How to Photograph Busy Tourist Sites

How to Photograph Busy Tourist Sites

Unfortunately, photographing busy tourist hot spots means encountering many tourists who can, unknowingly, ruin your shot by wandering into your carefully constructed composition. Therefore, instead of trying to avoid them, we need to work harder and think more creatively to get those great photos.

Get up early

KD-2012-1.jpg

One of the best times to photograph busy places is early morning before the tourists have arrived. Not only will the light be softer and enhance your image, but the majority of the time you’ll have the place to yourself. The image above was taken at sunrise from a beach in Koh Tao, in Thailand, which is normally busy with sunbathers, people in the water and long tail boats going back and forth.

Include the tourists

KD-2012-2.jpg

Even setting up at dawn can’t guarantee you a tourist free shot, however, including people in your images can give the final photograph a different dimension or enhance your final image. The image above from a flower park in Dalat, Vietnam, would have been pretty uninteresting without the people in the shot, so even though I could have waited to take the picture without them, I felt that they actually improved the composition.

Compose carefully

KD-2012-3.jpg

KD-2012-4.jpg

Sometimes all it takes to get rid of the tourists in your shot is to compose the image in a way to crop them out later. The first image above shows how busy this waterfall normally is during the day. But by getting close to the water I was able to compose the photograph in a way that I could crop out everyone from the shot. I simply set up my tripod as close as possible to the water and just moved the head until I had a pleasing composition without anyone in it.

Take your time

KD-2012-5.jpg

It always surprises me when I see people get to a location, take a few photos and then leave. Even in the most touristy places there are always a few minutes that you get a break from the flow of people walking or moving. These might just be a few minutes in an hour, but to capture that moment you have to be willing to wait for it. The above image is taken on the Millennium Bridge in London, usually full of commuters and tourists, but after waiting for around one hour, I suddenly had a few minutes of quiet which allowed me to capture the shot above.

Think creatively

KD-2012-6.jpg

The shot above is from Haggia Sofia in Istanbul which is one of the busiest landmarks in the world. I knew that it would be difficult to get a picture avoiding the tourists so I tried to make them part of the image to show the constant activity. I had also seen a lot of other photos of the inside, all shot from eyelevel and up. So to get something different I placed my camera on the floor and placed my flash gun under the lens so that it was pointing up slightly. This meant I could have a slow enough shutter speed to have a little blur to show the movement of the people whilst still keeping the background sharp.

Focus on the details

KD-2012-7.jpg

KD-2012-8.jpg

KD-2012-9.jpg
One thing that most people ignore when photographing famous landmarks is the details of the architecture. The great thing about photographing the closer detail is that you can get really up close which means no one can walk across your view! Whether it’s the carvings on an ancient site, beautiful tiles on a mosque or the arches of a historical building, they all help to create a complete picture of the location you are photographing.

Read more from our category

Kav Dadfar is a professional travel photographer, writer and photo tour leader based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images and Robert Harding World Imagery and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and many others. Kav is also the co-founder of That Wild Idea, a company specializing in photography workshops and tours both in the UK and around the world. Find out more at That Wild Idea.

Some Older Comments

  • Helena from Spain March 17, 2013 07:50 pm

    I'm agree with you. Be Patient.
    I was in Granada, last October and I took a lot of photographies in a middle of hundred of tourists. I have some photos without people. I was quiet, like a cat looking a mouse, with the fingers in the camera and suddenly, in second, there is nobody and Click !!!! Photo is on my pocket !!!! I have a lot of photos, I know that we were a lot of people there, but in my photos, there is nobody.
    Sorry for my bad english !!!!! Kiss from Madrid

  • Rob Bixby March 15, 2013 09:45 pm

    I attended a photo workshop sponsored by National Geographic one time. One of the photographers was Eddie Soloway. He was discussing this subject and he gave us a great tip. When you're shooting a busy/popular tourist location, turn around. In other words, look for something at the location that isn't the same as everyone else is shooting. It's really helped me over the years.

