Unless you are a brutal dictator, a head of state, a mafia boss or you sneak in after hours, when visiting iconic places like the Taj Mahal or Great Wall of China or Machu Pichu, you will be sharing it with thousands of other tourists. If you are like me, you’d prefer to get photos without the hordes of people in your shots. You have a couple of options. You can shout at people and tell them to get the $%^& out to the way, call in a bomb threat, or you can follow these strategies that I’ve developed over the years. One could lead to an international incident, the other is more polite. I will let you decide.
1a. Arrive as early as possible
When the alarm goes off at 4am (or earlier) I am usually cussing, grumpy, and wondering what I am doing with my life. But the single most effective way to photograph a busy place is to arrive at dawn, or as soon as the site opens, and beat the tour groups. In Egypt, we were often the first people to buy tickets each morning. At Borobudur, we paid the extra money to arrive at sunrise. In hot climates this helps avoid the heat of the day, and the morning light is often best for photos.
1b. Be there at closing time
Some places, however, are best viewed in the evening. Near closing time is also another peaceful time to visit as the tour buses and crowds are long gone. I got this photo of the Pyramids of Giza at sunset as the guards were shooing us out.
2. Be patient
Someone is standing right in front of the statue you want to photograph? A tour group is blocking your view of the Grand Canyon? You can yell at them to move or be patient. Opt for patience.
Most people take snapshots and move on, or follow mindlesslessly behind a tour leader. Wait and they will move, but be ready to shoot before the next wave of tourists walk by.
3. Use other visitors for a sense of scale
Some places are so massive that they defy logic. Using other visitors (especially if they are locals) in the frame can give a sense of scale to the photograph and make it more impressive.
4. Find hidden corners
I like to seek out quiet corners away from the crowds to not only take pictures, but also to enjoy some peace. Do some advance research to see what options you may have. Sometimes this takes effort, like at Petra where we had to climb up a mountain to the vantage point below.
5. Focus on Details
Taking close-up photos of statues or details in the building can be a great way to exclude the throngs in your shots. Plus, these photos are really appreciated by grandkids, younger siblings and nieces who are forced to sit through your slideshow presentation.
6. Use a very long exposure
At night, it is often possible to use a very long exposure, 30 seconds or more, to blur out all the passers by. I used this technique in the Piazza del Campidoglio (see photo below) to give the scene an empty feel, even though there were people milling around. Avoid this technique where there are superstitious people or religious fanatics – like in Papua, the Congo or a GOP convention – who may regard it as a form of sorcery and stone you to death.
7. Tilt your camera up
Many times, all you have to do is aim above the heads of the tourists to get a great shot, especially if it is a tall building.
8. When all else fails, photograph the maelstrom
If the place is totally overhwelmed with tourists, that may be the most interesting thing going on. Photograph the melee and laugh about it. It must be a special place if so many people want to be there are the same time.
9. Help me finish the Post
Do you have any tips to add, any great insights? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.