Travel Photography Subjects: Icons

Travel Photography Subjects: Icons

Machu-Picchu This post is number seven of twenty one subjects that will help you focus when on your next journey and you wish to bring back a well rounded story of where you were.  If you’re just going on vacation and only want pictures of yourself by the pool sipping boat drinks, then you can probably skip this one.  These posts are not intent on telling you everything you need to do, step by step, to capture perfect, cookie-cutter pictures while traveling.  Instead, they are intent on pointing out some vital elements to capture when on the road and ask thought provoking questions you may want to ask yourself.  My hope is they help guide you to find your own means to better expressing what your travels have meant to you and present that in the best light possible.

Icons is almost too easy of a subject because it’s the one thing of which even the most casual visitor will snap photos.  The Eiffel Tower. Pyramids of Egypt.  Or Machu Picchu pictured at right.  They are probably featured prominently in the guide book you bought in anticipation of your next trip abroad.  They are the first thing you think of when I say Tibet, Australia or Las Vegas.  Easy, right?

By all means, take photos of those icons you may have traveled half way across the globe to see. Just because you can find a thousand images on the internet by searching for, “Angkor Wat” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your own version too.  It’s a real part of what you’re experiencing on your trip.  Throw away any thought you may have of icons being overshot and overdone.  They are a big part of where you are.  And remember, there are twenty one subjects in this series, so one more picture of Kilimanjaro at sunset is only 4.76190476% of the story you can tell if you follow along.

Yes, everyone has done it and as a stand alone picture, maybe that icon would look boring.  But think of it as part of your overall experience.  If it does seem boring and droll, challenge yourself to take a new stab at it.

Take a look at the picture below and tell me if you know what it is.

Machu Picchu From Wayna Picchu

If you guessed Machu Picchu, you’re absolutely correct.  If you guessed South Jersey, you’re off a bit.  If you were yelling out loud to your screen, it was really more of a rhetorical question.  The photo is taken from Wayna Picchu, the mountain you see in the first photograph behind Machu Picchu.  And it is a bear of a hill to trudge, grabbing at wire cables to haul yourself nearly straight up at times while dripping in the humid jungle heat.  But it’s worth it.  You get a whole different view of the icon.  In the first ‘classic’ photo the city looks immense, sprawling, all-encompassing to its surroundings.  But in the second photo things are put into a different perspective.  The city now seems smaller, with far more fields.  More precariously perched with valleys all around.

What icons do you have lurking in the cobweb corners of your computer?  Drop a link or embed a photo in the comments section below.  Because even though they can be over done, I’m sure you have a slightly different view of these tried and true photographic icons.


Previous articles in the Travel Photography Subjects series include Water, Old People, Young People, Religion, Sports and Socializing.  Be sure to subscribe to this site to receive the other 15 subjects as they are posted!

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Rick Wilhelmsen December 16, 2010 02:27 am

    The Giza Plateau:
    [eimg link='' title='The Giza Plateau' url='']

    The Town Musicians of Bremen:

    Big Papi (He's an Icon in Boston!):

  • Alessandro November 5, 2010 03:41 am

    Some Saint Peter's shots from Rome:

    Framed by columns:
    Framed by a banister:

    I'm a quite newbie photographer. Do you have any feedback?
    Tnx :)

  • Jean-Paul October 25, 2010 10:16 am Eiffel Tower Petronas Towers

  • Betsy August 14, 2010 01:12 am

    I know exactly how high the photographer is for the second shot and what's involved in getting there! That's why we don't see many from this angle ... Bravo!

  • angad singh August 8, 2010 05:37 am

    how the kings saw bangkok

  • dina July 29, 2010 07:53 pm

    merlion, singapore
    [eimg link='' title='towering' url='']

  • bigdani July 26, 2010 05:42 am

    I subscribe every word of this post. Taking icons is a must as a personal souvenir or experience, and taking them differently is a challenge and fun.

    The pyramids
    [eimg link='' title='Keops y Kefren' url='']
    Abu Simbel

    The Petronas
    [eimg link='' title='Petronas at Gotham City' url='']
    Singapore's Merlion
    [eimg link='' title='Night Merlion HDR' url='']
    Amsterdam Centraal
    [eimg link='' title='Should I stay or should I go?' url='']
    Amsterdam's Dam Square
    [eimg link='' title='Por la mañana, sin mochileros' url=''][eimg link='' title='Abu Simbel' url='']

  • Johno July 20, 2010 07:47 pm

    Houses of Parliament

    [eimg link='' title='Houses of Parliament' url='']

    Machu Picchu

    [eimg link='' title='Machu Picchu' url='']

  • Mixatron July 20, 2010 02:57 pm

    a slightly different perspective on the white house
    [eimg link='' title='Public View' url='']

    the Washington Monument
    [eimg link='' title='Reflection Pool' url='']

  • Ariana Murphy July 20, 2010 04:38 am

    Hmm, I always have trouble adding photos in this format. Let's try again.

