Finding Marilyn in a Plain Jane subject

A common complaint I hear is: “there’s nothing [nearby] interesting for me to photograph.”

If you’ve ever thought that, adjust your expectations. There are successful photographers out there who make it a career out of photographing inanimate objects And you can get creative with toys and do dioramas as well.

I do landscapes, so I’ll focus on that here:

I on occasion like to challenge myself by returning to the same location on a frequent basis. Daily, twice daily, sometimes even hourly. I’ll look for different perspectives, for different lighting conditions, for different weather, different focus subjects. Anything that makes an ordinary, mundane scene interesting.

Case in point: for awhile I lived in a tiny town on the Washington coast. The locals, so accustomed to living there, rarely visited their beach, except for an occasional clamming trip. I remember having a conversation with one of my neighbors, during which she remarked with a note of longing in her voice that she’d love to live somewhere with dramatic landscapes. Snow-capped mountains. A town nestled in a mountain valley. Or better yet, she added, by turquoise tranquil oceans and warm breezes.

“But, Jamie, you live right by the beach!”

“Yeah, but it’s ugly.”

My neighbor called this beach “ugly.”

Cue raised eyebrow. I wouldn’t have called this stretch of beach ugly. Plain, maybe. It didn’t boast rugged cliffs, interesting boulders, and wildlife, aside from eagles, were rare. I took it as a personal challenge to photograph this Plain Jane beach as Marilyn.

I went there as often as I could. My second winter there, the area set a cold record, ten below zero. I went to the beach because I wanted to see if the ocean had frozen or looked any different. (Nope, aside from some extra froth).

Wintry beach

I went after storms.

Algae foam – playing with wide lens perspective

On overcast days20140421_0535

Foggy days.


On a rare brilliantly sunny day.20130501_beach_0183

At sunsets.


My favorite time of day was in late mornings coinciding with low tides, when the beach was at its flattest. There’d be a skin of water just resting on top of the sand, steam rising as the sun warmed the surface. I never quite photographed this effect to my satisfaction, though it was fun to try.


On occasion, the locals would ask to see my pictures, and I’d show them photographs of their much maligned beach. “Where’s this beach?” they’d ask me.

“Right here!”

“No way!”

Your local swimming hole, park, downtown area, or the inside of your refrigerator might be boring and a common sight to you. But with a little patience and a dash of creativity, it can surprise you. And remember, to people halfway across the country, a Plain Jane subject is exotic and foreign, and thus interesting, to them.

Watch for different weather, different lights, and look for different angles. Get the camera up high, or get down low. Play with perspective.  Try different lens.

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