Photographing the over-photographed

How to photograph when the iconic becomes familiar?

In an earlier posting I suggested photographing your local neighbourhood as if you were on holiday there so that you look at it through fresh eyes in order to be inspired to take new photographs. But what if where you live is a holiday destination full of famous landmarks endlessly photographed? How do you photograph the over-photographed and come up with something new?

One option is simply to ignore it entirely. Chances are there are lots of other places often overlooked in popular holiday destinations and as a local you will have more time to go explore them. That’s what I did a couple of years ago with my project on the overlooked landmarks of London.

However sometimes it might be fun to set yourself a challenge to see what you can do with the overfamiliar landmark.

I live in London which is stuffed full of them; Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament (with Big Ben on the end), Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, and so on. These are popular places for tourists to visit and to photograph.

One evening in late summer I thought I would set myself the challenge of photographing a landmark. I cannot claim that the pictures are particularly great – they were taken in the conditions available at the time. However I do think they helped me look at something that is so familiar in a much more detailed way.

My choice of landmark was the Tower of London, a 1000 year old building used variously as a palace, a prison and as the home of the crown jewels. So how did I get on? All the photographs were taken from the exterior.

Take a different point of view

The first thing I did when I turned up was look for ways of viewing the Tower of London from a different direction. I always like to see if I can find a reflection of it. The ticket office is across the concourse from it and in its windows you can just about make it a part of the building. The window contains depictions of some of the key characters throughout the Tower of London’s history. This one I think is William the Conqueror who had the castle built.

Focus in on the details

When I visit somewhere and look back on the photographs I discover that I have not actually taken a general view of the subject. Instead I have focussed in on the details. I did this with the Tower of London walking slowly around the outside. In the end I discovered this open window at one end of the building. It made me think about some of the people who live and work inside – the Yeoman Wardens (or Beefeaters) – and the life thay have in this iconic place.

Create patterns

Great buildings such as the Tower of London lend themselves to creating patterns from the shapes of the walls and the way shadows fall upon them. The sun was low in the sky when I took this photograph showing the shadows of the crenallations on the gatehouse falling across part of the building. This photograph also shows up some of the different styles of the Tower from stone to brick which add their own colour to the image.

Use as a backdrop

London is a vibrant city and there is always plenty going on in the foreground. Sometimes it can be quite to put the landmark in the background and focus on what’s going on in front of it. It’s almost like combing the photograph with another genre such as street photography. That’s what I tried to do here with this photograph.

Look for the unusual

This isn’t a photograph of the Tower of London but it is of another familiar London Landmark – St Paul’s Cathedral. I saw this ticket lying on the ground with its iconic dome. This shows you the landmark in a very different way.

Those are a few ways I used to try photograph that has become so familiar and over-photographed. Other things you could do is to photograph it at different times and in different light conditions. When you are on holiday somewhere for a week or so you are rather stuck with the weather you get but if you are a local to option to take your time and revisit in different conditions until you get the photograph you want. The Tower of London looks like it ought to be photographed beneath a stormy sky – maybe I should go back again sometime.

Published by Stephen Taylor

Freelance e-learning developer and instructional designer, photographer and cyclist

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