Cliché Travel Photos: What They Tell Us about Ourselves

Candice Gaukel Andrews February 6, 2014 21

I think cliché travel photos might be highly underrated; making it look like a fountain is squirting out of your mouth may just mean you have a fondness for Old World cities. ©Julia, flickr

Earlier this week, we discussed the challenge of going on a photo tour, especially if you’re not a professional photographer. But now, I’d like to visit the flip side of that travel issue: visiting popular places and taking the easiest, most predictable shot possible.

Today, it seems that for every popular and iconic landmark or must-see destination anywhere in the world, there is a corresponding must-take photo. And given the ubiquity of social media, that means that we spend a lot of time documenting our lives and our travels. What better way to prove that we are having a great time than by striking the now-practically-mandatory pose for each well-known spot on the map that we travel to?

According to those who study such things, here are some of the most cliché travel photos that we take:

1. Positioning yourself in proper perspective so that it looks like you’re kissing the Great Sphinx of Giza.

Tourists love to take forced perspective photos with Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa. ©Tammy Lo, flickr

2. Walking like an Egyptian next to the pyramids in Egypt.

3. Stationing yourself so it looks like you’re holding up or pushing against the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

4. Making it seem as if you’re pinching the top of the Taj Mahal in India (or the Eiffel Tower in France or the Washington Monument—take your pick).

5. Posing like the Statue of Liberty in New York under the real Statue of Liberty, while wearing one of those pointy-star, foam hats (or posing like any statue anywhere).

6. Walking across Abbey Road in England, à la the Beatles as shown on the cover of their album of the same name.

7. Standing next to a royal guard at Buckingham Palace, making a funny face while the guard remains stern and focused.

8. Striking a Rocky pose next to the Rocky Balboa statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and striking the same pose at the top of the museum’s “Rocky Steps.”

9. Mimicking the stance of  “Christ the Redeemer” before the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil.

10. Any selfie, anywhere.

My hiking boots have enjoyed many spectacular views, such as this one in New Zealand. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

The selfie itself is a relatively new concept in cliché travel photos. It’s defined as the point at which travelers reject other people’s kind offers to take photos of them in favor of capturing the shots awkwardly themselves, by holding an iPhone out in front of their faces. Some claim it has brought into being a whole new realm of unoriginality, since it seems to make the case that you haven’t seen something famous or worthy unless you’ve taken a photo of yourself in front of it.

I think cliché travel photos might be highly underrated, however. It seems to me that their value lies in what they tell us about ourselves and what’s important to us. Posing so that it looks like a Parisian fountain is squirting out of your mouth may mean you’re a romantic with a fondness for Old World cities. Or if you have shots of yourself holding up a series of shed elk, moose or deer antlers next to your own head, it could be that you’re a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys nature travels.

I have my own brand of cliché selfie: I take photos of my feet in my hiking boots wherever I go. I’ve had the same hiking boots for about a decade now, so I have pictures of this particular footwear treading on various terrains all over the world. When I started taking these types of photos, I don’t know what I thought I would eventually do with all of them. I’m glad I could use one of them here.

Have you ever indulged in a cliché travel photo? If so, where was it, and what were you doing in it? Was it just a momentary joke, or has it become a treasured memory?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,



  1. Mary Ann February 13, 2014 at 5:34 am - Reply

    Interesting to read about the ‘boot pics’. I have been taking pictures of my feet on top of or in front of famous landmarks for years. My favorite is the one I snapped of my feet on top of the Great Wall of China (the actual wall and not the redone ‘Hollywood’ part of the wall). Definitely nice to hear that I am not the only one who lays down in random places so I can snap a picture of my feet in front of something I find intriguing.

  2. Susan Jones February 12, 2014 at 4:34 pm - Reply

    I have a toy meerkat who I take on all my travels. He recently came to Malta with me and I took numerous photos of him around the islands, including in a canon at the Valletta Saluting Gallery, riding on Popeye’s boat in Anchor Bay and at the Azure Window on Gozo. We also travel around the UK, and he will be attending my best friends hen do in Dundee in a few weeks, as well as probably crashing her wedding a few weeks later!

  3. Allen Boothby February 12, 2014 at 12:51 pm - Reply

    Great idea. Thank you. My boots have seen some of this planet. Pyramids, William Wallace Statue, Masada, Wailing Wall; Hiroshima, Red Sea, Dead Sea, Pisa Tower, Mona Lisa. Today: Germanna Ford. One of the best was an old Kurdish man pointing to a bridge in the mountains of N. Iraq (Kurdistan!) and explaining that it was built during the 3d Crusade.

    The thing about cliche, in my mind, is that the current logic in taking the photo (See:Selfie) to show where one was…greatly questions where one has really been….

