One of the greatest joys of traveling is documenting your adventures through photography. In fact, with iconic landmarks and local gems around the world being posted on Instagram hundreds of times per day, many travelers now plan itineraries solely in search of the most photographic locations. So, unless you venture far off the beaten path, most places you visit will have already been photographed many times — posing a challenge to those hoping to capture unique images. After all, how do you see a place with fresh eyes and avoid taking the same clichéd snapshots you’ve grown accustomed to on your Instagram feed?

We think that’s a question worth unpacking. Read on for a few tips on how to take inventive pictures in heavily photographed places.

A temple in Kyoto
Photo by @eriksellgren

Change your angle

The most important step to avoid taking overdone images is to change your perspective, since images are often rendered commonplace because they’re all shot from the same straight-ahead vantage point. By altering the angle in which you hold your camera, you can capture your subject — be it a famous structure or a well-known vista — in a whole new way. Rather than shooting straight-on, try capturing a lesser-known view by shooting upwards, or snap a few birds-eye images if you have a drone. If you’re having trouble finding a new perspective, try taking a walk — by moving your stance, you force yourself to find new angles. Sure, that postcard-perfect view of the Eiffel Tower is iconic, but you never know what photo opportunity could be waiting for you in the alleyway around the corner.

Clothes hanging on a line in Varanasi
Photo by @BadianSaunaSystem

Focus on the details

Decorated arches in Jaipur
Photo by @wander.1997

When visiting a famous city or landmark, it’s tempting to take pictures that showcase the setting at its most recognizable, letting your followers know that you’re at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Blue Lagoon, or any other place that induces Instagram envy. Our advice is to try to steer away from these overdone shots, and instead think small and focus on the details that make these places what they are. Look for interesting lines, colors, shadows, and textures, and follow what you’re drawn to. For example, when photographing well-known buildings or monuments, hone in on its distinctive elements — like tiles and brickwork — rather than the structure as a whole, or let color be your guide. When you do this, you’ll find that you probably have a completely new way of looking at an area you’ve seen depicted in photographs many times before.

The Doge's Palace at sunrise in Venice, Italy
Photo by @brahmino
A church door with shadows in Venice, Italy
Photo by Hope Allison

Choose your lighting wisely

As with all photography, lighting is the most crucial element of any successful image. If you’re seeking unique shots, think about the quality and type of light you’re looking for before you press the shutter. No matter how many times you’ve seen photographs of a famous place, less common lighting can render it anew — for example, the bright, golden light found at sunset will produce very different photographs from ones taken with the harsh shadows of high noon. By choosing unique lighting conditions, you’ll capture the place in a way that you and others may never have seen it before. While it may be more convenient to shoot during the day, you won’t regret staying up late for a few nighttime shots, or waking up early to capture a place in the peaceful glow of sunrise. Not only will your images stand out from others because of the particular light, but you’re also more likely to have the place to yourself, which can be rare in heavily-touristed areas. For this reason, also consider shooting during bad weather, as this can shift your way of seeing a place and lend itself to more unique images.

Shift your focus

Autumn leaves in front of the Eiffel Tower
Photo by @crissilveira

Though you may want your images to showcase a famous aspect of a place — like its famed cathedral, its highest mountain, or its classic architecture — it’s possible to do so without directly focusing on it. Seek out interesting foregrounds to train your focus on and use the landmark as a backdrop instead. Doing this will result in more unique and intriguing images, and as an added bonus, you’ll highlight the landmark in its natural context and maybe even capture a bit of local life while you’re at it. Or, try opening up your aperture for a shallow depth of field — enhancing bokeh and drawing even more attention to the focus of your image. Like changing your angle, shifting your focal point will breathe new life into your images, even if the true subject has been photographed many times before.

A man walking in a beam of light in London, UK
Photo by Joshua K. Jackson

Include the people around you

A woman making dumplings in London, UK
Photo by Craig Whitehead

One of the struggles inherent to capturing unique photographs of a place is that the place itself may not change all that often. After all, many of the most visited — and most photographed — places are historical sites that have stayed more or less the same for hundreds or thousands of years. When the landscape or buildings you’re photographing are static, try including locals or other visitors in your photographs.

Consider taking portraits of the people you meet, or, if portraiture isn’t your forte, try your hand at street photography. Visiting a crowded place — like a busy market, a touristy monument, or even a public transport hub — can make it easy to blend in with the hordes of people around you, allowing you to capture the bustle of the place. Even if people aren’t your main focus, you can still add movement, complexity, and originality to your photographs by including them in your frame.

Looking for more photography tips? Check out our Photography Basics series!

Header image by @jenniferhulley
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Hope Allison
Hope is a photographer and writer based New England. An explorer by nature, she loves trying unfamiliar foods and visiting new places. When she's not taking pictures, Hope can be found reading plays, baking bread, and planning her next adventure.