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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

Super close-up of the underside of The Bean using a fisheye lens.
When National Geographic did its special issue on France, staff photographer James Stanfield used a 400mm lens to shoot the Eiffel Tower. What he created was an extremely compressed view of lanes and lanes of traffic, with their taillights glowing, pouring underneath the lower sections of the Tower legs. You never saw more of the Tower than the very bottoms of the leg, but it dominated the scene the way no overall shot could.

I took along my 10.5mm fisheye to Chicago and used it extensively right up next to and even inside The Bean. The fisheye’s unique curvature created a lot of interesting perspectives, and the shot looking straight up inside created a multifaceted look with a variety of planes that made it look like a shot from a psychedelic ’60s movie.

Play Peekaboo! This is a related technique to showing just a part of the icon. The “peekaboo” approach (for lack of a better descriptive term) involves seeing how many ways you can work the icon into the background of other pictures. In the case of The Bean, which is relatively small and low compared to other city icons, it was more or less impossible for me to do this.

But a few years ago, I shot a city story on Toronto for National Geographic Traveler. Of course, that city’s icon is the very tall, and hence ubiquitous, CN Tower. At first, it started showing up by accident in the backgrounds of street scenes, park scenics and café shots, and it would immediately place the shot in Toronto. After a while, I made a little game of seeing how many ways I could work that distinctive tower silhouette into the background of more generic shopping and street-scene shots to give it the Toronto treatment.

Another twilight beauty shot of The Bean in its surroundings.
Look For Reflections, Miniatures And Souvenirs. Another way to photograph your icon is to look for its reflection in surrounding windows, building facades and even rain puddles or fountains. The reflection often has an impressionistic quality that puts that different spin on the shot.

Another clever approach is to shoot displays of souvenirs, usually miniature versions, of the icon. I’ve seen very clever shots of stacks of the Arc de Triomphe on souvenir tables on the Champs Élysées with the real structure in the background. Then there’s the classic shot of a cute little tourist child wearing a big Nerf version of the crown of the Statue of Liberty, emulating the famous stance in front of the real deal. Or somebody holding a postcard of a famous skyline view in front of the camera with the actual view in the background—you get the picture.

Using this humorous approach, or any of these other tips, can save your icon shot from the purgatory of being a total cliché. So the next time you face one of these icons, give it the 360-degree shoe-leather treatment, and who knows, in the midst of all your hard work, you may just uncover an original masterpiece!

For a schedule of Bob Krist’s workshops and seminars, check his website, www.bobkrist.com, under the “Teach and Talk” heading.


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