Best Places

In Pep Talks, The Life Creative, Travel by David11 Comments

After several years of photographing some truly wonderful corners of this planet I get more than a few emails each month asking me where are the best places to photograph in this city or that country. I try to reply helpfully, but what I want so much to say, without sounding like I’m being contrary, is this: there’s no such thing as best places. There are wonderful places, to be sure. There are popular places, and busy places. There are places that appeal to some and not to others. But photographs happen at the intersection of place and light and moment, and the corner in Venice that for much of the day is flat and crowded and in all ways uninteresting, might for one moment on one given day give the photographer a gift he never dreamed. And the must-see list from the Lonely Planet might give us nothing.
I can give you lists of the places I like, but I like them for so many reasons and at such specific moments, that those lists would be no good to you. They would encourage you to buy the illusion that you just have to show up at the right place with the right lens and make the same photographs I’ve made. And just maybe that happens. And then you’ve made a photograph someone else has already made. Now what?
More harmful in the act of giving you that list is that it won’t encourage you to do the one thing that will give you both unique and unexpected experiences and the photographs that come from those experiences, that is the act of getting lost. Of having your own experience. Of being forced to encounter a place on your own terms and make the kinds of photographs only you can make.
There is a heartbreaking tendency in photography towards the homogenous. Nothing would make me sadder as a teacher than to inadvertently push you in that direction. So, to put a more positive spin on this, when you next ask me where the best places are, here is my answer:
The best place is the place in which you experience wonder, where your eyes are open to things you’ve never seen. The best place is the place in which you are lost, beyond your notions, a little off-kilter and looking for balance. They are places full of possibilities and unhindered by the need to make a photograph just like the ones you came hoping to make, but instead make something more, something better than your expectations.

The best places are within; places of receptivity and possibility, of courage. They are places into which we go empty, and emerge filled. You will find none of these on a map, or in a guidebook.

They are places to which, often, you can never return, and to which no one but your curiosity can lead you. And I want so much just to be able to put my finger on map and say, “Here, friend. This is where the magic is.” But whether it is or it is not depends not on the place but on the eyes with which you see it.

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  1. Hello David! I’m currently taking your Traveling Lens course, so I’m reading this during Module 2. I honestly have no words but feel I must comment somehow. What a wonderful article and in all sincerity could be applied to life in general. I have for years believed in the idea of getting lost in a place but no one I know has ever really seemed to understand, so it’s nice to know that I’m not completely crazy, or least I’m not alone in my craziness. : )

    Thank you for sharing your heart!

    1. Author

      Thank you, Tina! You’re probably not crazy, but if you are there are more of us out there. 🙂

  2. Hi David! Good article and it could be an obvious thing but is not. I must admit with my little experience that some times we are going so fast that we only see the street in front of us, reaching one point to another. A good word for me is to tell my self “Stop” and do it for real. Stop walking, stop with the car (maybe better to parking) or if i’m in a metro choose to go down a station before and reaching by walk. Reading article like this is helpful to remember to be present as you say. Thanks!!!

  3. Wonderful read, thanks for sharing your insight and awareness. We do tend to want the “best” of things including places and experiences. I recently returned from a visit to Iceland and the Faroe Islands…..had several people ask me “was it worth going there”? Really, how do you answer that question.
    Open heart, open mind and carry your camera for a wonderful time.


  4. I totally agree! Often it is more interesting to turn the opposite direction and be the only one to get a different perspective.

    Recently we found ourselves discovering Wenceslas Square with wonder and amazement, when we spotted an enormous crowd standing in front of this old clock…the people were all rapt and waiting for the clock to strike 12 noon with hundreds of cameras all pointed at the same subject. The story was more interesting looking the other way, and besides the story of the clock was already being told countless times, as it has been day in day out. I have similar experiences when shooting concerts – i love trying to get above or behind the stage, or behind the crowd, shooting a perspective that frames a slightly different story.

    A photographer is not so much a person who uses a camera to document a place or subject or even a moment. A photographer is one who can use the camera to tell a compelling story from their unique perspective.

  5. Amen, and let us not forget an amazing image just might be waitng around the corner from where you live, if you are alert, aware and open to it.

  6. I recently visited the region of Maine around Acadia National Park. Very beautiful scenery and people. There were lots of recommended places to visit, and we visited many of them. But my favorite spots were those we discovered on our own, driving or walking around, places we had no clue were there. I don’t know if any of my photographs will successfully capture these places, but my memories have captured them as the best places for me, at those specific moments in time. Thanks for the great post, David.

  7. Thanks for clarifying this, David. Now, where are the worst places i should avoid ? ;D

    Sorry, couldn’t resist. I think with places its the same as with gear, you can make the best photos with the worst gear in the worst places, or the opposite, its up to you.
    Very interesting things can happen when you open your eyes in places where you have been over and over again. Its similar to walking to the same place with a different person everytime, everyone sees the place different and you discover new things you haven’t seen the month or years before you were at this place.

    greetings and have a nice friday


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