Certain iconic spots are a must-shoot for any travel photographer. However, these popular places tend to get crowded, and it can be difficult to photograph without capturing people in them.
Although being able to take people free pictures of such locations may seem impossible, there are a few things you can try to make it work.
Avoiding the crowds in your images only requires a bit of research and planning. Here are some tips to help you take tourist-free travel photos in popular photography locations.
1. Stay Close to What You Are Shooting
One of the easiest ways to avoid crowds in a popular location is to get there before anyone else. It won’t be easy to beat the crowds if you are on a long commute. This is more problematic in places where traffic can keep you on the road for hours.
Staying at the heart of the action also means you don’t have to get up extra early if you intend to shoot sunrise. You’ll also enjoy the benefit of spending less money on transport.
So, whenever you plan to photograph iconic locations, it helps to stay close by.
You will be happy to spend less time traveling, more time sleeping, and save money while managing to get to the location well before everyone else.
2. Shoot Sunrise
Tourists don’t usually arrive at locations during sunrise, which presents a fantastic opportunity to beat the crowds.
You can have an otherwise crowded location all to yourself by being there before the sun is up.
Another perk of getting to a location before sunrise is that it enables you to capture your composition with different ambient lighting.
For instance, you could create some phenomenal photos under the cool, blue light present while the sun is below the horizon.
Once the sun rises, this bluish glow turns to a soft golden tint, ideal for taking photographs. The ambient light present at this time can make even the dullest scenes look amazing.
Waking up early offers many benefits. You’ll have enough time to shoot before the place starts buzzing with the initial group of tourists. Plus you get to take pictures during the best lighting conditions.
So, get your warm clothes on, jump out into the cold morning, and get shooting.
3. Be There Right When the Gate Opens
Places such as Petra, Machu Picchu, and Taj Mahal are exceptionally popular among photographers and tourists.
One thing they have in common is that they’re gated. For such places, it helps to be there right when they open.
Arriving early may not necessarily mean that you’ll have the place to yourself. But there will be fewer people when you get there.
Plus, the crowd during this time will only be moving in one direction. Moving in the same direction as everyone else gives you a chance to ask those around you to stop and let you take a shot or two.
This is not a privilege you can enjoy in an already busy place. Traffic will be moving in all directions, and you won’t be able to get a shot without a person in the frame.
It helps to research each of the gated places that you wish to photograph beforehand. Find out the exact time they open to give yourself the best chance of avoiding the crowds.
4. Stay Out Late for the Blue Hour
Like sunrise, sunset creates some of the best quality of light for photography. Unlike early morning, however, the crowds are likely to still be around at this time. So, you may want to stay out late into the blue hour.
The blue hour is the time when the sun has just disappeared into the horizon. Around this time, tourists tend to head back to their hotel rooms, and few remain behind.
Other than being able to avoid the crowds, there are other advantages of shooting at this time of day.
During the blue hour, the sky takes on a dim blue shade, which can infuse drama and mystery into your compositions.
The ambiance during this time can be excellent for photography, especially if you’re photographing architecture.
The bright street lamps, glowing windows, and car headlights all work to make places that seem lifeless during the day come alive at night.
Staying past sunset will not only allow you to photograph without having to worry about people, but also provide you with a great environment to take compelling images.
5. Shoot at Night
Another way to avoid the crowd at popular photo spots is to visit them at night. Tourists rarely explore at night, which means you can take your photos with ease.
Shooting at night also allows you to capture a different side of iconic locations. This unique perspective will give your viewers a chance to experience a familiar subject in new ways.
Further, during this time, much of the details within your scene will disappear into the shadows. This effect can often provide you with a moody and evocative setting for your compositions.
Shooting at night is a great way to create engaging images. Just ensure you bring a good tripod with you as it will come in handy when shooting in low light conditions.
6. Visit During the Off-Season
One of the best times to visit a popular tourist destination is during the off-season. The low business activity during this time will give you a better chance to get the images you want without people in them.
Depending on where you are visiting, the weather during the off-season might be amazing as well.
For instance, you can find great photo opportunities in places like Iceland and Cappadocia during winter.
Other than great photos, you get the added benefit of cheaper services. This is a wonderful bonus since popular tourist spots can be very expensive.
7. Wander Past the Crowds
Tourists often don’t explore popular destinations past obvious areas. Most prefer to remain in designated locations for viewing and photos.
This tendency is an excellent opportunity for you to find tourist-free spots for your compositions.
Go a little farther than most tourists and their guides. Look past what comes naturally to most and scout for new viewpoints.
Try doing a 360-degree coverage of the icon your trying to photograph. Try to find places to photograph from multiple perspectives, whether it be a rooftop, back alley, or rocky hill.
Allowing yourself to wander lets you go where other people are not. This should give you some creative new opportunities to photograph the location.
For instance, instead of spending the sunrise inside famous locations like Taj Mahal, consider photographing it from the outside. You’ll be surprised at how stunning it looks from the view by the lake outside.
So, wherever you are, go out of your way and explore the area. Hunting for little-known perspectives is a great way to get wholly exclusive shots.
8. Zoom In
Another thing you can try to avoid the crowds in your shots is zoom in. For instance, you can frame your composition to include only a small part of the subject you are trying to photograph.
Taking photos this way is not only a great way to remove people from your frame, but is also ideal for creating intriguing images.
Photographing only a section of an iconic subject can make an image more appealing. Having the audience visually complete missing details of an image gives them a chance to engage their imagination.
9. Take Multiple Images
There will be times when none of the recommendations above will work.
For instance, if you are trying to photograph specific events, such as the Cherry Blossom in Japan, or Tulip Festival in the PSNW (Washington/Oregon) going during the off-season will not be a viable option for you.
Or, if you’re at a location known for its beautiful sunrises waking up early to avoid the crowds won’t help much.
In such cases, you might be contemplating leaving without taking your shot. But that’s not the best idea; there’s a better one: blending multiple images.
This involves taking multiple frames from the same position and blending them in Photoshop to remove people.
To do this, you’ll need to use a tripod, as every shot needs to have the same frame or your images won’t blend seamlessly.
There should be an interval between one shot and the other to allow people to move. The idea is to have at least one image with a section without people for each area of the frame.
Once you import the shots to Photoshop, you can create multiple layers and brush in the sections with no people from all the images taken. You can then combine these images after to form one clear image.
This technique is especially helpful in cases where other simpler methods, such as using Photoshop’s clone stamp tool and spot healing brush, wouldn’t work as well. Some good examples are when you’re shooting against an elaborate background or a highly detailed subject.
In such cases, to create an image with all the important details, this technique might be your best option.
10. Visit the Same Location More Than Once
If possible, try to visit a location more than once. This will help you get the best out of all the tips mentioned above.
For instance, arriving early may not be as useful if you need to spend a lot of time scouting for a good composition. It’s possible that by the time you find one, people will have already arrived.
Although it’s possible to get the perfect shot the first time you visit a location, such ideal cases are rare and isolated. Most of the time, you’ll only get better outcomes if you visit a place at least twice.
Returning to the same location allows you to use the knowledge acquired from your first visit to create better images.
Crowds shouldn’t deter you from taking images in locations you want. With a bit of research and planning, you can capture great travel photos, even in popular photography locations.
With this guide, you will be able to photograph any popular destination without being frustrated by people getting in your way.