    [eimg link='' title='0802010015' url='']

  • daeguowl July 18, 2010 05:10 pm

    Trying to get a slightly perspective on the Grand Canyon...

  • allany2010 July 18, 2010 11:18 am

    Petronas Twin Tower, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia[eimg link='' title='IMGP0505' url='']

  • robwang July 18, 2010 08:30 am

  • Nadav July 17, 2010 08:11 pm

    At the Bolivian salt desert - El Salar

    "Walking On Water"
    [eimg url='' title='n768273915_1151926_5731.jpg']

  • Deepak July 17, 2010 08:07 pm

    Harbour Bridge, Sydney
    [eimg url='i:/harbourbridge_2.jpg' title='harbourbridge_2.jpg']
    Opera House, Sydney
    [eimg url='i:/operahouse_8.jpg' title='operahouse_8.jpg']
    Opera House, Sydney
    [eimg url='i:/operahouse_9.jpg' title='operahouse_9.jpg']

  • Kathryn Bell July 17, 2010 08:39 am

    Is a Kangaroo an Australian Icon? This is a completely different take...a wild kangaroo that I got incredibly close to...ON A BEACH

    [eimg link='' title='Kangaroo' url='']

  • brad. July 17, 2010 03:11 am

    Some icon shots from Australia. Tried a few things to make them less travel guide-like.

    Sydney Opera House

    [eimg link='' title='Opera House' url='']

    Sydney Harbour Bridge

    [eimg link='' title='Harbour Bridge Blur' url='']

    12 Apostles

    [eimg link='' title='12 Apostles' url='']

  • Nick P July 16, 2010 07:40 pm

    Rialto Bridge in Venice

  • Jim-san July 16, 2010 02:52 pm

    All taken with my old Canon G7
    The Daibutsu in Kamakura, Kanagawa-ken
    The Youth of Harajuku, Tokyo
    Ueno markets taken at Christmas, Tokyo
    Asakusa, Tokyo
    Kaminari-mon, Asakusa, Tokyo

    Angkor Wat with my old Canon T70

  • David July 16, 2010 10:07 am

    Funny I was Just in peru a week ago and this is what I got out of Machu Picchu

    [eimg url='' title='Peru.html#55']

    And my other shot of the Iconic city

    [eimg url='' title='Peru.html#56']

  • Miles July 16, 2010 09:40 am

    Here's a slightly different view of the Louvre.

  • Kathryn Bell July 16, 2010 09:20 am

    I've got a different icon - a kangaroo. Typical from Australia, but whoever saw wild kangaroos on a beach
    that would get so close to you...

    [eimg url='' title='photo.php?pid=1836943&id=513264865']

  • Kathryn Bell July 16, 2010 09:15 am

    I'm loving all your posts. I think you have a great feel for what's required to show the heart and emotion of where you are travelling. Just a question...I don't suppose there's a chance you could give a list of those 21 subjects...? Next Wednesday I'm heading to Africa for 6weeks, and I was hoping the posts would all be out by then. At least I have 7 to go on, and no doubt I'll be trigger happy. But if you could fill me in on the rest, at least I can maybe write my own list to have as a reminder. Thanks - Kathryn.

  • Rob July 16, 2010 07:29 am


  • Antonio Rodriguez July 16, 2010 05:40 am

    everybody that comes to Colonia Tovar takes this picture: this is a classic postcard photo of this beautiful town

    I toke a little different pic from that beautiful church and square: enjoy it =)

  • mikko July 16, 2010 03:02 am

    Very good point about the context.

    When you think of Barcelona, you think of Gaudi and Sagrada Familia. The point about church is - I guess - that it's unfinished. Today that means that it would be surrounded by...

    Please leave a comment behind, if it made you think about something.

  • Charlie July 16, 2010 02:52 am

    Sometimes it helps if you can get the locals to pose for you.

  • Jenna July 16, 2010 01:15 am

    Great article - here's my shot of the Coliseum in Rome. I like the perspective and the lighting was being particularly cooperative that day.
    [eimg link='' title='100_1814' url='']

  • Martin July 16, 2010 12:13 am

    The climb to wayna pichu is limited to 800 (I think) tourists a day - there is a cut-off time before you begin the ascent. In order to make it up there you have to sign in quite early...

    This is my favorite picture from my trip to Cuzco and Machu Pichu - and it doesn;t even have Machu Pichu in it ;-)

  • Bill July 15, 2010 11:45 pm

    The Eiffel Tower has been "shot to death", but I managed to find an angle I've personally never seen before.

  • Ian McKenzie July 15, 2010 06:42 pm

    I just got back from Paris and this is my shot of the Eiffel Tower

    [eimg link='' title='' url='']

  • Maik-T. Šebenik July 15, 2010 05:18 pm

    Honolulu, Hawaii: Iolani Palace with State Motto

    Barcelona, Spain: Sagrada Familia

    Venice, Italy: Campanile San Marco and Pallazzo Ducale

    Stockholm, Sweden: Stadshuset (City Hall)

    Ljubljana, Slovenia: Tromostovje (3 Bridges)

    Maribor, Slovenia: Glavni Trg (Main Square)

    Lake Bled, Slovenia:

  • bovolo July 15, 2010 04:37 pm

    Manhattan, a couple of weeks ago

    A different view.

