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Tell A Different Story Of A Timeless Icon

PeterWestCarey-Jordan2012-0711-1896It’s a challenge traveling photographers face. Whether traveling for fun or business, photographing a timeless icon or subject in a new way daunts many of us.

This post is intended to give you some ideas to break out of the mold. I am not saying you shouldn’t take the same photo of Mt. Rushmore or the Coliseum that everyone else does, I’m saying also look for a way to capture that monument in a new way. It’s about keeping photography fresh, fun and exciting for those who view your images.

Research

If you are serious about a new photo of an old icon, research is where you should start. Look for images and see what has been done, to death. Then look around the images and see, logistically, where you might be able to get another shot.

Can you get closer than the average tourist? Is there a place maybe higher up? What about at another time of day?

Research also include the simple information such as hours of operation, getting there and angle to the sun. I have mentioned two great resources for remote setup of a shoot based on available light and they are worth repeating: Photographer’s Ephemeris and LightTrac. Both of these tools allow a photographer to find out the best time of day to shoot a large subject based on angle to the sun or moon.

Put Down The Camera And Look

When visiting a famous site, point your camera down, take your finger off the shutter release for a moment and just look. Take it in. Wander around without the need to shoot all the time and you will start to see more than you planned for, most likely. Also look behind you, especially if you were just dropped off by a tour bus. Get off the well worn tour path (as great as they can be) and find a different vantage point.

Once you arrive at your researched location(s), take a moment to really look. Often when we first visit a famous landmark, we get a bit excited or overwhelmed, especially if it is magnificent. This is normal and let yourself experience it. Then settle down to the plan you created when researching.

Wait For The Light

This may be hard depending on your travel style. If you travel with a packaged tour, chances are your timetable is set for you. If not, you will have more flexibility to wait for good light. Don’t be satisfied with the first viewing, come back if you can when the sun has shifted or if the weather changes.

Improvise And Go With The Flow

This is the mantra of most traveling photographers. If all your planning shows there is great location one block north from the third floor, but you find the building you wanted to shoot from is closed, improvise. Don’t let your original idea blind you to the opportunity you still have in front of you.

My Own Story

To demonstrate by example, I recently traveled to Jordan with my daughter as a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board. I knew we would be visiting some classic sites, such as the Dead and Red Seas. We were also slated to visit Petra, an ancient city partially carved into sandstone cliffs and now an UNESCO World Heritage Site. To show how obvious the typical shots were of Petra, I had even used its role as a set-piece for the end of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade to get my daughter interested in the trip.

That final scene, before the literal ride into the sunset, feature the Treasury, or Al Khazneh, a magnificent work of art and architecture and certainly an icon for the rest of Petra. You might know it as it looks like this:

PeterWestCarey-Jordan2012-0711-1767

ISO 100, 10mm, f/22, 1/200

That shot is my first attempt at something new. A small aperture (f/22) was chosen to give the sun a nice burst pattern with a Canon 7D and Canon 10-22mm EF lens at 10mm. Everyone takes the shot straight on when they first view the site, so I got closer. Simple enough, but not bold enough.

Having done research, I learned that as of a couple of years ago, visitors were not allowed onto the steps of the Treasury. Sure enough, a view of recent images posted on Flickr shows a small railing in the way. My close shot removed the railing (being tall helps), but I wanted something bolder.

When I first met my guide for this trip, I told him of my plan, so that he may start thinking about how to accomplish it. I wanted access and was hoping he could help. “I want to take a shot, at night, and place a flash inside the Treasury to light up the chamber,” I explained. “I might be able to help, let me see what I can do,” was the reply.

He made some calls to the Tourism Board and they in turn made calls trying to get me access for my shot. For research, I had seen images of the Petra By Night event put on three times a week. It looks amazing (and has been shot a LOT as well). Hundreds of candles light the 1+km path to the Treasury and hundreds more light the face. What I wanted to do was let the candles light the outside, while a remote triggered strobe lights the inside, giving the scene an eerie glow. I also planned on attaching an orange filter to the strobe to help balance the light according to other night shots I had seen.

