Lessons from a Lonely Planet Photographer: how to capture famous landmarks in unique ways


Ever found yourself in front of an iconic monument or building, like the Eiffel tower, Taj Mahal, Sydney Opera house, and taken a great photo only to realise you’ve seen this exact image a thousand times before? Chances are, the tourist standing a metre away from you took an identical photo as well. So how do you get something different? How do you capture an image you’re proud of, an image that’s memorable, and an image that shows a unique point of view?

When I’m encountering something that’s been shot frequently and I need to be different or engaging, I use one of the following methods:

1) Shoot wider or tighter
People are so familiar with popular monuments that they could recognize it by seeing just a small part of it. Most people who haven’t been to Paris, still know what the Eiffel Tower looks like; what they may not have seen, though, is the detail of the monument or what surrounds it. Use that to your advantage. Capture the intricate details that people often don’t get to see. Zoom in on the material used, showing just a hint of what the building is.

Alternatively, give the monument some scale by shooting wide and incorporating the surrounding environment. Even if the surrounds aren’t as attractive as the monument itself, it still adds attention to the image and gives those unfamiliar with the city, a better idea of where exactly the monument is situated.

Tight


Wide

2) Walk away from the monument 
You read it right; walk away! I always try to walk at least 500m – 1km away from the monument. I can guarantee you at some point along that walk, you’ll come across a totally different angle taken from a different environment, and still capture the monument in the shot. You may see a glimpse of the monument through a small gap. You may even get a clean, unhindered view, free from tourists. Regardless, it will be different and you may even enjoy the experience a little more.


3) Allow the monument to be the backdrop to everyday life 
This is a common method used by documentary photographers. It’s certainly a key element in my own style of travel photography and my method of choice when it comes to creating unique shots of iconic buildings or monuments. Quite often tourists, touts or the general public will get in the way of your photos, so why not make a conscious effort to incorporate them in it? Don’t watch the monument, be in its presence but keep your focus on its visitors. It will require you to people watch and be a fly on the wall but if you’re patient enough, someone will do something eye-catching in front of the monument and at that moment you’ll have the shot.


4) Shoot at the golden hour 
An hour before sunset or soon after sunrise is what photographers refer to as ‘The golden hour’. If I had a choice, I would always shoot an iconic building at sunrise. The quality of light during the golden hour is typically warmer and softer than midday. It can also provide great, long shadows that add another strong visual component to a photo.  You may even capture some interesting images of the locals and their interactions with the monument when you shoot outside of peak hours.


Asanka Brendon Ratnayake is a travel photographer, represented by Lonely Planet / Getty Images. He works on assignment for editorial, NGOs, and commercial clients, with his work used in publications such as TIME, National Geographic, Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera, Condé Nast and Der Spiegel. Asanka’s style is recognisable, with an eye for shooting in natural light and an interest in candid, daily life imagery.

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