How to Avoid Clichés in Travel Shots


Ok, before we start let’s just say, there is nothing wrong with clichéd shots. They are clichéd mainly because the position they are taken in gives a great composition and hence a good looking travel shot. The problem is, because everyone takes that same angle, your images of that location, no matter how good they are, are not going to stand out. Today we are going to look at some techniques for either avoiding or enhancing the cliché, to give you a more unique look at your chosen location.

Shoot the Cliché

The first thing you actually need to do is shoot the clichéd shots. To avoid the cliché you have to understand exactly what it is. Once you have that shot, you have a reference image with which to compare your subsequent images. When you find a new angle, you can check back to see if it is far enough removed from the reference to be a good option.

Go Early

The fact is, any major location around the world will become busy as soon as the tourists have had their breakfast. That means in the half hour before sunrise until around 8am you will have the location more or less to yourself. Not only does this clear the view to get the more standard shots, it also means you will be more relaxed and hence more creative, leading to more interesting shots. The fact that the light is at it’s best is, of course, an added bonus.

Go early. Good light and no people makes shooting more relaxing
Go early. Good light and no people makes shooting more relaxing

Show the Overall Environment

Very few of the world's iconic locations stand on their own. Rather than shooting the building or monument on its own, show it as part of a greater scene. For example rather than shoot the landmark itself, you might use a statue to frame it or make the subject the central part of an overall cityscape. You can even use a shallow depth of field, to merely hint at the location, this gives the viewer the knowledge of where you are but also allows you to be creative with the composition.

Use Other Icons as the Foreground

Rather than choosing the building as the main focal point of your composition, make it the background. By incorporating another well known icon of the location as the foreground you can convey a sense of location, make the viewer feel that they are there and that they know that place but without stating the obvious. In this shot I have included three icons of London, the red bus is the main subject, our eyes then move to the metalwork of what is obviously Tower Bridge and in the background is The Shard.

Its The Shard but not as we know it
Its The Shard but not as we know it

Get High or Go Low

Changing your elevation will dramatically change the perspective of your chosen location. Look around and see if there are any places where you can get up high and look down. A little fore planning is useful here as it is often difficult to find buildings in most cities that will allow you to get up high. The alternative of course is getting low. This might be simple as shooting from pavement level and using leading lines to bring our eyes to the subject or getting lower still, perhaps from the banks of a river looking up.

2009-06-16 Alesund-062
Get high or get low

Go Close

Some of the worlds most iconic locations are full of tiny details that add to their visual attractiveness. Because we see them so many times in films or photos we subconsciously remember those little details. So rather than shot the entire location alone, come in close and isolate those little things that make the location unique. In the shot below, rather than shot London’s millennium wheel along, I have opted to shoot just one of the unique looking pods as the sun sets behind. It is clear what the location is, but is far enough removed from a cliche to make the shot interesting.

An iconic location but unusual view
An iconic location but unusual view

Show the Scale 

Another way to avoid cliches is to show the scale of your chosen subject. This might be be showing a passing car or bus in the foreground or having a person or people in front of it. As well as scale, we can also use contrasts to add interest to a shot. For example in this shot we have the old church contrasting against the modern steel and glass of the Gherkin Building in London. We have not shown the building in it’s entirety but is still very obvious what is is.

The tourists here show the immense size of Maccu Picchu
The tourists here show the immense size of Maccu Picchu

There are many ways to avoid the cliches  in travel photography. Along with the advice above, one of the best ways is to make sure you devote plenty of time to one location and that you remain relaxed and focused on that location. Then you will quickly start to see the alternative shots.

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

Hi Jason,

These techniques certainly gave me a new perspective on my approach, to pick one, i would have like to use more elements in the foregrounds, something that i will keep in mind for my next shoot. thanks for sharing!

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