Should Photographers Avoid Shooting at the Same Famous Places?

Photography as an art form is all about creating something unique and original. Photographers will travel around the world and trek mile after mile to capture that secluded hidden waterfall or that secret cliff that overlooks a valley. Then they post their amazing image to the internet and now every other photographer wants to shoot that location. One by one, photographers seek out these locations in an effort to put their own artistic spin on the area. Eventually thousands of images are captured of a single location, some of them good and some of them bad, but at what point is the location no longer worth shooting?

When dealing with locations around your local town, I’m sure there are at least a few stand out popular areas that always seem to have a photo shoot going on. I can drive by the big lawn of our local college on any given day and see at least one type of photo shoot going on. Sometimes there are as many as 4 plus photo shoots going on in that one area. I get that all photographers have a different artistic eye and you can have 10 photographers shoot the same subject and get 10 different images. But over the course of time, you end up having a thousand photographers shooting the same location.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall in Iceland

Photographer and designer Philipp Schmitt has come up with a prototype camera that aims to limit the amount of images allowed at each location. The way it works is the camera will search for how many images have been taken at your given geo location, if the number is too high, then the shutter button of the camera gets locked down and you cannot take an image.

I think the idea is a little ridiculous and could never be something a user would want, but it brings up some valid questions. Does the world need another image of the Eiffel Tower? If you travel to Iceland to take images of Kirkjufell, are you going to be able to capture anything that is different than every other image taken there?

Kirkjufell Mountain in Iceland

What are your thoughts? Can a location be over photographed? Do you like the idea of limiting how many photos can be taken at a location? What are some other things you feel are over photographed?

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Lee Morris's picture

This was a big eye opener for me when we filmed with Elia Locardi. Every image we took had already been taken before. That was depressing to me but it's simply the nature of the internet and that genre of photography. Even if you find a new amazing place someone else will copy it as soon as you start sharing it.

Anonymous's picture

I also find this somewhat depressing, but I get even more depressed when I see yet another shot of Half Dome or [insert overexposed place] winning a major photo contest. I guess that is also the nature of the Internet.

Brian Downs's picture

It's because of this that my wife has stopped being surprised when I name the location of an "internet famous" photo location that we have never visited. She has also stopped getting upset when I tell her that a certain example falls below the bar of what is expected to be captured at a famous location.

There is a "3-mile" rule for landscape icons. A location can't become iconic (Botany Bay, tunnel view, glacier point, oxbow bend, Horseshoe Bend, Cannon Beach, Delicate Arch, Mesa Arch, Slot Canyons, etc) if its more than three miles from a parking lot. That distance is simply to far for people to walk in mass, and that mass of people is how a location becomes overrun/popular/iconic.

There is a way to avoid the depressingly repetitive tone to landscape photography, but that's a soapbox rank for another day.

Mbutu Namubu's picture

The only reason people should be depressed is if they thought they were being professional landscape photographers when really they were just being photo tourists.

I made a post about this in the article on Siggy's rant in Iceland. He was ranting about photo tourism which is very different from professional photography. There's nothing wrong with taking a landscape picture that has been taken before. The problem only comes when people think they are being original when really they are just following a well-worn path. In all fairness, the "how to be a professional" photography industry is to blame. They have pumped up a whole generation of photographers with false ideas. Unfortunately, the majority of people learning photography right now are learning dead-end tricks and has-been techniques from yesterday's pros that are no longer relevant in today's environment.

In the end, I think that the deluge of similar imagery on the internet has been a good thing because it's forced people to realize how little professional value there is in it. There is personal value in taking the same picture that others have taken before, but the illusion of professionalism may be finally starting to come to an end.

Mac MacDonald's picture

I fly to Iceland Thursday. I'm 1000% sure I'll take most of the same pics other guys have and that is AWESOME. It's awesome because I haven't shot these photos. I want to see these sites and, being a photographer, i'm obviously going to take photos while I'm there. The earth is only so big and, given the advances in modern travel, we can cover almost all of it. Sooooooo, shoot what makes YOU happy and let everyone else worry about the things that don't matter.

Jason Vinson's picture

very good take on the question!

Sean Molin's picture

Totally my thought on this as well. To many of us, it's not always about trailblazing. It's about getting the opportunity to make an iconic photo for ourselves. There's a sense of pride in making a great postcard image, if even just to prove to yourself that you can do it.

Wayne Denny's picture

Agree with you 100%. On a side note, I just went there for the first time about a month ago. You're going to absolutely love it!

Anonymous's picture

Just imagine no musician would be able to play a Mozart sonata or a Beethoven symphony or even a Beatles song, because so many have done already and a lot surely have done it better than this musician may ever be able to. This is a ridiculous thought. So why shouldn't thousands of photographers try to make THEIR OWN interpretation of any given subject out there. Thats the concept of photography in my eyes. It's what you make out of it, what makes you smile when you look at it, no matter how many others have done before. If others like your interpretation also, fine. If they don't, so what? You still were there, did what you liked the most and shot what you felt you had to shoot. And you have the memories of making that peculiar shot, something you could never get from viewing someone elses pics, no matter how good they are.

Louis Leblanc's picture

I think your analogy captures the problem nicely. While you can find joy in having your interpretation, you can't be the one who wrote that sonata, symphony or song... I think it's just a limitation of landscape and architecture photography, you can only document what's there. If you want to own it, become an architect.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I think the key is finding something new to "say" while shooting the iconic landmark. Showing up and shooting the same shot everyone else has but from a slightly different angle is never going to be all that impressive but if you show up and take a picture of something that has been photographed a billion times already in a way that is completely new that is really impressive!

