Iconic Subjects – Common Photo Themes


It is said that there are places in Yosemite National Park where you can find indentations from the feet of tripods set up to capture photos from the exact same vantage point as photos created by Ansel Adams.  We all know that’s an exaggeration, but it does have some truth to it:  Photographers of all skill levels cannot help but to mimic the works of great photographers like Adams.  But the goal is not entirely to mimic the works of others, it’s the subject matter that is really the draw.  These subjects are iconic for one simple reason:  They’re awe inspiring and beautiful.  So this month, we wanted to honor some great photos featuring iconic subjects.

A Cold Winter Day! by Dante Fratto

"A Cold Winter Day" by Dante Fratto

“A Cold Winter Day” by Dante Fratto

There are two icons in this photograph, A Cold Winter Day, by Dante Fratto.  In the foreground is the Fairmount Waterworks, a historical structure that is not only beautiful, but it was at one time an essential aspect of Philadelphia’s water supply.  In the background is the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  In Philadelphia – home to so many recognizable buildings – these two buildings are at the top of the list.  You could capture this building from any number of locations and all would have great potential.  But this is a pretty unusual angle.  From this vantage point, you can’t see much of the city behind the museum.  You might as well be in the country.  So this is a fresh view of an otherwise iconic subject.

Sunrise by Aaron Waterman

"Sunrise" by Aaron Waterman

“Sunrise” by Aaron Waterman

Joshua Tree National Park is iconic because of its unusual flora.  The park is named after these trees, which Aaron Waterman captured in silhouette at Sunrise. The trees in this park are recognizable all over the world and it only grows in a handful of places.  Maybe these trees are iconic in pop-culture because the Joshua Tree was emblazoned on the album jacket of a U2 album by the same name.  But I think the thousands of photos of these unique trees are known well enough without the efforts of the band.  Their form is even recognizable in complete silhouette at sunrise.  This is a fantastic way to capture these trees as well.

London Eye by Sylvie van Nerum

"London Eye" by Sylvie van Nerum

“London Eye” by Sylvie van Nerum

I read somewhere that the London Eye was intended as a temporary installation when it was constructed.  But it has since become one of the most visited landmarks in London and now remains as a permanent exhibit.  Sylvie van Nerum‘s portrayal of the London Eye seems to illustrate that story perfectly.  It was intended to provide unique views of the other iconic landmarks in the classic city.  But it has now become it’s own icon.  Sylvie captured it standing alone without any discernible iconic neighbor in this photograph.   I think the Eye deserves such respect.  And Sylvie’s composition delivers that.

Yosemite Falls by Shobha Srinivasan

"Yosemite Falls" by Shobha Srinivasan

“Yosemite Falls” by Shobha Srinivasan

There is nothing more iconic in the American Landscape than Yosemite National Park.  Within the park, there are so many icons:  Half Dome, El Capitan, Valley View, Horsetail Falls…the list goes on.  And, of course, there is also Yosemite Falls.  Of all the natural waterfalls on the planet, Yosemite Falls is possibly photographed more than any of them, even the great Niagra Falls.  And so it’s only fitting that we end with this photograph of Yosemite Falls by photographer Shobha Srinivasan.  Her approach to the subject is classic with black & white.  I like that she has given us more context than we’re using to seeing of this icon.  Rarely will you see a shot showing the valley floor, which really gives you a sense of the scale of those cliffs.  Those are not small trees, but compared to the trees at the top of the cliff, you really see how far away that edge is.  This is scale and context that is necessary in understanding such a subject.  Shobha’s photograph should be a reminder that icon status shouldn’t intimidate you or prevent you from taking the photo.  You simply need to create a different context.


About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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