Monday, February 16, 2009

Traveler's "must" photos - Shooting Landmarks

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PALandmarks like Philadelphia's Independence Hall, New York's Statue of Liberty, San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, The Great Wall of China and Paris' Eiffel Tower are all subjects emblematic of their locations. They are geographic icons which you must capture with your camera, if only to say, "I was there!"

The problem with so many landmark photographs is that often when travelers return home, they find their photos of some of the most incredible and famous world sights boring, flat or humdrum. Why is that?

I think it's because their photos look the same as every one else's.

It's not easy to create a unique photograph of a landmark. After all, with millions of photos already taken of them, is there an unusual or distinctive shot left? The answer is yes. Here are 8 tips for making your landmark photographs special.
  1. The Panthéon, Paris, FranceChange your perspective or angle on the subject. Take a picture from a different side. Tilt your camera. Perhaps get low to the ground and shoot upward.

    Don't just take the common "full-on" shots with people waving and smiling in front of the landmark looking toward your camera.

    Scout around for a new vantage point. Rather than just photograph the Panthéon like any ordinary building, I went inside to catch the detail of its magnificent dome.

  2. Take a photo with the landmark in the background. Landmarks are special, often embodying the spirit and history of the area in which they're located. By placing a landmark in its surroundings you add interest and context to your photograph.

  3. Use local inhabitants in your photograph to add human context and eliminate the sterility found in so many landmark photos. Not only does creatively adding people into pictures tell stories, it provides a realistic sense of the scale of the monument in contrast to the size of the people in your photograph.

    A bicycler riding past it, can add context, scale, visual interest, and the human element to the Betsy Ross House, to what would otherwise be an ordinary photo of a brick building with a flag.

  4. If you're using a DSLR, try a special lens, such as a fish-eye. With it, you can gather the surrounding area around the landmark with the unusual perspective it can lend to your photo.
  5. Shoot in low light, or near dusk or dawn for their golden tones, or even in the evening. Shooting in natural low light can add a special ambiance to your landmark shots, and by shooting your photos during "off-hours," the crowds of tourists are normally diminished, so you can get less busy shots.

    Cities have both night and day personalities. Some cities start to come alive at dusk, then seem to burst open after dark. Shooting in Las Vegas' and capturing Paris Las Vegas' Eiffel Tower at night is a more interesting photo than if taken during the day.

  6. Add visual context to your photo. We see zillions of photographs of the Statue of Liberty taken from the shores of New York Harbor, standing alone in the Harbor as a sentinel. We don't see many photos of the Lady with a ship passing by, which would give the photograph context and echo the history of many immigrants' first sight of their new country.
  7. Try processing some of your photos in "black & white" instead of color. It's rare today to see travel photographs in "black & white," but their monochromatic tones can add substantial drama and emotion to a photograph. Consider "film noir" movies and the way their cinematography enhances the drama, feel and tone of the movies.
  8. Hearst Castle; Casa Grande, San Simeon, CAFrom the above suggestions you can see that the rules of landmark photography (there aren't any) don't require you to take only full shots of the landmark. Often isolated portions of it, or close-ups of a small part of the landmark can be more interesting than the whole.

    In this photograph taken at the Hearst Castle, note that several of the hints discussed above were used. The photograph concentrates on the main entrance of the primary building in the Hearst Castle complex; Casa Grande.

    The photo was taken from an elevation well below the entrance, and framed by some of the lush vegetation of the Castle complex. The tendency of the lens to add limited "barrel distortion" to the photo was used to advantage to further frame the Castle entrance.

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