Top tips for getting off the beaten track to photograph lesser-visited ice caves, deserts, islands and salt flats
What are the world’s best hidden gems for photographers? We see the same destinations time and again on social media, but a new study by Passport-photo.online reveals which of 120 photography paradises are the least popular. Ranked according to the average monthly Google searches they receive, it’s a de facto hit-list of how to get off the beaten track. Here are the top 10 places for photographers who want to avoid the cliches and go shoot somewhere few others venture…
1 Stairway to Nothingness, Austria
With just 150 searches on Google each month Austria’s ‘Stairway to Nothingness’ is the world’s best kept photography secret, according to the study. The stairway itself consists of 14 narrow steps to take you to a glass platform overlooking the Dachstein Glacier ski resort 400m below. It connects to a suspension bridge that’s equally as vertiginous. It’s an incredibly photogenic area, with Dachstein Glacier a truly stunning location that gives you endless snow-capped panoramas across the Austrian Alps.
2 Beenkeragh Mountain, Ireland
A mere 400 people each month search Google for information on Beenkeragh, a mountain in the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks range in County Kerry. The real reason to visit this, the second-highest peak in Ireland, is to capture the narrow rocky ridge that leads to Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain. Expect epic views of the surrounding mountains and lakes, though you’ll need a good hiking-style camera backpack for this one.
3 Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Covering 10,582 sq km, this largest salt flat in the world is an iconic place among landscape photographers, few make the trip because of its remote location. The best way to explore it is by renting a car for taking a trip where you get to call the shots – literally – which will ensure you have plenty of time. Isla Incahuasi is an interesting place in the middle of the massive expanse of salt, though it’s the expanse of nothing – and the geometry shapes on the white floor – that look so mesmerising in photos. So vast and white is the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia that NASA uses it to calibrate its satellites.
4 Vatnajökull ice cave, Iceland
You've probably seen the crystal caves of Iceland in photographs, but they are rather tricky to get to, which explains why they are on this list. Found inside Vatnajokull, Europe’s largest glacier, these dreamy blue ice caves are seasonal, so can only be visited between November and March. The best way to visit them is on an organised trip, which will take into account safety considerations. However, trips often get cancelled due to flooding, especially in November and March.
5 Waitomo glow worm cave, New Zealand
Waitomo is a must on any visit to New Zealand’s North Island. It’s famous for its resident population of Arachnocampa luminosa, a unique species of glow worms that live in dark, damp conditions. Although a fun way to see the caves and the glowworms is on a black water rafting tour (which involves floating down a river in an old tyre inner tube), photographers should take the traditional tour that goes down tripod-friendly concrete pathways. You’ll need a tripod and a camera capable of high ISO (ISO 6400+) and a fast lens (f2.8). It’s best to shoot the glowworms somewhere with a tiny bit of natural light to illuminate the caves just slightly.
6 The Lofoten Islands, Norway
Getting only 450 searches on Google each month are the Lofoten Islands, an archipelago of seven main islands in northern Norway. As with anywhere as far north it’s known mostly by photographers as a place to go to shoot the northern lights. If you want to do that then visit sometimes between September and March in the 10 nights before a New Moon, when the nights are long and dark. Its fjords, mountains and characteristic red and orange buildings make for stunning foregrounds in both landscape compositions and astrophotography.
7 Stockholm Underground, Sweden
Train photography has always been popular, but for some reason the Stockholm Underground doesn't often come into focus on social media. That's despite it being known as the world’s largest art gallery. Most of its 100 stations have some kind of art installation, ranging from painted rainbow archways and lighting installations to incredible mosaics and beautiful sculptures. It's exceptionally colourful and always unexpected as you alight from the train. It’s all the work of about 150 artists, and some of the work has been there since the 1950s. There are no restrictions on taking photos down here – all you need is a ticket to ride.
8 Valensole Plateau, France
You’ve probably seen photos of the lavender fields on the Plateau de Valensole in France’s Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, but have you ever been there? Judging by its paltry 600 Google searches each month, probably not. However, if you want to make use of its beautiful colours and leading lines you’ll need to get here in June or July, which is when you can witness the lavender in full bloom. You'll get the best light about 6 p.m. though it pays to carefully scout locations in advance.
9 The Rockies, Canada
At 800 searches per month we’re now hitting some areas that many landscape photographers will know. After all, who hasn’t seen images of the turquoise lakes and snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies? Now it’s your turn. Located between British Columbia and Alberta provinces, awe-inspiring landscapes of the Canadian Rockies. Key locations include Banff National Park – where you’ll find Lake Louise, Moraine Lake and Bow Lake –Jasper National Park's Dark Sky Preserve and the epic Columbia Glacier.
10 Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia
Namibia's Namib-Naukluft National Park is a vast area of desert featuring some of the highest sand dunes in the world. Perhaps the easiest place to see and photograph them is Sossusvlei, where the immense Dune 45 attracts early morning hikers wanting to reach the summit. However, the canny photographer drives right past all that to get some alone time at Dead Vlei, a white clay pan dotted with dark brown (and dead) camel thorn trees. Namib-Naukluft National Park gets 1,100 Google searches worldwide each month.