Join us for a photographic countdown to the most recorded place on earth—plus, tips from our photo editors for breaking the mold if you so choose.
Mining data from 35 million Flickr photos, scientists at Cornell University made some surprising discoveries: Not only did the world's most photographed cities (and the most captured landmark in each) emerge, but also so did the most common angles for shooting each place. So what do the results say about us as travelers? The findings suggest that through our cameras, we "vote" for our favorite places, things, and the best representation of them—and, by and large, we agree. We reached out to the researchers to see if the results had changed since the study was released in April 2009, and they crunched the numbers for us again—with a few exceptions (the Lincoln Memorial, for example, has replaced the Washington Monument as most photographed place in D.C.) not much had changed.
Crowds can make a space seem more
alive. This photographer has used the plaza
at Dam Square as a backdrop to capture its
alive. This photographer has used the plaza
at Dam Square as a backdrop to capture its
Photo: Allen Hutchison/Flickr
But how can you photograph world wonders in a way that makes something special out of the overly familiar? In our slide show, we showcase the most commonly shot landmarks from the top 25 cities—first showing you its classic angle and then offering fresh alternatives, with tips from our photo editors on how to put your own unique spin on these iconic destinations. Consider this your photographer's guide to the Flickr Wonders of the World.
Most Photograhped Cities
No. 10: AmsterdamLandmark: Dam Square
Created in the 13th century as a dam around the Amstel River, this expansive plaza is now flooded with street performers and tourists (and pigeons). It's hard to capture the frenzied feeling in a wide shot.
Standard shot: Wide, with buildings and lots of space
Tip: Try keeping other people in the frame. There's a natural temptation to shy away from shooting photos of strangers, but including people can give viewers a contextual clue about the relative size of the subject you're photographing. Plus families and groups of travelers can make a space seem more alive. Here, the photographer has used the plaza as a backdrop to capture its local talent.
The archways at Rome's Colosseum give shape to the photo.
Photo: NJ Spicer/Flickr
No. 9: RomeLandmark: Colosseum
This ancient site is filled with the ghosts of dueling gladiators, tormented prisoners, and slaughtered animals, contained, centuries after the fact, within a stunning framework of Corinthian, Doric, and Ionic columns. It's a gorgeous dichotomy indeed, and it's hard to not want to capture it all.
Standard shot: The structure, in its entirety.
Tip: Take advantage of a natural "frame." The archways at Rome's Colosseum give shape to the photo. Shooting through windows, courtyards, doorways, and other openings can create an appealing inside/outside dynamic.
Seattle's Space Needle reflected in the windows of a building.
Photo: Ian Sane/Flickr
No. 8: SeattleLandmark: Space Needle
What began as the symbol of the World's Fair in 1962 has now become the symbol of this supercool city. The 360-degree view from the top is expansive, taking in sights from the Puget Sound to Mount Rainier.
Standard shot: From directly below.
Tip: Create a mirror image. Reflective surfaces are common in urban areas. For a unique take on a classic monument, look around for how an object might be mirrored in a car window, a building's glass front, or the surface of a fountain.
Including other objects in the picture, like this $5 bill in front of the Lincoln Memorial, adds a creative element of whimsy.
Photo: Ryan McFarland/Flickr
No. 7: Washington, D.C.Landmark: Lincoln Memorial
This marble memorial to the 16th president—featuring Ionic columns, oil-paint murals, and a 120-ton statue of Abe himself—is a striking part of the National Mall.
Standard shot: The full building, from a distance.
Tip: Put things in "perspective." A straight-on shot is the most obvious one to take of the Lincoln Memorial, as it puts the main subject front and center. But including other objects in the picture, like this $5 bill, adds a creative element of whimsy to what might otherwise be a dime-a-dozen postcard image.
The photographer went underneath the Cloud Gate "bean" sculpture and shot upward for a unique view.
No. 6: ChicagoLandmark: Cloud Gate sculpture
Anish Kapoor's 110-ton bean of stainless steel is the shiny centerpiece of Millennium Park's AT&T Plaza and makes for a striking photo in just about any composition.
