Photo Number 49

Counting as I Travel: A Numbers Game

For years I have been pursuing a little photography game when I travel – counting as I travel. I started, years ago, with a photograph of the number “1” and I’m currently looking for #59. See my Flickr Album for this project.

Ok, I’m not moving that fast with this numbers game, but that doesn’t really matter. The game is a way for me to look closely at my surroundings and to connect my various trips through a theme.


The game started when I was a bit bored with walking around London. (I know – “bored with London; bored with life.”) I started seeing interesting street numbers and started to document them. It was a game, much like “I spy…” or the license plate game we played when I was a child on long road trips. You know, the one where you try to find license plates from all 50 states on the cars passing by. Don’t tell me that it was only MY family that played this game!


Number 1 Temple
This was the photo that got the number’s game started. It was taken many, many years ago in London – well before I was into photography. It was taken in the area of London known as Temple.

It would be many years before I took up the game again and even then I’d sometimes go for months without seeing a number – at least, not the next number in the series.

Personal Rules

My Counting as I Travel game has only a few rules, but they are important. By keeping to these rules, I really feel like I’ve discovered something rather than just snapping any old number that comes my way.

  1. Numbers must be photographed in sequence

Numbers must be photographed in sequence. I started with number 1 and I’m currently looking for number 59. I might see a really cool #72 tomorrow – and of course I can take a photo of this number – it just can’t be included as part of my numbers game. Right now, I’m looking for the #56.

The number game is a quest, not for just any number, but a specific number and I sometimes find them in the weirdest places.

Photo Number 24
This #24 I found inside a piano keyboard – who knew the keys were numbered inside the piano! I’ve played piano nearly my entire life and didn’t know there were numbers inside.
  1. The numbers must be in some way photographically interesting.

The numbers must be in some way photographically interesting. I’m not saying that my number sequence photos are necessarily the best photos I’ve ever taken, but I’m not really happy with publishing sub-par photos either. So, I’m not looking for just ANY #59 right now, I’m looking for a photogenic #59!

My personal rule is that I can’t move onto the next number until I’ve actually published the last photo on one of my social media accounts. There have been times when I’ve taken a photo of a number and sat on it, reluctant to publish. That’s probably a sign that I need to keep looking!

  1. Sequential numbers need geographical space.

One of my personal rules is that I need to have some geographical space between numbers. In other words, I can’t just walk down a street and take photo after photo of neighboring house addresses racking up the number count.

There’s nothing wrong with me walking a few streets over to find the next number in sequence, but I don’t often do this – my travels aren’t this organized. That – and addresses aren’t always photographically interesting (see Rule #2). I very rarely even take photos of two numbers in sequence on the same day, though this sort of timing isn’t one of my personal rules.

Photo Number 20
It was great to find these bricks in the back of a university art department numbered in sequence – don’t ask me why, but it probably had something to do with the kiln sitting next the pile. It was ok to snap #20, but it was against my personal rules to snap #21, #22, & #23 all from this same stack of bricks.
  1. Number has to be isolated.

This is more of a guideline than a rule. Whatever number I’m looking for should be standing by itself and not part of a longer sequence of numbers. I do on occasion break or bend this rule, but I generally try to stick to it.

Photo Number 48
This Italian car is one of the exceptions to the rule. Usually I like my numbers to be isolated, but  #48 is part of a license plate on a very colorful car outside of Siena. This is also a case of holding onto a number until I found a photo worthy to publish – this must have been my 3rd photo of #48.

Also, the numbers don’t necessarily have to be together – they just have to look that way.

Photo Number 41
I was stretching a bit to get #41 out of two railroad flags on the Wabash, Frisco, and Pacific narrow gauge railroad near St. Louis.

Seek and ye shall find!

My friends and fellow photographers get often into the game. When I’m on a photowalk, one of the first questions I now get asked is “What number are we looking for?”

I’d spent three weeks in Italy and I found a few of my numbers, but I stalled on #49 – whatever street we walked down either didn’t have a #49 or it was photographically uninteresting. The day after I returned home, I went on a photowalk with friends and voilà! There was my #49 waiting for me back home in St. Louis!

It was a small victory, but we danced a little photographic jig.

Photo Number 49
#49 found while on a local photowalk. Motorbike with 49cc engine.

Your Own Personal Project

I count when I travel, but there are so many variations of this idea. It doesn’t matter what personal project you choose – it’s your theme after all.

You’re looking for a theme that repeats across your various travels and gives you something to look for – a goal to seek and ultimately enriching your travel experiences. I find that this little counting game makes me more photographically aware of the details in my surrounding.

Here are a few suggestions:

Alphabets – because who doesn’t like to spell their name out with photographs?

Colors – we all have a favorite color. Maybe pink’s the thing you’ll look for on your travels. Classic Cuban cars come in all colors of the rainbow in Havana – including pink!

Shapes – I also like to take photos of round windows. I don’t see these very often so I photograph them when I see them.

People wearing hats – or people doing something particular that you’ve specified in advance. Walking is a little vague and you’ll find this everywhere, but photographing people pointing or laughing on the street is a bit more challenging.

Make your own rules, but stick to them! It’s much more fun when you find the photographic treasures that you seek!

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