Creating a Sense of Time and Place in Your Photography

A recent trip to Vietnam got me thinking about the importance of having a sense of time and place in your photographs. Certain images one can look at and instantly recognise the country, city or period in time the photograph is from. So how can we create this in our images?

I think the first and most important thing to do is to get to know the country, province, city, etc. you are in and the aesthetic features that are unique to that place. In some places this is easy - for example when you see black cabs, red phone boxes or big red buses, you instantly recognise that pace to be London. These components in a photograph also give a sense of time, although you might not immediately see it. How much longer will there still be phone boxes? They are mostly there to serve as a tourist attract now. And black cabs or red buses? Alternative transport companies such as Uber and Grab could possibly put an expiry date on these iconic symbols. When we look back on photographs of today’s London in ten years time it will be with a feeling of nostalgia.

A photo I captured in Soho, London in January 2019

A photo I captured in Soho, London in January 2019

The photo above for me has great connotations of time and place. The dapper mans coat and the leather gloves are quintessentially English, and could even give a sense of a time past - however the smart phone in his hands roots the photograph back in to the 21st century. As an example this photograph gives a strong sense of time and place.

A beautiful Vietnamese farmer in a conical hat.

A beautiful Vietnamese farmer in a conical hat.

So how can we use this in travel photography? Vietnam is a country where it is almost too easy to create a sense of place - the traditional conical woven hats are totally unique to the region and can be seen every which way you look.

A photograph of Vietnamese ladies cleaning seafood on a beach in their signature hats.

A photograph of Vietnamese ladies cleaning seafood on a beach in their signature hats.

As I left Vietnam and returned to Cambodia I began to consider what unique visual assets the country has. For me the most prominent are the krama - a traditional checkered scarf worn around the head - and the orange robes of the many Buddhist monks.

A photo of a Cambodian lady wearing a krama captured in Phnom Penh.

A photo of a Cambodian lady wearing a krama captured in Phnom Penh.

I would be really interested to hear what attributes make your country, or countries you have visited unique. Please leave a comment or send me a photograph to gemmasandell@hotmail.co.uk . If we can make a good collection I would love to create a post exhibiting the uniqueness of each country. We learn so much from collaborating!