    A more typical view of the Empire State

  • Catlinann July 15, 2010 04:29 pm
    Mount Rushmore. Found this view after leaving the park and turning the wrong way.

  • Dev Wijewardane July 15, 2010 02:20 pm

    Here's a slightly different one of the Sydney Opera House.
    [eimg link='' title='Sydney Opera House' url='']

  • Girl with a Camera July 15, 2010 01:00 pm

    Don't blast me for the mediocre photo. I was only 19 and I was shooting a Kodak Instamatic in 1992. I'm just glad that some of my photos turned out!!! I'm so glad I made the switch to digital since I'm still learning. :)

    Anyway, this is the Operahouse in Vienna, Austria.

  • Mei Teng July 15, 2010 12:51 pm

    Scenes from James Bond Island.

  • johnp July 15, 2010 12:36 pm

    I prefer the first view of Machu Picchu, it gives the best sense of its precarious position that I have seen in a photo. I'm not fussed on heights and that photo makes me feel like I could topple over the edge. I think it's the steep slope away on the left, the clouds and the darker mountains in the background that help that effect.

  • Santosh July 15, 2010 11:43 am

    Here's a snap of the Lincoln Memorial

    and one at the World War II memorial

  • Santosh July 15, 2010 11:43 am

    Here's a snap of the Lincoln Memorial
    [eimg link='' title='Lincoln Memorial' url='']

    and one at the World War II memorial
    [eimg link='' title='Eagles holding up a Wreath' url='']

  • Jason Collin Photography July 15, 2010 11:27 am

    Mt. Fuji as seen from the summit of a hilltop near Shosenkyo Gorge:

  • Terry July 15, 2010 11:02 am

    How about the Great Wall shot with a Lensbaby?

    [eimg link='' title='Great Wall of China at Badaling - Shrunken' url='']

  • Neil July 15, 2010 09:36 am

    Tower Bridge:
    The Coliseum:
    Sydney Opera House:
    Eiffel Tower:

    thank you for justifying my shameful touristy tendencies

  • Simon July 15, 2010 09:19 am

    I take your point, but the example is poor, since your second photo is hardly obscure. True, the first is the "classic" view of Machu Picchu, but hundreds (if not thousands) of tourists climb Wayna Picchu each day, and take photos similar to that one.

  • Bintang July 15, 2010 09:11 am

    Calgary Tower

  • Chuck July 15, 2010 08:46 am

    Tower Bridge in London...

  • Chuck July 15, 2010 08:44 am

    Tower Bridge in London...

    [eimg link='' title='Tower Bridge, London' url='']

  • Eugenia July 15, 2010 08:33 am

    Great picture, Corrado!

  • Eugenia July 15, 2010 08:32 am


    I'm so glad I climbed the Wayna Picchu mountain (scary, though!) and I could see the Inca city from that perspective. I took some pictures, as well, of course.

    Here you have another view from the top of Wayna Pichhu.!/photo.php?pid=2183087&id=615137562&fbid=85287762562

  • Corrado Amenta July 15, 2010 08:00 am

    Central park, New York. An iconic place for sure. Here it is from a new perspective... the benches.

  • Isabelle July 15, 2010 07:43 am






  • JMP July 15, 2010 07:36 am

    Colosseum - Rome

  • Annie L. July 15, 2010 07:36 am

    4 year old photo of Paris rooftops taken with a Canon Powershot S5 IS

  • Annie L. July 15, 2010 07:33 am

    4 year old photo taken with a Canon Powershot S5 IS of Paris rooftops

    [eimg url='' title='IMG_1073.JPG']

  • Martin July 15, 2010 07:22 am

    system stripped my image out - here's a link to it - and more...

  • Martin July 15, 2010 07:20 am

    Here's another of Machu Picchu - not quite the "broad view", but a nice little detail...

  • Greg July 15, 2010 07:14 am

    I always consider it a personal challenge to get a photo of every travel icon I visit in some unique way. Odds are that SOMEONE has done it before, but has someone done it with the same light/shadow play or with the same exact lens? Me thinks not.

    The good ole Taj Majal

    Brooklyn Bridge

    Niagara Falls

    Angkor Wat

  • John Zimmerman July 15, 2010 07:05 am

    Pilot Mountain in North Carolina.

    [eimg link='' title='Pinnacle' url='']

  • Jessica July 15, 2010 07:00 am

    Eiffel Tower

  • TimL July 15, 2010 06:52 am

    Eiffel Tower - fall 2007.

    [eimg url='' title='239167304_zoJLY-M.jpg']

  • Paul July 15, 2010 06:42 am

    Mount Rushmore!

  • Paul July 15, 2010 06:41 am

    [eimg link='' title='Mount Rushmore Closeup' url='']

    Sorry, about that.

  • Marília Bacci July 15, 2010 06:30 am

    [eimg link='' title='India' url='']