A few Eiffel tower examples that are a bit "different":

Jason Vinson's picture

awesome examples!

Bill Peppas's picture

When possible, as in being at least a week at a location, I spend almost a full session looking for a unique perspective, way to shoot a landscape others have shot multiple times before.
Sometimes it's surprisingly easy to find a GOOD if not GREAT new perspective nobody has used before even in a well-known location.
Sometimes you'll have to struggle and also have some sort of epiphany or a wild imagination ( I'm kind of the first type, my imagination's wilderness is limited to my bedroom hahaha ).
Sometimes... there's no unexploited perspective, at least not a worthy one.

Craig Jeffries's picture

I'm finding that although these "iconic" locations are over photographed, that it's only apparent mostly to other photographers.

Amongst my community of life long friends, 95% of them are not photographers, and don't hang out on photography sites such as 500px, flickr, fstoppers etc. So they mostly only get exposed to photographs from the odd few photographers they have within their circles. So by all of us taking photo's of the same location, we're just bringing something good into the lives of people that may not otherwise see this location.

Part of the challenge for me is getting a photograph to the same standard as other very high quality shots and proving to myself that I'm actually able to take a high quality image. Later when I'm at home and on my work PC, my wallpapers are my photographs, not someone elses. They become my memories of my time being there in that location. If the world happens to like my stuff as well then that's great, but mostly it's my personal journey for me and to share that with my friends.

Mac MacDonald's picture


Prefers Film's picture

I took a commercial jet to Long Beach, and from there to Anchorage. Took a turbo prop from Anchorage to King Salmon. From there, took a 4 seat Cessna to Katmai National Park (we were lucky enough to win a spot in their annual lottery). One mile hike to the falls, where we took photos of bears. Two weeks later, a girl on Instagram commented on one of my photos. She correctly named the bear in the image I had just shared. You can only get to Katmai via float plane or boat, yet here is someone else who can tell just by a 1080 square photo the identity of a bear. Nothing is new.

Oh, that camera seems like a waste of time and effort.

Mac MacDonald's picture

We truly live in amazing times!

Mark Stallbaumer's picture

I would say that I shoot for myself and my own satisfaction more then other people. If I am going to visit a highly photographed location I will purposefully not view any images of it on the internet. When I get there, I setup and shoot. If I end up with something similar to what else is posted on the internet then so be it. I still enjoyed the process of traveling to the location and the challenges of getting the photo that I want. Then I can hang up my own photo in my house instead of some other photographer's work.

Ralph Hightower's picture

I'm creating a "bucket list" of photographs that I want to see. The aurora is now the top item on my bucket list (I checked off a 30 year bucket list item in July 2011 with the final Space Shuttle launch). Has the aurora been photographed extensively? Absolutely! But it's still stunning on photographs and videos.
It doesn't matter to me that the aurora has been photographed. I still want to personally experience it.

Prefers Film's picture

Imagine traveling to the middle of nowhere, looking up into the sky... and seeing nothing. I hate cloudy nights. But I did get an offer from Celestron to take one of their bigger telescopes, with a Canon mount, out for a spin.

Igor Butskhrikidze's picture

i think if you want to shoot in these place you should shoot in there

Nick Viton's picture

100% true story; Johnny Depp was right in front of me yesterday afternoon. I had my DSLR on me ready to shoot. There are lots of pictures of Johnny Depp on the internet. Do I still take his picture? Of course!

Jennifer Kelley's picture

While putting together a new portfolio of work, about 30% of my goal was to photograph places that people have not seen. I took a week off work to visit a couple cities. And I did the tourist stuff with my family, took some pictures of over photographed places. But I took a few days out of that time to scour the area for places that most people have NOT even heard of. For example, I was in Chattanooga and while most people visit Ruby Falls, I went caving at another location. Bonus points for not having a gazillion tourists.

Now, I have pictures hanging on my walls of highly photographed places. I have the Eiffel Tower on my bedroom wall. But I want someone to look at my pictures and go "where the hell was that?!"

Christopher Snyder's picture

Passion – If you don’t have passion for what you do, I encourage you to find it. I live in western NY. Why do I mention this? As a landscape photographer I’m afraid we are lacking in local destinations and those we have, as you can guess, have been photographed millions of times. But, despite the popularity of these places, I take it as motivation to try and better myself. Even if you have the means to travel and see some of the most beautiful places on earth, don’t let the abundance of photographers who have been there before you be a hindrance to you. Enjoy the landscape/landmark/whatever before you and enjoy what you do. I don’t care if you do this as a hobby or as a career, don’t ever lose sight of why you started in this field, and never lose that passion.

Peter Lewicki's picture

The question should be "should photographers avoid SHARING the same famous places". Yes, it can be tedious to see the same landmarks over and over again on social media. (Yes, I'm as guilty as anyone of sharing photos of the Eiffel Tower) -- :) But it can be a great learning experience - you can try to shoot the landmark in your own way to help develop your voice and style, or you can try to copy an existing photo. One of my favorite exercises in my photography classes was to try to copy an existing photo - it was a great way to learn about light, focal length, POV etc.

Jason Vinson's picture

That's an interesting spin on the question!

keith zimmerman's picture

Every photo taken of any location is unique because every photographer has his own vision and no two photos will ever be taken in exactly the same conditions. I wholeheartedly believe that every photo I make is unique because it interprets my vision of the world.

Hawaii Portrait Photographer's picture

i would say no, just need to be creative and look at it from a different perspective and angle. if not, go out and explore and find someplace new.