Photographing Landmarks and Famous Places Using Your Digital SLR - dummies

Photographing Landmarks and Famous Places Using Your Digital SLR

By Doug Sahlin

Many famous places have been photographed by famous photographers, so before you take your digital SLR in hand to take pictures of a landmark or other often-photographed site, take some time to look at what other photographers have done. Keep those images in your mind’s eye, then add a pinch of your own creativity to get some great pictures.

Camera settings for photographing landmarks

Landmarks and other famous sites are usually outdoors. Use the settings in this list for best results with your digital SLR:

  • Metering Mode: Evaluative

  • Drive Mode: Single Shot

  • Shooting Mode: Aperture Priority

  • Aperture: f/11 to f/16

  • ISO Setting: 100 to 400; 1000 if you’re photographing at night. When you increase the ISO setting, switch to a smaller aperture to increase the amount of light reaching the sensor and to give you a shutter speed that enables you to hand-hold the camera

  • Focus Mode: Single Shot

  • Auto-Focus Point: Single auto-focus point for buildings; Multiple auto-focus points for scenic shots so that the camera can find areas of contrast

  • Focal length: 28mm for a wide scene; 50mm for a tighter view; 85mm for a close-up of a building

  • Image Stabilization: On

Taking pictures of famous places

Walk around the area and find the vantage point you want. By all means, take photos from vantage points recognizable from well-known photographs, but then try to find a view all your own. Think about altering your elevation. You can crouch down and look up at a famous building, climb a nearby hill, or take advantage of steps or a parking garage. If you’re photographing a place such as San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, you have a wide range of possibilities:

[Credit: Corbis Digital Stock]
Credit: Corbis Digital Stock

Capture more of the place than you really need to so that when you print your images, you can crop to different sizes without losing important details. (The standard aspect ratio of a digital SLR is wider than the popular 8-x-10-inch print format.) If you don’t leave a little extra room, you lose details when you crop to the desired size.

Picture-taking tips:

  • If you’re photographing a building that’s taller than it is long, flip the camera 90 degrees to take the picture.

  • Don’t place the building smack dab in the middle of the picture. Move it to a power point according to the Rule of Thirds.

  • Photographing from the back of a famous landmark or building can provide a unique shot.

  • Find details to tell a story about the landmark. A small animal in a famous park or a bouquet left at a war memorial provides interest and perspective.

    [Credit: PhotoDisc, Inc./Getty Images]
    Credit: PhotoDisc, Inc./Getty Images

Troubleshooting tips:

  • The image is blurry. Probably caused by a shutter speed that’s too slow for you to hand-hold the camera. If your camera or lens has the image stabilization feature, enable it and retake the picture, making sure the shutter speed is at least 1/15 of a second when you use a focal length of 28mm or 1/30 of a second when you use a focal length of 50mm. If you don’t have image stabilization, use a slightly larger aperture that gives you a shutter speed of 1/30 of a second with a 28mm focal length or 1/50 of a second with a 50mm focal length. Alternatively, you can stay with the low ISO setting and mount your camera on a tripod.

  • The sky is boringly cloudless. A pale blue sky becomes a deep blue with the aid of a polarizing filter. A filter-darkened sky can provide contrast to a pale building:


  • The building looks like it’s falling over. This happens when you’re too close to the building and you tilt the camera up to get everything in the frame. The solution is to back up until you can hold the camera level to the ground and see the whole building in the viewfinder.