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.
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.
SEE THE PLACES: 25 MOST PHOTOGRAPHED PLACES ON EARTH
Landmark: Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Portland's 27-year-old public space, host to alfresco concerts and festivals, is the city's most visited spot.
Standard shot: The square overlooking the Portland Clock Tower.
Tip: The rule of thirds. The foundation for well-balanced images, this rule states that images should be equally divided by two vertical lines and two horizontal lines. Compose your shot so that the elements are placed along these lines. Here, the arm of this sculpture coincides with an imaginary vertical line, while his umbrella lines up with your horizontal line.
Landmark: O'Connell Street and the Spire of Dublin.
The city's wide main street, which runs into City Hall and Dublin Castle, is home to a hard-to-miss monument: the sleek and pointy spire, completed in 2003 as part of a street redesign and rising nearly 400 feet above the cosmopolitan scene.
Standard shot: The spire framed by O'Connell Street.
Tip: Experiment with angles. In this case, doing the unexpected—getting as close to the monument as possible and shooting upward—delivered a gem of a vantage point.
Landmark: Capitol Building.
The 1888 Renaissance Revival–style capitol commands 22 gracious acres on Congress Avenue; it's constructed of red-tinged granite that was quarried just 50 miles away. You'll want to shoot this beauty from every angle.
Standard shot: Up into the rotunda.
Tip: Compare and contrast. Create a lively composition by contrasting your subject with an interesting object in the foreground—and then adjust the depth of field to focus on that object, leaving your original subject blurred in the background. Here, a metal ornament on the state capitol's gate becomes the new star of the shot.
Landmark: Independence Hall.
Constructed as the Pennsylvania State House in the mid 1700s, this structure, a beautiful example of Georgian architecture, was the meeting place for the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1783 and the site of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
Standard shot: A side perspective of Independence Hall.
Tip: Frame with nature. Try to go for the less obvious composition by looking for trees or other sources of organic beauty to complement your subject. Here, the ginkgo trees perfectly frame the clock tower.
Landmark: Piazza San Marco.
St. Mark's Basilica, with its grand arches and Romanesque carvings, dominates Venice's sprawling main square, where camera-toting tourists jostle for space with pigeons.
Standard shot: A full frontal view of St. Mark's Basilica.
Tip: Capture the vibe. Sometimes it helps to set your sights on the action of a place rather than its overall beauty. Here, focus on the fluttering pigeons that famously fill the plaza, and the feel of the place will be more evident than it could be in any wide-angle shot.
Landmark: Plaza Mayor.
The 17th-century principal square is classic Madrid—symmetrical, historic, and abuzz with activity as it's host to cafés, street artists, and various hawkers.
Standard shot: A view across the square taken from the southeast corner.
Tip: Cozy up to something. In a sprawling square, highlight a specific detail—such as this statue in the Plaza Mayor—and shoot it from below, creating a silhouette framed by an expansive sky.
Landmark: Granville Island.
From industrial wasteland to urban-redevelopment success story, this city island is now home to various colorful and creative attractions, from a sprawling public market and the Adventure Zone (a playground for kids) to theater productions and art exhibits. How to capture the vibe in one great shot?
Standard shot: A long shot of the skyline from the harbor.
Tip: Find some color. Look for an out-of-the-ordinary corner to focus on, and then, if you have a compact camera, choose a setting that accentuates the colorful hues of the canvas before you, such as "landscape" for a garden or, if appropriate, "night." On Granville Island, for example, explore the docks and capture the lights at night.
Landmark: Duomo di Milano.
Commissioned in 1386, this soaring, pink-tinged, gargantuan Gothic cathedral (with a capacity of 40,000) has enough spires and statues to humble even the most experienced photographer.
Standard shot: A skyward photo of the cathedral from the front.
Tip: Get past overwhelming façades. Zoom in on visually interesting lines and sculptures, as this photographer did, turning a collection of spires into an arresting graphic image.
Landmark: CN Tower.
Toronto's center of telecommunications (its broadcast tower serves 16 Canadian TV and radio stations) is also a skyline star and tourist favorite. Its glass-walled elevator zooms riders to an observation deck in less than one minute, but a look up at the tower from below is pretty thrilling, too.
Standard shot: A vertigo-inducing angle shot from below.
Tip: Get some exposure. Achieving a colorful shot at night is tricky. Use a slow shutter speed, which increases exposure, and a tripod to eliminate blur, and skip the flash to make the lights in your skyline glow. This photographer captured Toronto and its iconic tower from Ward's Island (part of the Toronto Islands), across the Inner Harbor.
Landmark: Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore).
Filippo Brunelleschi's masterpiece—today, the world's third-largest church—was built from 1296 into the 1400s. Its striking red-tiled dome and colorful façade of pink, green, and white are photo-worthy, indeed.
Standard shot: The stunning façade.
Tip: Capture it all. Juxtapose a section of the landmark building with a view of the city (or other contextual elements) by shooting out from within the icon itself.
Landmark: Paris Las Vegas hotel.
Part of the Strip for a dozen years already, this French theme park of a resort—and especially its Eiffel Tower reproduction—is still a big hit with shutterbugs.
Standard shot: A full frontal of the Paris Las Vegas.
Tip: Go away. Sometimes it helps to get some perspective. In this case, you can cross Las Vegas Boulevard and go up into Paris's neighbor, the Bellagio, to get an elevated shot of the hotel spectacle.
Landmark: Brandenburg Gate.
Representing the lofty idea of peace and standing 82 feet high, this 18th-century sandstone landmark—Germany's most well-known—can easily make shutterbugs feel like they should fall in line.
Standard shot: Straight on.
Tip: Break the rules. Shoot directly into the sun as it sets to create a compelling silhouette.
Landmark: Balboa Park.
Set aside as a public space in 1868, this 1,200-acre park has undergone many stages of development and beautification. Today, it's home to theaters, activity centers, landscaped gardens, and at least a dozen museums, with more than its fair share of photo-worthy landscapes.
Standard shot: A zoomed-out focus on the tower of the California Building.
Tip: Try fresh angles. This unusual composition, including just the tip of the ornate California Building, fills the frame with the vibrant blue sky as reflected in this body of water.
Landmark: Sagrada Família.
It's hard to know exactly where to point your lens at Gaudí's elaborately ornate, multitowered Gothic cathedral, which couldn't possibly be captured all in a single frame.
Standard shot: From the front entrance, looking up.
Tip: Zoom in. Avoid the standard, straight-on shot (and, in this case, unattractive scaffolding) to zoom in on the ornate details, such as the basilica's steeples.
Landmark: Fenway Park.
Boston tourists love snapping photos of this classic ball field, which is the site of All-Star games, a World Series win, and historic moments ranging from a record Mickey Mantle home run to a speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Standard shot: Far, wide.
Tip: Seize the moment. Preset your camera on its rapid-fire, or "sports," setting—but, when the big moment happens, look to the stands instead of the field for inspiration. When you see something animated, such as a fan waving his arms in the air, you'll be ready to snap multiple shots, capturing the silhouette (and the energy of the crowd) against the backdrop of the field.
Landmark: 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.
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.
Landmark: 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.
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.
Landmark: 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.
Landmark: 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.
Landmark: 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.
Landmark: 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.
Landmark: 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.)
Landmark: 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.
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.
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