7 Landmark Photography Tips for Avoiding Clichéd Photos

Some landmarks have been photographed so many times we feel we've seen them from all angles. These tips will help you see them through fresh eyes.

The problem with photographing famous landmarks is just that - they're famous. So famous in fact that even if you're never visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or the Sydney Opera House, or the Pyramids, you've probably seen so many photos of them that it feels like you have.

As photographers this presents us with a unique challenge - finding a new angle or creative viewpoint that avoids clichés and shows off the landmark in a way that people are not so familiar with, and perhaps have never seen before.

This is tricky but it can be done. The key is to take a step back and see the landmark through fresh eyes, rather than being influenced by what we've seen before. Use the following tips to avoid the tried-and-tested shots and capture something more original and intriguing.

Get the "Postcard" Shots out of the Way

Ok, I know this article is all about finding new ways to photograph landmarks, but before you do it's a good idea to get a few of the more common viewpoints "in the bag". There's a reason we see these pictures repeated over and over again - they can actually look pretty good.

Taj Mahal

Grab some of the traditional shots before looking for more unusual angles. Image by Louis Vest.

Snapping these more traditional angles early means you won't be tempted to take them later on, leaving you free to concentrate on finding more unique, creative compositions.

Look for a New Angle

Once you've got the common shots out of the way it's time to be a bit more imaginative. Rather than following the rest of the crowd, explore your scenery for interesting people or objects to include, or unusual viewpoints to shoot from.

Tian Tan Buddha

Move around from the crowds to find an uncommon viewpoint. Image by Mark McLaughlin.

Finding a new angle for your landmark photography can be as simple as shooting your subject through the branches of a tree, framing it reflected in a puddle, or holding your camera at an extreme angle to get an unusual shot.

Don't underestimate the power of this though - changing your viewpoint even slightly can result in a vastly different photo, and one that is much more interesting than the shots we've all seen a hundred times.

Focus on Something Else

Rather than using your landmark as the main subject of the photo, shift your attention to something else, and make the landmark a background object.

Gargoyle with Eiffel Tower in background

Use the landmark as a background object rather than the main subject. Image by Tetyana Pryymak.

A traffic jam leading to the Arc de Triomphe or a feeding camel in front of the Sphinx would both make for uncommon photos which are more likely to capture people's attention. They also convey a sense of the environment, putting the landmark in context.

Concentrate on Details

It's natural instinct to try to fit the entire landmark into the frame - I know I'm guilty of doing this. Unfortunately this often makes the landmark look small and underwhelming, leading to a photo which lacks the impact you were trying to capture.

Sails of the Sydney Opera House

Focus on interesting details rather than framing the entire landmark. Image by Alex Proimos.

The great thing about famous landmarks is that they're so well-known you don't need to photograph the whole thing for people to know what it is. Don't be afraid to leave parts out, zooming in closer to frame the most important areas and ignoring everything else.

For a more abstract effect, you can take this technique even further, focusing your shot on a single detail such as a rusted bolt on a bridge, the face of a large sculpture, or the patterned tiles on a building's roof.

Shoot in Bad Weather

Most people do their best to avoid rain, sleet, snow, wind, and other unpleasant weather. As a result there aren't nearly so many photos of famous landmarks in these conditions, making them a perfect way to set your shots apart from the rest.

Stonehenge in the snow

Shooting in bad weather might not seem particularly appealing, but it can result in some fantastic shots. Image by Fred Rockwood.

Just because the weather is unpleasant doesn't mean your shots have to be dull and lifeless. Clouds filter sunlight into striking shafts, puddles create intriguing reflections, and snow swirls into fascinating shapes, making shooting in bad weather a potential gold mine of great photos.

Avoid the Rush

Most landmarks are busy tourist attractions, and are swarming with crowds of people all day long. This can make for interesting photos in itself, but often it can be difficult to find a composition which isn't ruined by dozens of tourists. Find out when the landmark opens and closes, then avoid the peak times to give yourself a better chance of snapping some unspoiled pictures.

Washington Monument

Early mornings and evenings tend to be quieter, making it easier to snap your shot. You also get great lighting at these times of day. Image by ehpien.

As an added bonus, the lighting in the morning and early evening tends to be much better suited to photography than the harsh midday sun. The long shadows pick out important details, and the rich, warm colours add real atmosphere to the shot. These times are known as the golden hour, and many professional photographers swear by them.

Include People

Although large crowds of tourists can ruin a photo, one or two well-placed people provide an added focal point for your shot, creating a more engaging image overall.

Pyramid and Sphinx

Including one or two people in your shot creates an extra focal point and adds interest. Image by xlynx.

Look out for opportunities to include people in your landmark photos. An intimate couple taking a morning stroll, a street vendor setting up shop, or a monk tending the plants outside a monastery all give your scene a "story" which draws the viewer in more deeply than photos without that human element.

Landmarks are without doubt one of the most popular subjects, and it can sometimes seem that there are no original shots left to be taken. However, that couldn't be further from the truth, and by using and combining the above tips you'll have no trouble capturing some truly unique landmark photographs.