Matthew Yglesias, on vacation in Paris, says:
In the age of the Internet, I think it’s often hard to know what to take photos of. I got a lovely shot of the gardens at Versailles, to be sure, but Flickr and Wikipedia and all the rest are already loaded with pictures of everything obvious. Pictures taken by more skilled photographers. At the same time, I like taking pictures of things. It’s fun. So I often end up taking pictures of tourists taking pictures of things.
This is an issue I’ve encountered myself as well. I’ve traveled a lot in the past few months, and taken a lot of pictures. It does often seem silly, though, to take a picture of something I can find numerous pictures of with the click of a mouse. I do still generally take those obvious pictures, mostly because I figure I might want to write blog posts about them at some point and my policy on this blog of only using my own pictures, while particularly silly in this sort of situation, does give me a pretext for taking pictures of many things.
There’s only so many pictures like that you can take, though, and once I’ve got one shot of each famous place I might want to write about I face the issue that I want to keep taking pictures, because it’s fun, but I no longer have any real idea what purpose those pictures might serve. Now that huge memory cards are cheap, this doesn’t matter as much as it used to, but it’s still an issue. One approach is to try to actually become a good photographer and take pictures that have intrinsic artistic merit. I’ve considered this, and certainly tried to improve the quality of my pictures over the years, but really doing a good job of taking pictures would require a substantial investment of time that I’m not sure I want to make.
Another option is to take pictures of unusual things. Yglesias notes above that he likes to take pictures of other tourists taking pictures of famous things, and I’ve done the same thing at times. What I’ve done more often, though, is focus more on documenting the mundane: city streets, houses, office buildings, and especially signs. I take a lot of pictures of signs these days. I like signs because people rarely take pictures of them, they’re often surprisingly photogenic (and make great generic illustrations for all sorts of topics I might want to discuss here), and they sometimes contain a remarkable amount of information beyond the literal message of the sign itself. It’s also generally easier to take good pictures, with compelling composition of so forth, of simple things like signs than of more complicated scenes.
I’m not sure that there’s really a “right” answer to this question, or even that it’s an important enough problem to worry about, but I thought it was interesting to see Yglesias’s post about it because it’s something I’ve been thinking about recently. The post also contains some interesting thinking about museums, but that’s a topic for another post.