One of the things I love most about travel photography is the chance to explore and interpret some of the world’s most glorious monuments. Great buildings, from the Pyramids to the Bilbao Guggenheim, express a current of inspiration that lies tantalizingly out of reach of the average Joe. And doing them justice in images? That’s an art in itself. If you want to bring home pictures that will wow your audience, you’ll need to invest some time, energy and imagination into finding new and surprising angles.
Do your homework
Knowing how other photographers have approached a place gives you a good springboard from which to start your own explorations. Check out postcard stands, photo-rich guidebooks and online resources such as Flickr.
Don’t miss the key shot
I went through an early phase of snubbing the obvious postcard shots, but soon learnt that it’s worth having them in your library. The classic view of an icon can work as a great establisher in a photo essay—a “key shot” that helps the viewer understand everything that follows. If your artistic conscience protests against these, pacify it by focusing on getting the basics perfect. Once you’ve got the postcard shot out of the way, look again at the scene. Can you shoot from the same place, but reveal something different?
Shot looking upwards with a wide-angle lens, the Taj Mahal’s minarets become arrows leading into the middle of the frame. The early morning sky adds colour and texture.
Use natural distortion sparingly
If you’ve got a wide-angle lens, aiming the camera upward causes vertical lines to converge towards the middle of the frame. Used judiciously, this natural distortion produces striking dynamic compositions, as seen in the Taj Mahal shot above.
Also Read David Stott’s earlier columns
Home in on details
Great monuments are often defined as much by intricate craftsmanship as by grandeur. Details can unveil the soul of a building. And because your average point-and-clicker doesn’t see them, detail shots really make your work stand out.
Rajasthani palaces are great for detail shots. This one shows a close crop on the main gates of Jaipur’s City Palace.
Capture the human element
Many people get frustrated when others stand in the way of their careful composition. Chill out. In touristy places it’s rarely possible to get people out of your shot altogether, so instead of steaming up, try to find ways to include them in it. A long telephoto lens makes it easy to isolate unique and authentic moments in the life of the place.
Go behind the scene
To really surprise people, you have to find angles that others don’t think of. This might mean asking a shopkeeper to let you on to his roof, bribing your way past a security guard, or ducking inside a London pub to shoot Big Ben framed by ornate window etchings. Being nosy like this can really pay off. I’ve collected some of my favourites images of the Taj Mahal by quietly disappearing down side streets, away from the tourist throng. Ultimately, even the most photographed of subjects and the simplest of cameras can yield original, memorable shots. The only other tool you need is your imagination.
David Stott is a writer and photographer based in Australia.
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