Standard shot: A direct shot of the bean, taken from the side.
Tip: Avoid the obvious. Whether it's a sculpture, a person, or a building, you can always walk around your subject to get a different view. In this case, the photographer went underneath the bean sculpture—made of highly polished steel and inspired by liquid mercury—and shot upward for a truly unique view.
The photographer shot the Hollywood stars in a line to bring context to the shot.
Photo: Frederick Dennstedt
No. 5: Los AngelesLandmark: Hollywood Walk of Fame
Begun in 1960 as a Hollywood marketing tool (with filmmaker Stanley Kramer the first honoree), the series of coral-colored stars was at 2,441 in May 2011 and continues to grow.
Standard shot: One star, shot from above.
Tip: Use distance as a frame of reference. Rather than rush in and snap away, pre-visualize your image, thinking about how to photograph a subject from different directions. In this case, the photographer chose to present the stars in a line—a decision that brings context to the shot.
Most pictures of the Eiffel Tower are taken from a distance, but close-up shots of architectual present a fresh view.
Photo: Kimber Brooks/myBudgetTravel
No. 4: ParisLandmark: Eiffel Tower
Gustave Eiffel's 1889 masterpiece, constructed in celebration of the French Revolution's 100th anniversary, is magnificent at any angle; but why choose one that you can easily find on a postcard?
Standard shot: Full-on, from far away.
Tip: Keep an eye out for unexpected patterns. Most pictures of the Eiffel Tower are taken from a distance. But its detailed iron latticework also captures attention. In general, close-up shots of patterns in architecture help a viewer see iconic attractions with fresh eyes.
A close-up photo can sometimes be as powerful as a wide-angle one, as in this tight shot of a sculpture in Union Square.
Photo: Phil Whitehouse/Flickr
No. 3: San FranciscoLandmark: Union Square
The main downtown plaza—used as a rallying site to support troops during the Civil War—is now a mecca for hardcore shopping and people-watching. It's also a great place to hop aboard a cable car.
Standard shot: A wide-angle view of Union Square from the Macy's Building.
Tip: Less is more. A close-up photo can sometimes be as powerful as a wide-angle one. As Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten once said: "It's more interesting to have just a picture of a small detail. Then you can dream all the rest around it." Here, a tight shot of a sculpture in the square takes that advice to heart.
The photographer juxtaposed an urban icon, St. Martin-in-the-Fields church, with the surface of Trafalgar Square fountain.
Photo: Robert Moore/Flickr
No. 2: LondonLandmark: Trafalgar Square
John Nash designed and developed this former palace courtyard into a public space in the early 1800s; it has since been further transformed with sculptures, fountains, and staircases, and has become a local hotspot for protests—all worthy subjects for your lens.
Standard shot: A wide-angle shot of the National Gallery and St. Martin-in-the-Fields church.
Tip: Shift direction. Tilt your lens down to get some surprising texture in the foreground of your shot. Here, the photographer juxtaposed an urban icon, St. Martin-in-the-Fields church, with the surface of a Trafalgar Square fountain. (And, in case you were curious, the tree stumps in this photo were part of an exhibition that warned about deforestation.)
This shot was taken from a distance and 70th floors up, on the Top of the Rock Observation Deck in Rockefeller Center.
No. 1: New YorkLandmark: Empire State Building
Built in one year and 45 days in the midst of the Great Depression, this iconic skyscraper draws about 3.5 million visitors a year to its observatories. On a clear day, you can see as far as Massachusetts, but backward glances at the soaring architecture are pretty seductive, too.
Standard shot: The view of the Empire State Building from the street below.
Tip: Broaden your perspective. Photographing an expected sight from an unexpected place can add a lot to your photo. To get this shot, head 16 blocks north and up 70 floors to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck in Rockefeller Center, where you'll get the best view of the Empire State Building—along with a 360-degree panorama of the city.
See more photos of the 25 Most Photgraphed Places on Earth
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