When photographing landscapes, you will inevitably come across the opportunity to photograph an iconic location that everyone recognizes. Unfortunately, this brings its own unique challenge: the question of how to do it without making your image the same as everyone else’s.
So, how do you avoid clichés when working with famous locations? Here are some tips that will help you to get ahead.
1. Find a New Angle
Not just any angle will do. Study images of your chosen location before you go and see what other photographers have done.
Most will be head-on, capturing the monument or landscape in full detail. But what if you walk around behind it? What if you go down very low and shoot it towering up above you? What if you find a high vantage point nearby and shoot it from above?
Find an angle which has not yet been explored. It is very hard to find something totally new to do with a famous location, so if your idea has already been done, try to at least find an idea which is rarely done – and put your own spin on it if you can.
→ Related reading: How Perspective Impacts Landscape Photography
2. Change the Time
Most iconic locations are usually photographed during the day. There are a few exceptions for landmarks which are lit in a special way during the night, which then become more popular during the darkness. What if you switch it up and go at a different time?
You could combine this with your use of a new angle for great effect. Take a landmark such as the Sydney Opera House. It is iconic both during the day and during the night, thanks to the famous sails and the light displays which are often projected onto them. But what if you could find something new? How about angling your shot so that you can see workers arriving in the morning, or the first tourists queueing outside to get in? Or how about that moment in the night before the lights are switched on?
3. Focus on Details
It’s obvious to try and capture the whole of a landmark. Whether it means fitting the whole of the Eiffel Tower in your frame or capturing Stonehenge in rolling countryside, most photographers of these icons will step back to get everything in.
So, to avoid clichés, do the opposite. Step in as closely as you can. Capture the grain on the weather-worn rocks, or focus on one rivet on the Eiffel Tower’s frame. Find the little things that make this big picture possible. The more you look at the small stuff, the more likely it is that you will find something interesting and surprising.
For example, there is more than one famous landmark in Greece on which Lord Byron scratched his name. Everyone knows about this detail, but what other amazing Easter eggs might be hiding in landmarks around the world?
→ Related reading: 7 Tips for Focusing on Fine Details in Your Landscape Photography
4. Move Away
Just as you can zoom in on the finer details, so you can move out for an even bigger picture. What happens when you frame the shot so that your iconic location is actually just a small part of the image? How can you line it up with other surrounding landmarks and landscapes to tell a story?
When you zoom out, you can see more about a location and what it means. You can include tourist information centers, ticket desks, and tourists. You can capture the slums that sit right beside a famous tourist attraction, or find the beauty of natural landscape around a place which is well-visited. You can make a piece of famous architecture stand out all the more in relation to the drab and normal buildings around it.
Remember, just capturing the landmark to fit your frame has been done many times before. If you want something really different, you need to get a lot further away.
All of these tricks will help you to find your own unique angle. Combine more than one of them together, and you might actually be in for a chance of getting something that has not been done before. When tackling iconic locations, try to bring a bit of yourself into the image – shoot it the way you would shoot other landscapes and landmarks, rather than being enchanted by the famous site that you see before you.