Are famous photographic locations all you need?

Photographic locations are in vogue these days. A quick look in Instagram will lead to thousands of photos of Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. Locating such photogenic places is very easy. Not only can you pinpoint everything in Google Maps, but you can also make an online list of famous or less famous locations near where you are or where you want to visit. Now you even get specific apps and websites with the sole purpose of finding such locations for you. So why am I writing about this? Is there something wrong with photographing well known locations?

There is nothing inherently wrong with this tactic of course. Visiting places as a tourist I like to snap photos in all the famous places. I even take selfies believe it or not! I believe however that social media has stolen from us the simple pleasure of exploring places in real and not online. The vast majority of photos I see online are just a version of somebody else’s photo. In fact, people tend to apply similar filters that exist in mobile apps and the results become even more similar. In our effort to dazzle with our photographic uploads, we have cornered ourselves to the well known and to what people expect to see.

I started using a film camera as a way to record outdoor activities. This often meant hiking and cycling in very little known places. There was no Mount Fuji to point to and no best spot to photograph the classic San Francisco skyline from. So I got used to improvising and making do with what I came across. Definitely more suspenseful than getting to the spot, taking the shot, and then moving to the next spot.

Unless you have a client and a contract to photograph specific things, I believe photography has to be who you really are. An extension of your eyes, thoughts and mood. It has to be enjoyable and there is no better way than making it a small adventure. Something that provides true pleasure. Even if you are trying to establish yourself as the next upcoming talent, you will never achieve it if you do not draw happiness from the activity and without getting out of your way for the less ordinary.

These days the most common advice before traveling is “do a thorough online search and plan well”. But is it the best thing to do? And you might ask “what do I do if I am on a tour and have limited time?” Even then you can make your own time. Take that small side street, explore around the hotel you are staying, go in a market and meet people. Or even better, plan in beforehand not for a rigid schedule but for the maximum possible personal time to devote to your photographic pleasure. You will surely not regret it. Ask your guide for suggestions. Some times these people are so bored rehashing the same stuff over and over that they might even join you in their free time for something a little different. I have tried it and it works every single time. Actually, the best tours I have been on were the ones with less planning that allowed plenty of time and opportunities to act as an individual. Get your own photographic life and start enjoying it.

So answering to the question in the title, my answer is a definite “no”. You do not need miss the famous locations but for your photographic life they are just a small portion of the fun. No matter how many outfits you change in front of a famous view, this view is still staying the same. Looking at the photo of the Acropolis in the start of this article I realize that the best time to visit would be when it is snowing, with the minimum number of visitors around. At least then something would change from the enormous crowds swarming the place like ants.