#1152. Avoiding the Deja Vu Trap in Hotspot Photography

By Werner Mäder | How-To

Nov 15

Photographing hotspots is becoming increasingly difficult for me. Snow-covered mountains in the golden morning light, landscapes with a full moon, endless expanses in Iceland, gondolas in Venice, temples in Thailand, Saddhus in India or fog over Tuscany – no matter how dreamlike they may be – I can hardly hold on to anymore. At the latest when editing the pictures at home, you realise that the same subject can already be found a thousand times over on Instagram.


However, this development also has its good sides, because it encourages creativity if you want to continue taking photos in much-visited places. There are hardly any less visited places – apart from the undestinations at DearSusan of course.


Perhaps landscape photography is at a similar point today as painting was at the advent of photography. Suddenly it was possible to realise at the push of a button what a painter had painstakingly brought to the canvas: to depict the landscape. I am convinced that the modern tendencies in painting – from pointillism to complete abstraction – are closely related to the ever-improving ability of photographic technology and photographers to depict the landscape. Painters were challenged to creatively look at and depict the world in new ways.


So how can the deja vue trap be avoided? I have decided to separate two things. The photos I take just so I don’t miss a hot-spot, I take with my iPhone – and sometimes even when I don’t have a “real” camera with me.


Photos, in contrast I take with my high-resolution camera. Photography I understand as a process of looking, of searching for special motifs, of capturing atmosphere and searching for a perfect image composition. I take my time for this. I leave out pictures that I expect to be multiplied x-fold on Instagram and Facebook. What is important to me then are moods, patterns, structures, light and shadow; with good look it might even get lost in the abstract and not always possible to locate any longer – and yet many people who look at these pictures are able to guess or at least anticipate the place where they were created.


One more ideal “training ground” for this creative challenge was my trip to Venice this spring. Already at home, I made up my mind: no gondolas, no idyllic pictures of the old town, no typical pictures of the Grand Canal, the Bridge of Sighs or the Rialto, no St. Mark’s Tower and no imposing historical buildings. Special and very perspectives only!


Did I succeed? I’m happy to leave it up to DearSusan readers to decide whether or not and whether you can still recognise the truly dreamlike atmosphere of Venice in the pictures.


I recently had a similar experience in Iceland. But I am still in the process of editing the pictures.


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  • Dallas says:

    Werner, love your images and words. The last image is a cracker, can’t wait to see Iceland Images and story, thanks for sharing.

  • Jean-Luc S. says:

    I totally share this photographic philosophy. I buy nice postal card sometimes when weather or light are not good enough when on déjà vue spots. Great pictures Werner.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Werner, for me the “trap” is in “imitation”. Pastiche – plagiarism.

    It’s an unfortunate truth that there are simply too many humans – too many cameras – and, pre-COVID, too many of both, flying around, all over the world, only to land up at the same pace and take the same photo.

    Until the 1960s, only a relatively small number moved around the world, much. Travel was expensive and time consuming. Most photography was black & white. Then Kodak launched its colour slides and Boeing launched its 747s, and the world changed forever. If you try to photograph the Eiffel Tower from Place Trocadero, you have to physically fight, to secure a front-row position at the railings at the edge of the square, even to take the identical shot. Not “imitation”, so much as lack of any meaningful alternatives.

    Unless of course you go somewhere completely different and shoot something nobody else has thought of. Bon chance! Or shoot something “they” have shot endlessly, but think outside the square and do it in a manner that is fundamentally different from anything any of them has ever tried.

    It is of course possible. But it will generally take a lot more time, planning and effort.

    And when you get home, and show your images to your friends and family, they will most likely say to you – but where is your photo of the Eiffel Tower? – or if you went to Venice, your shot of the Rialto Bridge?

    Thanks for sharing these images with us. While they may not satisfy the thirst for “more of the same” that you get from some audiences, they are more powerful, more compelling, “Because” they reflect the time and effort, the planning and the thought, that has gone into the creation of these pictures.

  • Michelle says:

    great work! i have never been to venice but i’ve sure seen a lot of photos of it. these are nothing like the standards, and give me a real sense of place. looking forward to seeing iceland!

    • Werner says:

      You should go to Venice once. It is a phantastic city. But go off-season.
      And thanks for your kind compliments.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        I went during winter – there are still sunny days – but mostly only the locals, not very many tourists at all.
        Then later, I went in spring – the hordes don’t turn up that early, the generally come in summer – and I was pleasantly surprised. Enough tourists to have no problems including them, but not so many that you wished you were elsewhere.
        And I think we DO have to accept & deal with the fact that tourists ARE part of the face of places like Venice – and HAVE been, for centuries.

  • Jeff Kott says:

    Fantastic post and photos – thanks for sharing and looking forward to seeing your Iceland photos.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Thanks for your wonderful post, Werner! You have definitely proven that it’s not necessary nor desirable to take only iconic images of a well known destination. The finer details and more intimate landscapes are what catches my eye, so I really appreciate your efforts. Each evocative photo lets us know in a more subtle way just where you were when creativity struck.

  • Philberphoto says:

    Werner, I don’t know whether to be more grateful, more appreciative, or more jealous….. Outstanding work, I say! And, by the way, we have a term for your art at DearSusan. We call them unpostcards…:-)

    • Werner says:

      There is no need to be jealous from what I have seen of your work in the past. I was always impressed by your pictures and series on DearSusan. But many thanks for being grateful and appreciative. And: I like the term “unpostcard” also in the context of undestinations.

  • Tony Vidler says:

    These are really great pictures – having lived and worked in Venice on and off since I was a student and photographed almost every work of architecture, I really admire your ability to frame the un-obvious, and especially the incredible depth of the evening pictures — reminds me of John Singer Sergeant who was so irritated with the “Caneletto” syndrome that his paintings are almost black with flashes of light on the faces.
    Thank you!
    Tony Vidler

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