How To Shoot Popular Locales Without Resorting To Cliches

There's nothing as cliched in portraiture as shooting your subject against a popular site. Here are a few ways to go about it without having your pictures look like everyone else's.

I recently had a first-time shoot at a popular site in Mumbai featuring a very iconic bridge, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. I rarely photograph people at places like this because I risk making my shots look like everyone else's, i.e. cliched and therefore unspecial. But I was determined to come up with a few shots that would hopefully stand apart from the masses. The following are a few methods I tried help steer clear of cliches.

Create a disconnect between subject and background

My first-time shoot at this iconic (and dangerously cliched) locale - Bandra Fort. There are three things I identified, which I wanted to avoid - to separate this shoot from the usual fare one sees when looking at pictures taken here. I wanted to get close, shoot in black and white, and shoot different perspectives and locations on-site.

The image above was the first test. I wanted the iconic Bandra-Worli Sea Link in the background; I wanted to avoid the typical posed person standing with their backs to the wall and staring rather tourist-like into the camera. Secondly, I wanted to infuse a disconnect between subjects, between person and object. I wanted two separate portraits in one. What ties the two together are the parallel lines, arm and bridge flowing in the same directions.

Shoot the lesser known part of the popular site

Building on the idea of creating a disconnect between subject and background, I decided to "take the Mumbai" out of my image. Shooting a different section of the bridge, like in the above image, removes the notable features of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. This now could be any bridge in the world. If you're going for that kind of effect, it's extremely helpful in avoiding the typical cliched shots that everyone sees.

Shoot on the perimeter (perimeter of action)

I've written about this method previously in my post "Making Sense Of Chaos: One Method For Street Photography". Essentially, this involves a little bit of exploring off the beaten path. In this case (above image), there are a few abandoned buildings not far from Bandra Fort. Most people don't see this place because you must access a nearby slum to find these structures.

While this isn't considered shooting the actual site, per se, it does provide more diversity in a photo shoot without having to pack up and go somewhere else. Instead, move away from the popular site (Sea Link) and explore the areas immediately on the perimeter. Usually, there's something interesting to shoot against as a background. This method is extremely helpful when there's only one wardrobe for the model, when providing more diverse backgrounds is beneficial in helping create images which don't look the same.

There seems to be some interest expressed by a few readers in my audience about this subject as it relates to portraiture. I'll be writing more about locations and portraiture in the near future. Stay tuned.

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