it’s not very interesting or it might take a bit of coaxing, but even if it’s just a single look that conveys a particular emotion in one moment, it’s a new insight into someone else life that you didn’t have before. For example, on my journey out to Madagascar, I was sat next to a Professor on my first flight who was on his way to give a lecture on world religions at a conference in Switzerland (and ran some community projects in Africa in his spare time). In Madagascar, I’ve been speaking to some of the locals and finding out about their lives here. While these were people I never knew before, they’re now new contacts for me, and I’ve learnt new things about different cultures and ways of living. So, speak to people, because they nearly always have something interesting to say, and they might even offer a new way of looking at things that you’ve never noticed before.
3. Be present in the moment
Both of my above suggestions concerning how to find beauty in everything also have one thing in common. Being present in the moment. Often, when we’re walking through a place, we’re thinking about where we are going, what we’re doing next, or reflecting on something that has already happened. In doing so, we frequently miss what’s going on around us. My advice is this: go for a walk just for the sake of it, listen to music on your way if it helps, but merely walk and notice the things around you. I guarantee that you will see at least five new things in a familiar area that you’ve never seen before. If you do this for the sake of it, it is a refreshing way to relax and renew your curiosity in your surroundings. For photographers, this can be a bit trickier. Sometimes, you’ll notice those new things in that present moment, see that it is beautiful to you in some way, and take a photo of it. Other times, you will notice something, and you will let it pass because that present, momentary experience is enough. This is probably the hardest one to master of my three tips because it’s about finding a balance between using the beauty around you and just appreciating it for the marvel that it is.