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Friday, October 30, 2009

New Perspective On Iconic Subjects


How to move beyond the "stock" shot for better photos of popular subjects

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Shooting The Bean at twilight and getting the Chicago skyline in its reflection makes for a colorful rendition of the icon—the two girls posing in front give it a sense of scale.

Travel photographers working in tourist destinations face a dilemma: the iconic view, skyline or structure of a place often is so well known and photographed that it’s almost impossible to come up with anything new. But you can’t ignore the icon either—people want to see an angle on Big Ben in a London story, the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.


Close-up of part of the icon with the skyline reflected.
I faced this dilemma for the umpteenth time on a recent city story assignment in Chicago. True, the huge reflective sculpture by Anish Kapoor—located in downtown Millennium Park and called Cloud Gate, but better known as “The Bean”—is younger and not quite as done to death as many well-known landmarks, but it’s quickly becoming the signature shot of Chicago. I had to give it my best shot while I was there for my coverage.

Now, if you’re blessed with an unlimited budget, unbelievable luck or a boundless imagination, maybe you can be the one-in-a-million shooter to come up with something “fresh.” Personally, I’d love to hire a big cherry picker and shoot straight down on The Bean with a wide-angle lens. But the equipment rental and permit problems would make that far too expensive a proposition for me or any of my current clients. I also wouldn’t mind being the guy lucky enough to shoot The Bean during a special lighting occurrence, with a rainbow soaring over it or a spectacular sunset behind it. Or, I’d love to be gifted with a flash of inspiration or an eye so original that I could come up with something that the legions of shooters before me overlooked. Alas, barring divine intervention, that’s not in my cards either.


A midday view showing the icon in its surroundings.
So what do I do when faced with such an icon? I give it the 360-degree treatment, which is to say, I simply work it to death! That’s right, when talent leaves you short, your budget is limited and luck is in short supply, there’s always hard work and shoe leather.

Following is my checklist for working an icon. Try to apply it the next time you’re facing a well-known symbol to see if you can spruce up the freshness of your photographs.

Time Of Day. Never be satisfied with shooting your icon once. Most have placement that favors morning, say, over afternoon, but even if you’ve done it once in the “right” light, go back at least twice.

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