We have all been someplace where we come across something and say to ourselves something like "Hey, it's that thing, I should take a picture of it." Most likely, when you took the shot, you took pretty much the same shot that everyone else has done before. This applies whether you went there intentionally to photograph this thing, or if you just stumbled across it and thought it would be cool to have a picture of it on your wall.
If you've ever been to Bodie State Historic Park, or seen pictures of the town, you've probably seen a shot very much like the one below. Some of the pictures you may have seen of this vault may be oriented differently, they may include the plaques on either side of the vault, or were taken on a day with better weather. But the one thing most of them have in common is that they were taken at eye level and almost straight in front of the vault. Doing this doesn't necessarily make for a bad shot, it just makes it the one everyone takes.
There is nothing wrong with taking the shot everyone else takes. There could be many reasons for this. Depending on the location and subject the choices for angles may be limited, the lighting or time of day may make it difficult to do something different due to shadows or glare, maybe you didn't bring the right equipment (a different lens than what you need, a tripod for better stability, or a selfie stick for a higher perspective), or it could be that the shot everyone takes just happens to be the best, or only, shot for that particular subject.
If all you can get is the shot that everyone else has taken, it may come down to editing to get the shot to stand out from the crowd. For this particular shot I made some adjustments in Adobe Lightroom to add contrast to the brick work, adjusted the colors to bring out the reds and mute the yellows, I lightened the vault door and added a little color to give it more of a rusted look, and I increased the clarity to add some drama to the sky and ground. The shot looks better, however, it really isn't much different than the shot everyone takes.
In a way, I like to think of the shot that everyone takes as a good starting point. It is the safe bet and if it weren't at least decent shot it wouldn't be the shot that everyone takes. Another reason I take the shot everyone else takes is that I figure at the very least I'll end up with a nice photo to hang on my office wall or use as part of my computer's photo screen saver.
In addition to taking the shot that everyone else takes, I try to think about what I could do differently. One of the first things that usually comes to mind is to try to find a different perspective on the subject. In this case, I took a couple steps to the right and got as low as I could without being obstructed too much by a stone structure hosting a plaque. If I remember correctly I wanted to get in front of the stone structure, but the lens I brought with me that day didn't allow me to get closer and get the entire vault in the shot.
I have to admit that when I first looked at this shot I didn't know how I felt about it. The shot wasn't what I expected it to be. I really wished that I could have gotten closer to the vault and not had the stone in the lower-right corner. Because of this, I was leaning toward not liking it, and almost deleted it. However, since I don't like deleting files, and there was a little voice in the back of my head saying it might be worth playing with it a little, I decided to apply the adjustments from the first angle just to see how it comes out.
After applying the adjustments, I wound up liking this angle more than the first angle.
- David L Hays Jr
PS: A few months after I took these pictures there were a series of earthquakes centered near Hawthorn, NV (~12 miles away from Bodie). The earthquakes did some damage to a few of the buildings, including the vault. The next time I visited the park, the bottom right corner of the vault was propped up with pressure-treated lumber to help stabilize the structure. The stabilization efforts mean that the vault will be around for a while longer, however, it also means that taking a picture of the vault straight-on will now include the lumber reinforcement.
If you would like to make a donation to help with stabilization projects and earthquake repairs, you can do so at the Bodie Foundation's web page.