Photographing Iconic Locations
Delicate Arch, the Tetons, and Moraine Lake are all popular locations that photographers flock to. In landscape photography it’s hard to avoid photographing these famous spots. Even though most photographers have photos of these places in their portfolio, photographers tend to complain that photographing iconic locations is bad. It’s a popular belief among photographers that photographing iconic locations is too easy and unimaginative. While I agree with them that it is more rewarding to find unique compositions and locations, photographing the popular locations can be advantageous as well. I understand where some of these photographers are coming from. Standing in a crowd of other photographers knowing they’re shooting the exact same scene as you can leave you discouraged. So while I understand why one might not want to photograph these spots, I think that the way some of these photographers make others feel guilty for shooting iconic spots is disheartening. Everyone should shoot what they want, iconic or not. I’m going to outline some of the reasons why I like to photograph iconic locations and think others should too.
1) These Locations Are Iconic for a Reason
One of the main arguments to photograph popular locations is because these places are popular for a reason. These iconic spots are always stunning. People come from all around the world to see these famous locations. Places like Yosemite and Arches National Parks are filled with beautiful views, and the best spots are almost guaranteed to be filled with photographers and tourists. These places are also pretty easy to access which makes them easy to photograph. The compositions behind these images are also quite straightforward and after seeing so many images of a certain location, it’s challenging to not just copy peoples past compositions. Places like Maroon Lake in the Maroon Bells Wilderness and Moraine Lake in Banff National park are some of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen, and while it’s disappointing that these places are a short walk from a parking lot and crowded with people, they still need to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. Pictures of these places never do justice just how amazing they are, and I encourage everyone to go to these spots, take some pictures, and enjoy the beauty of this world.
2) Take pictures for yourself
The biggest thing to remember with photography is to photograph what makes you happy. Most people, even the hardcore photographers do photography because they love the art. The process of photography should be all about the photographer’s enjoyment and if one enjoys to shoot these locations they shouldn’t have to feel guilty. Photograph what you want and don't worry about what other people are photographing or telling you to photograph. If you want to only shoot unique images of remote places that nobody has seen before, do that. Or if you want to only shoot the iconic locations that people flock to, then do that as well. I photograph the locations that I want and photographing these iconic locations does bring me joy. It feels good to capture a spectacular image of an iconic place as well as to challenge yourself to create a unique and compelling image. People complain about seeing the same locations on social media, but for me if I see one of those iconic locations that I've photographed, it just reminds me of the time I was there and the joy that I had at capturing that location. So while some people might be upset after seeing another picture of the Maroon Bells I love seeing pictures that remind me of the times I've been there. And I love seeing new takes on these locations, thinking "I wish I would've done that" or "I wish I had that light when I was there". And I also love going to the places I’ve seen on social media for the first time. These places are always more beautiful in person and trying to capture just how magnificent these locations are is a difficult challenge.
3) Images are more engaging to viewers
Not only do I enjoy photographing these locations, the people viewing the photos will enjoy them as well. People like what’s familiar and like the locations that are familiar to them. When people see an image of a place they recognize or a place they’ve visited, it’s much easier to connect with the image. This is even more prevalent if you are able to create a really good or unique image of a popular spot. Photographers might not be impressed but that's only a small percentage of who sees the photo. Most people who are not photographers will be impressed with the image especially since they can connect with it. And while many of these locations might be over photographed and known to every landscape photographer, this doesn’t mean that everyone else who isn’t a photographer knows these spots. Many of the places that photographers consider to be too cliché like Mesa Arch and the Crystal Mill aren’t as well known to many people. Creating a great image of a spot nobody’s heard of is great, but creating an amazing image of a popular spot can be just as rewarding.
4) Interact with other photographers
When photographing famous locations you will undoubtedly run into other photographers and people. A lot of photographers like myself don’t enjoy crowds, and shooting photos in a crowd of people can be irritating. While I would certainly prefer to have a location all to myself, when I am met with a crowd I try to make the most of it. I enjoy interacting with the other photographers there. Since these locations are so famous, photographers from all round the world will gather to take pictures here. It’s fun to hear everyone’s story. You can also learn a lot from the people around you. Each photographer has a different perspective and different experiences that you can learn from. Photography is all about the experience, and meeting some other photographers can really enhance the experience.
5) Challenge yourself to Create Something New
The main critique behind photographing iconic locations is that it’s too easy and your photos won’t be unique. These places are so over shot that finding a unique image can be very challenging but also rewarding. Making a unique image of an iconic spot will definitely make the image stand out among the hundreds of other images of that location. There are several ways to accomplish this task. Often times I like to go to popular locations during unpopular times. This could mean going at night and shooting star photography, or during bad weather, or going during sunrise when it’s a popular sunset spot, or going during the time of the year that is least popular. All of these factors can result in a more unique image than most of the other images you see of a place. Every time you go to a location, the conditions will be different whether it’s the sky, the vegetation, the light, etc. While the composition of a place could be similar, you’ll always get different conditions to shoot helping make the picture more unique. Another thing you can do is try a new technique. Using a filter and doing a long exposure or shooting some astrophotography or star trails are great ways to come up with a unique perspective on a classic image. Whether it’s a new composition with a long lens or a different photography technique such as shooting star trails, finding a new way to shoot an old location is going to beneficial. A benefit of photographing at non-popular times of the day or times of the years is that you can avoid the crowds as well. While it is really challenging to come up with something new in really iconic spots, when you do come up with something unique it makes it even more rewarding.
There are lots of reasons to go out and photograph iconic locations. The most important take away is to photograph what you want and don’t judge people for wanting to photograph something different. Don’t listen to people who make you feel guilty for wanting to photograph these iconic locations. Some people will never have the opportunity to travel to these places and see these amazing views, so if you have the chance, you should seize the opportunity. Photographing iconic locations is something I enjoy and I encourage others to do so as well and enjoy the process of trying to capture these amazing places around the world.