How to Photograph Pieces of History with Your Camera
People invented history to remember their predecessors and their actions. They’ve put it in books, museums, and stories and carried them along the years.
Photography has facilitated in providing a visual history, one with fewer interpretations and with more objectivity. Of course, photography can be subjective too, but documentary photographers aim to show the world as it is. The truth can be uncomfortable, but it is the photographer’s job to be true to reality and show it without any interference.
Documentary photographers appeared during The First World War and have followed history ever since. You’ll find them at riots, in areas of conflict and war, and refugees camps. Some of them make the news, but some of them just build a collective memory for the generations to come. In fact, every picture you take is a memory of a state of facts that could never be recovered otherwise.
Here are some simple ways to transform your pictures in pieces of history.
Urban life in snapshots
Many of you live in big cities where life happens fast. Between economic, cultural, and political events, a photographer can catch snapshots of reality in everyday life. Festivals, concerts, and public manifestations are part of the urban history and will be remembered. How people dress at some point, what food they eat, how cars look like– all of these small details are pieces of history. Just think about how we currently perceive ancient civilizations. Someday, this moment that we understand to be our present will be ancient history for someone.
This applies to travel photography as well. Visiting new places and cultures gives you the chance to photograph the history of other countries. National holidays and festivals should be on your travel agenda. Sports events, traditional music and dance, local cuisine, handicrafts, and a good sense of observation will transform your holiday pictures in historical proofs.
Preserve the past
Monuments and old buildings already have a past, but they adjust it every day. The castles and palaces attract tourists or function as administrative buildings. Try to photograph them whenever you meet them on your travels. It’s a way of preserving the past and acknowledge its value.
On the other hand, monuments are completely dedicated to historical people and moments. They should be treated with respect regardless of your personal opinion on the subject. Old architecture and monuments are also very photogenic. Many of them are built by artists and are simply beautiful. Photographing them is always a joy and a challenge.
Artifacts and traditions
There is another way of photographing pieces of history: the museums. Archaeological sites are places where you submerge in history. Local museums display categorized collections and tell you their story. Bring a circular polarizing filter if you intend to photograph inside a museum. Many objects are protected by glass shields and reflections are really hard to eliminate without a polarizing filter. Also, try to manage without a flash for two reasons: flash can deteriorate the objects and it can also change the original colors while enhancing reflections. Don’t forget to ask for permission to take pictures in such places, especially if you are in sacred places like monasteries or mosques.
Photography and history work beautifully together. Actually, the first purpose of photography was to preserve real images and document history. Family portraits, weddings, and social events were the first to benefit from this great technological invention. And today, a time every phone is capable of taking pictures and cameras are cheap and easy to use, social media transformed us all in documentary photographers. Still, authenticity and principles have to drive the entire process, otherwise out history will be just a series of lies.