Here is the scene full of tourists and without the inner glow.

PeterWestCarey-Jordan2012-0711-1898

ISO 800, 10mm, f/4.5, 30 seconds

I ran some test and found my original idea of a long shutter speed would not work as the candles gave off too much light. My best bet was around 30 seconds, as is the picture above. This testing, during the program, was important as I assumed I would have limited time to shoot if I received permission. The program ran its course with some great music and my guide came over to let me know he had procured me access, but I had to wait until the place was cleared. Even then, I would only have 10 minutes.

When it was finally time and the clock was running, I first went up to the entrance to the inner chamber to place my strobe. I also brought my camera and tripod as I had a secondary idea for a great shot, from the inside looking out. I knew my timings from those earlier test and backed my lens up to 10mm for this shot.

PeterWestCarey-Jordan2012-0711-1914

ISO 640, 10mm, f/7.1, 30 seconds

With not much time to check the shot in camera, I took a few other images before heading outside with the strobe left behind. Unfortunately, the wireless range on my flash would not let fire the flash from the best vantage point (next time I will pack Pocket Wizards!). I kept moving closer and closer until I could fire the flash inside.

In the end, I got the shot but it wasn’t entirely how I had crafted it in my mind.

PeterWestCarey-Jordan2012-0711-1919

ISO 640, 10mm, f/7.1, 30 seconds

Conclusion

In my case, research showed me an idea for a new angle. Putting down my camera before my time to shoot showed me another option. And in the end, the Jordan Tourism Board liked the ‘secondary’ shot so much, they put it on their Facebook page where it has received the most shares of any of their images.

NOTE: A third idea I had was the first image on this post. It was shot at ISO 800, 10mm, f/4.5 and 718 seconds.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Peter West Carey is a world traveling photographer who now is spending a large amount of time going back through 6 years of travel photo and processing them like he should have to start with. He is also helping others learn about photography with the free series 31+ Days Of Photography Experiments which builds off of the 31+ Days To Better Photography series on his blog.

  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    Lovely pictures. I think I have read before at DPS to put the camera aside and see but I find it so hard to practice!

  • https://www.facebook.com/sudheendrasphotography Sreenivasa Sudheendra

    Creative shot :)

  • http://www.marcusdavisphotography.blogspot.com Marcus Davis

    Great shot and great article. My Dad has always said, “It never hurts to ask. The worst they can say is no”. In your case, they seem to have been very willing to help.

    I am planning a trip to Europe next year and this article really makes me think about trying to get a shot other than what everyone else gets.

    Thank you!

  • Momen

    Nice article! As a solution to your remote triggering problem, you could have went inside yourself and triggered your flash manually in such a way that you are not in the frame, any time during the 30 second exposure. The problem is that the best ideas don’t hit us when we are on location with a very limited window of opportunity and under the stress of tight deadlines.

  • http://www.kerstenbeck.com Erik Kerstenbeck

    Hi

    When travelling to famous or well know spots, I have found that every “prime” location is innundated with snap shooters. I always try to find a new perspective by moving around to some different vantage point or showing up at odd hours of the day when things are not so busy. While inside The Vatican in December, I was surprised by a team of repairmen fixing the insides…I snuck up behind them and grabbed this unusual shot!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/mr-fix-it-the-vatican-specialists/

  • Scottc

    Interesting article, and I agree with Erik above on the snapshooters. You can often find different perspective by just avoiding the crowd.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/amirpaz amir paz

    beside of the obvious photos of well known locations,

    i try to find details showing the unusual spots not very often seen in photos of such places i visit

    it makes for an interesting and unusual perspective of the places known to all

    here is a special view from inside the chambord chateau in the loir valley of france:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/amirpaz/3639720726/in/set-72157619853869331

    it is of one of the light towers inside the chateau.

    or this sign i found on the walls of the restaurants near the secre care in paris:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/amirpaz/3640501177/in/set-72157619853869331

    capturing, to me, in one sentence what paris is all about :)

    Amir

  • http://www.solanaland.blogspot.com Solana

    Just beautiful! I love the thought that went into these to get such amazing shots. They make you feel as though you are right there! Thank you!

