“Don’t you dare ignore me!” my alarm would scream at me if it could talk. My alarm started quietly this morning and progressively got louder. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t ignore it, I had to get up early to go photograph an average town.
Just like with people, there are places in the world with natural beauty, and some that have to work at being beautiful, or finding the beauty. As a photographer who is always photographing places, I’ll admit it – some are easier than others. But it’s the places that make you work and really put your skills and creativity to use that are the most rewarding.
I was in Girona Spain for 4 weeks last summer with fellow photographer, Pete Heck, photographing medieval towns for a series of photo walk ebooks. Our first town was like first love – so many angles, lines, hidden gems, old bridges, majestic churches, and crumbling walls. However after our 4th town, I was losing some of my photographic enthusiasm for the angles, lines, hidden gems, old bridges, majestic churches and crumbling walls.
That initial jaw dropping moment when you first see a town like Tossa de Mar was kind of fading into – oh…I’ve seen that before. Your brain can only take so much stunning beauty before it just becomes normal.
As a side note, on a grander scale this is a downside to traveling all over the world for 10 years, you lose the “Wow” factor to “oh – this again”.
Castelló D’empuries First Impressions
Castelló, which means little castle was one of the most important palaces in Catalonia. Being close to sea and the towns of Roses and Cadaqués the town was the foundation of convents and monasteries as well as an important trading post.
We had already been to Castelló D’empuries a week earlier, scouting it out to figure out our angles and approach. We went on a rainy, gray, miserable Sunday. As we walked around the streets with our umbrellas, the whole town felt more like a ghost town than a touristy medieval town. Everything was shuttered up, and the bridge leading into town was less than impressive after seeing Besalu’s bridge. We knew we needed to wait for a sunnier day to really photograph the town, so we did our reconnaissance, had a coffee, and left feeling a little defeated.
Quite honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to going back and shooting it. I was actually dreading it. I wasn’t really sure why this ho-hum town was on our list to include in the photo books anyway. Based on my first impressions, it wasn’t anything like the beautiful old towns we had been shooting. Peratallada with it’s old rutted roads and castle, Tossa De Mar with it’s beautiful hidden beaches, Girona with it’s gorgeous intact old city walls to patrol, nor did it have Besalu’s bridge. But our client wanted it included, so we were going to have to shoot it.
I did a little online research trying to find interesting pictures and ways people had captured it before. But I just felt like this town was nothing like the others, it didn’t have that ‘Wow!’ feature all the rest had. It was just an average medieval town.
The Photography Challenge of an Average Scene
When you walk into an average scene as a photographer it challenges you. You find new ways to look at things, and different angles. You have to slow down and pay attention to every little detail. Details, details, details. I often am reminded the beauty and uniqueness is in the details; true in photography and with people. In a situation like this it’s also important to change perspective in your photography, lie on the ground, stand up on tables, and look at things at different levels. In addition to all of these things, and maybe most importantly, your attitude plays into that creative spirit.
I love challenges, and I love the less popular towns, destinations, and sights. I decided I would try to change my attitude about Castelló D’empuries. Every place has beauty in it – right?
A Second Look at the Details
When we returned for our second visit, we parked in the same place, but no umbrellas were needed this time; it was a bright, sunny day. We followed the same road into the center of town as we did the last time, but suddenly the place looked and felt different. Locals were out running errands, the coffee shop we went to the last time was filled with people, the little town was…dare I say…bustling.
Pete and I split up to do photography of the town. As much as I love working with another photographer and learning from them, I always find it easier to split up and find my own path to creativity. As I took pictures of the details and colors of the buildings, I wandered the back alleys, smiled to locals on the streets, and took my time letting the medieval town sink in. I could tell that my exploring sense had kicked in. No matter how many medieval towns I photograph the essential element is that I have to feel like I’m discovering a place, and I had reached that by going off on my own.
I found my way to the big Cathedral, a place we visited last time in the rain. On the first visit it was a sad, dark plaza, so we only photographed the inside. However today the plaza was busy with delivery trucks and people I had to work around! I noticed the bricks in the plaza had a great design to them that formed the perfect leading lines, something I never noticed on the first trip.
I wandered around alleys and into little courtyards, and each turn I took I felt like I was bursting with more creativity. I was ecstatic when I found an intact moat that still surrounded a small part of the city.
I found staircases, a beautiful green door, interesting shadows, children playing out in the streets, textures I hadn’t noticed before, and I found details – so many details. Then I wandered outside of the medieval town and found one of my favorite things to photograph, a cemetery. The cemetery was empty, and full of stories for my mind to play around with. It was somber, but special.
As I walked through Castelló, taking photos all day I reveled in the fact that you need to give a place a second chance. Sometimes it’s shy and hides from you, and it makes you work for it.
Pete and I met up again and we were both full of energy practically bursting to tell each other about our individual exploration. Castelló D’empuries ended up being our favorite town we photographed. What we thought was average, turned out to be beautiful.
Costa Brava Medieval Towns and Photo Walk Ebooks
Be sure to check out our free ebook on a photo walk of Castelló D’empuries. It includes a map, photography tips for medieval towns, and the ever important lesson of giving a place a second chance!