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How NOT to Take the Same Picture at Popular Places

In the age of social media and flights to almost everywhere in the word, it can feel difficult to take a picture that hasn’t been captured before. Here's how.

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How NOT to Take the Same Picture at Popular Places 

Free Up Your Creativity and Create Original Images


In the age of social media and flights to almost everywhere in the word, it can feel difficult to take a picture that hasn’t been captured before. There are so many photos of everything from Niagara Falls to that one abandoned plane crash (no, the other one) that it seems like our only choice is to emulate the most successful versions of those images. 

The problem with this pressure is that it robs us of the ability to use our own creativity to its maximum potential—and even worse—it can change the way we experience amazing places. Visit any of the most scenic National Parks during a busy summer weekend and you’ll see long lines of people waiting to take the exact same picture of a few key landmarks while other trails remain virtually empty. Instead of taking yet another picture that everyone else has taken before, here are a few ways to capture familiar subjects in unique ways (or to find new scenes near those magnetic bucket-list spots).

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Forget ‘The’ Shot

Those repeated shots creep into our subconscious and seem to get rewarded with likes on social media. But if you hadn’t seen them a thousand times, your unique eye and style would probably gravitate towards something else. One of my favorite Instagram accounts, @instarepeat, points out how similar the dozens of photos from a handful of well-known spots really are. Treat this as a creative challenge to do something different! 

Forget ‘the’ shot of wherever you are and instead let the wonderment of the place sweep you away. Something will catch your attention and let you tell your own story.

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Collage by @instarepeat

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Collage by @instarepeat

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Collage by @instarepeat

Embrace Your Gear and Style

No matter what gear you’re carrying with you, it’s always a tool more than a limitation. Only have a long lens? Find unique details or create surreal subject-background separation. Rockin’ a wide angle or smartphone? You either need to get really close or capture some atmospheric scenes that learn more on context than filling the frame with a given subject. Sometimes the flowers, animals, or view facing away from the iconic spot can tell a much more dynamic story than yet another head-on picture of a well-known landmark.

And for those times when you just have to shoot the thing you traveled all this way to see, using your gear and editing style to make the picture your own is a great way to put a new spin on the familiar.

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Shift the Spotlight

A stealthy technique for shooting familiar places is to shift where the spotlight is in your photo. Put a friend, a dog, a car, or a bike in the foreground. Shoot a detail shot of a flower with the famed landmark out-of-focus in the background. Use the magic of photography and the particulars of your trip to create a perspective that the thousands of other visitors haven’t noticed—or couldn’t capture because their story is different than yours.

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Use the Power of Suggestion

A lot of places are so recognizable that they need no introduction, geotag, or centered shot to show that you were there. Play with the power of suggestion by focusing on something other than the famed landmark and letting its reputation speak for it through the trees or behind a soft-focused wildflower. Oftentimes, the best way to free your creativity is to accept that not everything has to be in the frame and in focus.

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Check the Forecast

An easy way to photograph a popular place in a unique way is to seek out different weather than the norm. Instead of a bluebird day, bundle up and get out there in the snow or rain. Fog, precipitation, and shadows can be as powerfully suggestive as obscuring a subject behind trees.

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Follow a Different Path

Lots of iconic destinations act like magnets for visitors from near and far. While thousands of people flock to the most famous rock formation, building, or scenic overlook, all the nearby trails sit nearly empty with their own magic to discover. In many cases, a slightly harder hike or simply a lack of publicity is all that stands between you and an equally awe-inspiring view. If photography is a way for us to capture unique perspectives and moments in the world around us, seeking out spots that aren’t as familiar is one of the best ways to embrace that journey and enrich our lives while on the hunt for the next great shot.

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Less than half an hour away from that "other" arch, no crowds and unique perspectives.

Get Out There and Follow Your Eyes

The most valuable photographic tool you have is your own eyes. Nobody else sees the world the way you do. When you combine your perspective with a camera, you take pictures that nobody else could. While there’s a lot of inspiration to be found in iconic images from well-known photographers, it’s better to study how they made the picture they did than to seek out the exact same spot and take the exact same picture. That may teach you about camera settings, but it also prevents you from creating your own best work.

There are countless unique photo subjects out there. Combined with your own perspective and the ever-changing nature of our planet, you can take memorable photographs that nobody else can. And if you want to grab a picture of yourself holding up the Washington Monument, there’s nothing wrong with that, either.

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Grab some tools and go take unique photos.

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