  • http://jeffejensen.blogspot.com Jeff E Jensen

    Good advice. I’m headed to Washington DC in a couple of weeks. I’ve been trying to think through this exact topic.

    Here’s a few images from my last visit there:

    http://blog.jeffejensenphotography.com/2011/06/vietnam-memorial.html

  • ccting

    OMG, i see math-based composition…

  • David Travis

    I really enjoyed reading about the thought processes that went into this shot. More articles like this please!

  • http://www.weddingphotographerindevon.co.uk PaulB

    Good advice, which could also be applied to other photographic subjects.

Some older comments

  • PaulB

    August 16, 2012 08:40 pm

    Good advice, which could also be applied to other photographic subjects.

  • David Travis

    July 27, 2012 07:19 pm

    I really enjoyed reading about the thought processes that went into this shot. More articles like this please!

  • ccting

    July 27, 2012 05:50 pm

    OMG, i see math-based composition...

  • Jeff E Jensen

    July 27, 2012 07:49 am

    Good advice. I'm headed to Washington DC in a couple of weeks. I've been trying to think through this exact topic.

    Here's a few images from my last visit there:

    http://blog.jeffejensenphotography.com/2011/06/vietnam-memorial.html

  • Solana

    July 27, 2012 04:12 am

    Just beautiful! I love the thought that went into these to get such amazing shots. They make you feel as though you are right there! Thank you!

  • amir paz

    July 26, 2012 02:57 pm

    beside of the obvious photos of well known locations,

    i try to find details showing the unusual spots not very often seen in photos of such places i visit

    it makes for an interesting and unusual perspective of the places known to all

    here is a special view from inside the chambord chateau in the loir valley of france:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/amirpaz/3639720726/in/set-72157619853869331

    it is of one of the light towers inside the chateau.

    or this sign i found on the walls of the restaurants near the secre care in paris:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/amirpaz/3640501177/in/set-72157619853869331

    capturing, to me, in one sentence what paris is all about :)

    Amir

  • Scottc

    July 25, 2012 09:54 am

    Interesting article, and I agree with Erik above on the snapshooters. You can often find different perspective by just avoiding the crowd.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    July 25, 2012 05:59 am

    Hi

    When travelling to famous or well know spots, I have found that every "prime" location is innundated with snap shooters. I always try to find a new perspective by moving around to some different vantage point or showing up at odd hours of the day when things are not so busy. While inside The Vatican in December, I was surprised by a team of repairmen fixing the insides...I snuck up behind them and grabbed this unusual shot!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/mr-fix-it-the-vatican-specialists/

  • Momen

    July 25, 2012 04:04 am

    Nice article! As a solution to your remote triggering problem, you could have went inside yourself and triggered your flash manually in such a way that you are not in the frame, any time during the 30 second exposure. The problem is that the best ideas don't hit us when we are on location with a very limited window of opportunity and under the stress of tight deadlines.

  • Marcus Davis

    July 25, 2012 03:59 am

    Great shot and great article. My Dad has always said, "It never hurts to ask. The worst they can say is no". In your case, they seem to have been very willing to help.

    I am planning a trip to Europe next year and this article really makes me think about trying to get a shot other than what everyone else gets.

    Thank you!

  • Sreenivasa Sudheendra

    July 25, 2012 03:29 am

    Creative shot :)

  • Mridula

    July 25, 2012 01:58 am

    Lovely pictures. I think I have read before at DPS to put the camera aside and see but I find it so hard to practice!

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