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.”

Shahid Khan

6 Secrets for Taking Unique Photos in Tourist Hot Spots — Ask 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.

6 Secrets for Taking Unique Photos in Tourist Hot Spots — Find an Information Center

Image by Shahid Khan.

Pro Tip

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.

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2. “I read tourist guides and blogs by locals, and I learn about how this city has been depicted by artists in the past.”

kavalenkava

6 Secrets for Taking Unique Photos in Tourist Hot Spots — Know Some Art History

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.

6 Secrets for Taking Unique Photos in Tourist Hot Spots — Map Out Your Journey

Image by kavalenkava.

Pro Tip

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.

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3. “Using sites like Flickr, 500px, or even Google Images will help you find new perspectives or locations.”

DaLiu

6 Secrets for Taking Unique Photos in Tourist Hot Spots — Do Some Research

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.

Pictured: [1] DaLiu [2] DaLiu [3] DaLiu

Pro Tip

When I start planning a trip to a new city, I do a lot of background work beforehand. I look for photos online to see all the iconic spots, and after that, I dig deeper on the internet to find lesser-known locations. Using sites like Flickr, 500px, or even Google Images will help you find new perspectives or locations. Where possible, try Street View on Google Maps, and search for articles online about the city you’re visiting.

In most cases, this kind of preparation will give you something, even if it’s not totally unique. You just need to be patient and put in the time needed for scouting new shots. I usually try to find these areas before I leave for any trip. It’ll save you a lot of time, and, in many cases, even the locals won’t be able to help you to find exact locations.

Other than that, the best tip or trick I can give is to walk around outside of the most popular locations and explore the city. Once you find something unique and photogenic, make a plan. Check to see if it’ll look best at sunset, sunrise, or even midday, and then come back at the right time for your shoot.

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4. “When you go to those famous places, talk to the locals. They always give a ton of tips about the city.”

Burak Budak

6 Secrets for Taking Unique Photos in Tourist Hot Spots — Go Exploring

Image by Burak Budak. Gear: Nikon d7100 camera, Tokina 11-16 dxII lens. Settings: Focal length 11mm; exposure 1/250 sec; f4.5; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

When I was in Chefchaouen, Morocco, everything was all about the famous blue houses and streets. But when I started to talk with the locals, they told me that there is also an amazing natural waterfall. I rented a car and made the trip with a few friends from my hostel. It was hard to get there, but it was worth it.

6 Secrets for Taking Unique Photos in Tourist Hot Spots — Talk to Locals

Image by Burak Budak.

Pro Tip

When I travel to different countries, I always try to find a local photographer, and, if possible, we travel together in the city. They always know where to go and, of course, where to eat. Before my trips, the first thing I do is check blogs about the city. If you want to find secret places in a big city, you need to know the famous places first. When you go to those famous places, talk to the locals. They always give a ton of tips about the city.

Couchsurfing is another resource I use. I let people in the area know what I’m doing and what I’m looking for, and I ask questions. I find a lot of places that way. The most important thing to remember is that you need to walk a lot. Walking and waiting are key.

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5. “Look for movement, and either freeze it or show it with a slow shutter speed. Your creativity is what will make your photos special.”

Christophe Faugere

6 Secrets for Taking Unique Photos in Tourist Hot Spots — Look for Movement

Image by Christophe Faugere. Gear: Canon 5D Mark II camera, 16-35mm F2.8 II lens. Settings: Exposure 13 sec; f13; ISO 50 (I used several shots to add car lights).

What’s the story behind this photo?

I was walking—running, in fact—between several landmarks at the blue hour when I crossed a street near Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in St Petersburg, Russia. The Cathedral was not very close, but the cars passing by had lights on, and the lights of the city matched the sky. I just stopped there and took some shots. This one has quickly become my best-seller.

6 Secrets for Taking Unique Photos in Tourist Hot Spots — Look for Mood

Image by Christophe Faugere.

Pro Tip

My first tip is to use your feet. Before leaving for a photo trip, I try to do minimal research on Google. I don’t want to miss the landmarks because those photos are what I’m going to sell. I’ll usually be at those spots for sunset (or sunrise), but, apart from that, I just walk a lot. Walking from one spot to another, slowly, will enable you to find unknown places.

But honestly, nowadays, there are hundreds of thousands of photographers all around the world. It’s never as easy as asking the local people to tell you where to find the perfect hidden gem. It’s impossible to find a place that has not been shot before, so my second tip would just be to open your eyes. Look up and down. Look for shapes, reflections, and good light. Look for a mood—a rainy day can be great in B&W, for example. Look for movement, and either freeze it or show it with a slow shutter speed. Your creativity is what will make your photos special.

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6. “Do not follow the crowd. Turn off the tourist route and stroll through the streets.”

badahos

6 Secrets for Taking Unique Photos in Tourist Hot Spots — Take Your Time

Image by badahos. Gear: Fujifilm X-T20 camera, Fujifilm Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 OIS lens. Settings: Focal length 18mm; exposure 1/140 sec; f4.0; ISO 200..

What’s the story behind this photo?

I took this photo in Munich. It had just rained, and people were hiding in restaurants and hotels. A big city after the rain always has a special atmosphere. I decided to walk around the small streets when suddenly, I noticed my lace was untied. I sat down to tie it, and after that, I looked up and saw the reflection of the street in a puddle. I immediately took a few photos. Then using Photoshop, I flipped and edited this photo for a more dramatic effect. You never know where a good shot awaits you.

Pictured: [1] badahos [2] badahos

Pro Tip

Always look through Google Maps before your journey. You can see the streets and find interesting places that way. Mark the spots you want to visit and things you want to see. Spend time walking around the city, and don’t hurry. Stop and look around; even in the most ordinary places, you can find an interesting shot. After standing for just five minutes in one place, everything can change: the lighting, the weather, and the situation. If you find an interesting place during the day, return there at night and take another photo.

Do not follow the crowd. Turn off the tourist route and stroll through the streets. Small, non-touristic streets are always imbued with local colors, and you can find unexpected moments there. Do not carry a lot of equipment with you. It will draw attention, and you will get tired easily. Enjoy the process!

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Top Image by DaLiu