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Burma-pagodasWithout the focus of a formal assignment it can prove more difficult to be selective with regard to subject matter. The appeal of a place may be a combination of the responses of all our senses but, when we release the shutter, we do not record the feel of the wind on our face, the smell of the sea or the sounds of a different language. Photographs may therefore be disappointing because they do not measure up to our cherished memories. The feelings are no longer there and, even worse, the reason for taking a photograph may be unclear. Such deficiencies can nevertheless be replaced by careful use of key symbols, light, camera angle, movement and implied circumstances. If we photograph local food being cooked in an appropriate manner and environment, with steam wafting over the camera, the implied appetizing aroma rising from the pan may be almost detectable.

A worthwhile approach is to develop a theme from whatever interests you. Some aspect of unfamiliar surroundings usually catches the eye, and this may provide the direction required. Ask yourself why you have noticed a particular subject and why it appeals to you, and then begin investigating the circumstances that surround it. Talk to the people involved and pursue its various aspects in the detail and depth that time allows. Spend some time immersed in the subject and involve yourself in the various activities. Get a human feel for what it is like to participate and try to find a way of merging your various impressions into images. Go for it from within the environment or situation, but with appropriate cultural sensitivity. It cannot be done satisfactorily from the outside.

Potential subjects for this sort of work are everywhere, and some are addressed in a later section of this book. They are of course open to interpretation by the eyes and interests of particular photographers but remaining faithful to the chosen theme, and the threads that develop from it, will eventually yield results. However, do not become blind to other possibilities. Remain open-minded, flexible and opportunistic because you never know what is around the next corner. Above all, follow your heart. Pursue and photograph subjects that you love and want to understand. Ultimately your personal enthusiasm and interest will be revealed in your interpretation.

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