Top Tips for Landmark and Monument Photography
With the advent of social media, photographs taken on smart phones have become the new postcards. These days we rarely buy souvenir postcards at famous landmarks but reach instead for our phones to make and share our own. In this post, brought to you in an advertising collaboration with CEWE Photoworld, we share some of our own tips for landmark photography, for capturing stand out photographs of monuments you visit on your travels, images that will wow your friends and family…
Monument photography – let’s get original
If your social media feed of people’s travels is anything like mine it’s probably filled with dozens of shots of famous landmarks around the world: Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, Burj Khalifa and the Acropolis, all looking somewhat the same – similarly framed with the only differences being the weather and whether people are smiling, posing or standing awkwardly in shot. There’s a dearth of originality in most monument photography so what can you do to make your shots stand out?
It’s all in the framing
Modern smartphone cameras do a great job at the technical wizardry of taking a photo, controlling exposure, shutter speed and the like (without you even needing to know what that even means) but you still have to compose the shot and press the shutter. And that can make the difference between a picture that garners likes, comments and shares from family and friends and one that languishes online without so much as a social peck on the cheek.
CEWE Photoworld have recently produced an animated and interactive piece of content featuring the top 10 instagrammed landmarks around the world. If you’re planning a visit to Big Ben, the Golden Gate Bridge, Eiffel Tower, Burj Khalifa, Notre Dame, Alhambra, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Taj Mahal or the Acropolis anytime soon, it’s worth checking out for some tips and ideas on how to get a good shot there. And once you’ve got those great shots, CEWE can help you take them from your screen or instagram stream into prints, custom greeting cards, calendars, pieces of wall art or even your own professional looking photo book.
A good photograph is personal
Whether you’re an aspiring professional, enthusiastic amateur or just an occasional chronicler of family life, I think a photograph that is good enough to print is one that captures and says something of your personal experience of a place. Maybe it’s something you saw that no-one else noticed, something you felt, some detail that captured your attention or something that happened you want to share. Framing your shot is all about helping you capture and communicate that. Over the years we’ve experimented with landmark photography in all kinds of different ways. Here’s six ideas we’ve found helpful in finding and framing more personal, unique or unusual snaps of the landmarks we visit.
1 Find an unusual angle
I find looking for an unusual angle encourages me to look, explore and notice more about a landmark, to notice where it is, what’s around it, what’s next door. Looking at it from different angles encourages you to notice details, shapes, colours, lines, angles, all of which can help make for more interesting composition. So, don’t take the obvious shot. Before you press the shutter, walk about, look up, look down, look around, step close and step back, then decide what to include and what to leave out of your shot to add interest, show contrast, juxtapose, create intrigue or put in context. Not only will you get a more interesting shot, you’ll get to know the landmark differently too.
2 Bring on a substitute
In sport as in photography, a substitute can transform a game. For some of our quirkier landmark shots we walked away from the landmark to find a copy of it we could use instead. In Paris we even managed to find a giant chocolate Eiffel Tower to shoot, although we would have preferred to eat it.
3 Shoot a monument in miniature
Of course not every landmark comes in chocolate but you can often find a miniature souvenir. It can be quite fun to juxtapose a miniature in front of the real thing, playing with perspective to create illusions of grandeur. Snowglobes are one of our favourite souvenirs to play with. It’s a particular challenge to try and capture a shot with everything in just the right position and the snow falling. Although perhaps not the best way to spend an afternoon if you’re only on a day trip.
4 Find some action to add interest
Most landmarks and monument don’t do much. They just stand there looking pretty. A bit of action can add interest to an otherwise potentially boring shot. It doesn’t have to be staged or complicated. Think of catching a bird passing in the sky, the blur of some passing traffic, or the reactions of someone looking on. These things adds a little bit of story to your shot; there’s something happening now. If you like photo challenges you can combine this tip with the one above (capturing a landmark in miniature). See if you can spot someone taking a picture of the landmark on their phone. Then see if you can get close enough to take a picture of them taking a picture with the landmark showing in miniature on their phone screen and the landmark behind. If that’s not challenge enough for you, see if you can gatecrash a wedding and try and do the same.
5 Shoot at sunrise or sunset
Photography is all about light so why not use the best light available to show off your subject. Shooting at sunrise or sunset can add colour and drama to the most dreary of subjects so just imagine what it can do to a mighty landmark. Of course it requires a bit of effort – maybe getting up early, staying up late or timing your visit to coincide with the golden hours. But it’s worth it. Sometimes it means you avoid the crowds too. Years ago we cycled up to the Acropolis at dawn after arriving in Athens on an overnight flight and had the place to ourselves, in peak season, in midsummer.
Once you’ve checked the times of sunrise or sunset, check the weather forecast so you know there’ll be something to see. Make sure you plan to arrive half an hour early to allow yourself time to recce the site, see where the sun is heading and find a good angle. The sun will not wait for you to set up or adjust your camera. Most modern cameras have auto or scene settings for sunrise or sunset. These make it easy to capture the rich colours of sunset and sunrise so get familiar with them before you start shooting. Otherwise you’ll have to come back again!
6 Be a night owl
Photography may be all about light but it doesn’t have to be natural light. The world looks different after dark and photographers who stay around after the sun has gone down can get a quite different look at familiar landmarks, many of which are prettily lit at night. Of course the pros will swear by tripods, fast lenses and special low light sensors to capture great night shots but with modern digital cameras, inbuilt image stabilisation and in camera digital processing it’s easier than ever to grab a great night shot even with a high end smart phone. Get familiar with the low light and night shooting capabilities of your camera and while you will be shooting in the dark technically, you will still be able to produce some wonderfully atmospheric images.
Got any tips to share
If you’ve got any tips to share from your experience of landmark photography, we’d love to hear them in the comments below.
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Disclosure Note: This post is brought to you in a collaboration with CEWE Photoworld who asked us to introduce you to their new piece of interactive photo content and commissioned us to share some of our landmark photography tips and experience with you. The tips, photography and opinions here are entirely our own.