There’s more to shooting major cities than typical tourist destinations. Learn how to find the hidden corners of popular locations with tips from these six experienced travel photographers.
In the late 19th century, photographers like Francis Bedford, Solomon Nunes Carvalho, and Francis Frith showed us the world. Through their images, the public was able to see the Egyptian pyramids, the churches of Jerusalem, and the plains of the American West for the first time. In the last 100-plus years, travelers with cameras have revealed extraordinary places and shared the stories of countless people. Today, we can access faraway cities with the click of a button, and few locations remain unphotographed.
The digital era forever changed the way we travel. For professional photographers and tourists alike, photography has become an indispensable part of the way we experience new places and cultures. On Instagram, popular hashtags like #wanderlust, #instatravel, #travelstories, #travelmemories, #travelgram, and more bring up millions of photographs from people around the world.
We wanted to know exactly what it takes to find a unique point of view in 2019, so we asked six travel photographers to tell us about how they find hidden gems in big tourist cities. Below, they take us on a journey to Dubai, Venice, Russia, Prague, Munich, and the “Blue City” of Morocco, revealing unexpected street corners and out-of-the-way treasures.
1. “When I’m on location, I always ask a receptionist at the hotel for recommendations.”
Image by Shahid Khan. Gear: Nikon D750 camera, Nikon 24-120 f/4 lens. Settings: Focal length 82mm; exposure 1/640 sec; f8; ISO 400.
What’s the story behind this photo?
While in Dubai, I took advantage of a day pass and used it on the metro to go from one end of the line to the other end. While passing through the downtown area, I saw the high-rise buildings on both sides of the metro line, and it looked like a scene from a sci-fi movie. I set my camera on a faster shutter speed to avoid any camera shake. The good thing about the metro in Dubai is that it’s driverless, so with a little effort, I got a spot at the front and had an uninterrupted view.
Image by Shahid Khan.
Obviously, the first point of contact is Google. An image search will show you the main landmarks and the popular points of view. I usually scroll down a bit to see images other than the major landmarks and note down the names of the locations that interest me. My second choice is Flickr. The good thing about Flickr is that you can get in touch with local photographers for tips, and the trick is to contact at least five photographers so you get a response from at least one or two.
When I’m on location, I always ask a receptionist at the hotel for recommendations. I’ve gotten great recommendations from receptionists and waiters alike. I always visit the information center, if there is one in town, and I get ahold of all the pamphlets I can. They will sometimes have information about hidden landmarks or free walks. When I am in a city for a bit longer, I always take time to roam aimlessly by foot or on public transport.
2. “I read tourist guides and blogs by locals, and I learn about how this city has been depicted by artists in the past.”
Image by kavalenkava. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera; Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens. Settings: Focal length 97mm; Exposure 0.3 sec; f8.0; ISO 200.
What’s the story behind this photo?
This is one of my favorite Prague views, seen from one of the Prague towers, located a distance away from the usual tourist routes. There were no sightseeing groups or signs advertising this spot, and at first, it was unclear whether or not it was possible to climb the tower. After a while, we found an inconspicuous door, and it turned out that you can climb the tower for a small fee. There were few visitors, which allowed us to take photos before and after sunset and to use a tripod.
This view is much more interesting than the well-known views from Old Town Square, and it includes the most famous sites: the Church of Our Lady of Tyn and Prague Castle, as well as the rooftops of the old city. I took this photo at sunset, when the yellow and red colors of the sun combined with the illumination of the buildings. The city looked like a magic box.
Image by kavalenkava.
I begin my search for “hidden gems” long before planning a trip. I follow a variety of Instagram accounts and blogs, study popular photos on Shutterstock, save interesting photos and drawings, and sort them by country and city.
I then get acquainted with the history of the city itself in order to understand what matters to its inhabitants. I read tourist guides and blogs by locals, and I learn about how this city has been depicted by artists in the past. I mark the attractions that interest me on an online map, and I look for places that offer an overhead view of the city, including bell towers in churches, shopping centers, or restaurants with panoramic terraces.
From there, I wander around the main sights. I go far from the central tourist routes because the most beautiful views can often be found at a distance. If there is a hill or a mountain in the city, I will definitely be there. Sometimes, locals will offer to show you interesting places when they find out that you are a photographer. Do not hesitate to ask tourist office staff members, hotel administrators, and even souvenir merchants for advice.
Choose a hotel room or apartment based on the view, or hop onto social networks and look for people who would be happy to take you to their balcony or roof. Also, many hotels will have restaurants with terraces on the roof; in that case, you can go have lunch and get an exclusive shot at the same time.
But my most important tip for finding real gems when traveling to new places is simple: If you see something interesting, take your photo right away. You may not get a second chance. Often, when people see an interesting place, they might say to themselves, “I am tired now. I’ll rest and come back later” or “Today is only the first day, I will pass this spot a hundred times.” But the truth is that you might never get a chance to return.
3. “Using sites like Flickr, 500px, or even Google Images will help you find new perspectives or locations.”
Image by DaLiu. Gear: Canon 5D Mark IV camera, Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 IS USM lens. Settings: Focal length 16mm; exposure 1/160 sec; f8; ISO 100.
What’s the story behind this photo?
The first time I visited Venice, I had only half a day in the city, and it was overloaded with tourists, so last year, my wife and I decided to go in January to avoid the crowds. I started searching for iconic locations in Venice, and, of course, everything was obvious. I had the almost impossible task of finding beautiful and unknown spots, but at some point, I found a picture on 500px with a building in Venice surrounded by canals all the way around.
It was an interesting view, but, of course, the author of the photo hadn’t specified the location of the building, so I started to think about how I could find it. Luckily, the old city of Venice is not big, so it took me some time, but in the end I did manage to find it on Google Maps.