    The boots…know.

  4. Hal Balbach February 10, 2014 at 7:55 am - Reply

    No, I can honestly say that I have never indulged in that kind of abuse of reality.

    MY personal definition of cliche goes more like this: My wife in front of the Grand Caynon. My children standing in front of (name any landmark). Our group blocking the camera’s view of the scenery.

    I have not been able to resist occasionally doing this…I think we do it to “prove” that we were really there in person, but I can resist 95+ percent of the time.

  5. Victoria Marie Lees February 10, 2014 at 6:15 am - Reply

    Camping with five kids all over the country, I’m sure I’ve indulged in many cliché photo opportunities, but the one that comes to mind right off is our photo op in the “valley of the giants” I call it when we visited California and the mighty redwoods. You can see a copy of the photo on my Camping with Kids blog here:

    I enjoy reading your site.

  6. Dhona Lovick February 9, 2014 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    Ten year old boots, you must share your secret….that’s durable!

  7. Lewis Moncrieff February 9, 2014 at 10:01 am - Reply

    We need to accept that we are not the most important species on the planet.

  8. Heather Hansen February 9, 2014 at 7:31 am - Reply

    To me it depends somewhat upon the spirit in which the shot was taken. Is it candid, silly moment that helps solidify your memory of that place? Or is it a box to be checked off (which puts you more in mind of your to-do list than the place you’re in)? Whichever it is, though, I won’t judge. I spent about 10 minutes recently convincing a friend to “prop up” a rock formation in Arches NP with her index finger. It’s one of my favorite photos ever. It brings me back to the warmth of the sun, the excitement of exploration, the ensuing laughter.

  9. Gus Gatti February 8, 2014 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    Taking pictures of our trekking boots with incredible natural landscape background is my family’s speciality too (my wife, daughter and myself)!! And I thought we were being original!!! hehe

  10. Larry Ehemann February 8, 2014 at 9:08 am - Reply

    James please feel free to check out my photos on Flickr. My site is Larry121339

  11. James "Jim" O'Donnell February 8, 2014 at 9:07 am - Reply

    Larry, I think you should share those with us!

  12. Larry Ehemann February 8, 2014 at 9:07 am - Reply

    I actually enjoy taking the cliche photos during my travels. and at my age(74) it is perfectly okay. Once past 50 it is acceptable to do unusual and at time outrageous thing.

  13. Clint Cleveland February 7, 2014 at 9:29 pm - Reply

    I have dozens of airplane window pictures looking out over the wing. It’s essentially the same photo taken at all times of day, over different terrain. I love them, for some reason.

    I’ve never indulged in the Eiffel Tower-as-hat photos, but I love the feeling of taking a photo that has been taken a thousand times before. When I go to some famous cathedral or national park, there’s always a tiny note of surprise and resentment when I find the place full of tourists — as if I’m the only person who ever thought to visit the Louvre.
    Taking that absolutely predictable photo diffuses that moment of ego and helps me realize the kinship that I have with every other person who has come to see this marvelous thing.

  14. Dr Lewis moncrieff February 7, 2014 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    Your boot at least shows the scale of the photograph.
    Why has mankind always to impose his/her imprint on planet Earth.

  15. Neil Colton February 7, 2014 at 9:21 am - Reply

    As one of my most successful photographer friends says ‘Cheese keeps the lights on’.

  16. Candice Gaukel Andrews February 7, 2014 at 9:16 am - Reply

    Well, James, developing your own cliché travel photo couldn’t hurt! Good luck! — C. G. A.

  17. Candice Gaukel Andrews February 7, 2014 at 9:15 am - Reply


    I’m from Wisconsin — there’s nothing wrong with “cheesy”! — C. G. A.

  18. James "Jim" O'Donnell February 7, 2014 at 9:13 am - Reply

    I dont think I’ve developed my own cliche travel photo yet…..maybe I need one.

  19. Neil Colton February 7, 2014 at 9:06 am - Reply

    When I was at a workshop in Maine a few years ago, studying architectural photography I started snapping shots of the local scene in Camden and along the Maine coast. When my friends in the class saw them, they screamed ‘cheese’ as in short for ‘cheesy’.

    So much for the opinion of ‘serious photographers’.

  20. Christine Dempsey February 6, 2014 at 4:52 pm - Reply

    Now I want to collect each of these pictures on this list! Don’t forget the “planking” anywhere unique/unusual.

  21. Phillip Tureck - FRGS February 6, 2014 at 10:37 am - Reply

    You chose another good discussion Candice. I have not thought about this in the way you have but might now think of it on my next trip (Parts of Peru and Chilean National Park – Lauca)

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