  • Tom March 15, 2013 03:43 am

    Or remove them in post processing. By taking multiple pictures in same location with moving tourists, you should be able to copy/paste between them to get a clean image. It can also be effectively done with the clone feature (with appropriate backgrounds) where it is hardly noticable. May not work with hundreds of tourists at Disneyworld, but I recently toured the Mayan ruins and took about 100 photos with tourists in half of them. After processing I was able to "remove" them in all but a couple photos.

  • Len Abrams March 15, 2013 03:27 am

    I agree with the long exposure route. I photograph buildings - particularly cathedrals. I always use a tripod (the heavier the better), a low ISO and a long exposure - 20 to 30 seconds. Unless tourists are standing still for a considerable time they vanish - you can usually wait a short while until there are only a couple of people about and they are all moving. Sometimes you get 'ghosts' where a vague impression of a moving person can be seen and sometimes this adds to the atmosphere of the shot.

    Here are shots of St Alban's Cathedral, England - [eimg url='http://seasonimages.com/gallery0/church/StAlbans/index.html' title='index.html']

  • Simon March 12, 2013 07:29 am

    @wouter - editing them out is always an option, but no, I'd agree with the article's last paragraph. If there are so many people around that they're hard to keep out of the scene, they're obviously part of the scene. Something like Prague's Charles Bridge would just look unnatural without the masses of people packing it's length in the middle of the day...

  • Jeff E Jensen March 11, 2013 11:14 pm

    These are all great tips. Especially the part about taking your time. Caleb's point is also a good one. Shooting at night or with an ND filter allows for a long exposure and most people will disappear. Here's some recent shots from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, both are busy with tourists any day of the week.

    http://jeffejensen.blogspot.com/2012/12/liberty-and-independence.html

  • Scottc March 11, 2013 10:13 pm

    Get up early is rightfully listed first, the number one way to beat the tourists. This is especially effective with the early sunrises during Summer in Europe.

    Not many have seen the Rialto bridge with no one on it.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5868967498/

  • Wouter March 11, 2013 08:49 pm

    Or remove them afterwards, Here is a great tutorial:

    http://www.discoverdigitalphotography.com/2012/how-to-get-people-or-traffic-free-photos/

  • Simon March 11, 2013 03:42 pm

    "Include the tourists"... yeah, that's the best advice. It's nice to visit places that *aren't* filled with other tourists walking through your shot, but if that's what's in front of you, work with it.

  • Mridula March 11, 2013 03:15 pm

    This is particularly ture of many places in India. Try Taj Mahal :D

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2006/07/taj-mahal-agra-shatabdi-to-shatabdi-one-day-trip.html

  • Karen March 11, 2013 02:35 pm

    I love the image of the bridge and I also enjoy reading your posts as they can be very helpful.

  • Alan Schantz March 11, 2013 10:45 am

    Don't forget long exposures with your camera on a tripod so that people walking through your shot will disappear - those that pause for more than a few seconds will appear as ghosts. I took the attached night shot of the Duke Kahanamoku statue at busy Waikiki Beach using this technique - it looks like on one was there but dozens of people walked through the shot as it was a busy early evening.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/alan_f_schantz/5265556772/

  • Mister Boosh March 11, 2013 10:12 am

    ...Or you could just grab a tripod and an ND-8 filter (for example) then use a super long exposure to get rid of those pesky tourists

  • Eric March 11, 2013 08:52 am

    Another approach is to take a number of "duplicate" images -- then combine them in Photoshop (or similar) to yield a single image without people (unless everybody wants to stand in one place).

  • Steve March 11, 2013 06:31 am

    If you are patient you can often get a shot without faces but still include people which does add to the shot

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Marbella/G0000z5AiXFl5JvI/I0000M6H6Itef7WM/C0000hVl3w00l5Rg

  • Caleb March 11, 2013 03:51 am

    Also if your taking photos at night or even when the lights are dim you can do a nice long exposure, assuming it's allowed at that location. You can stop down and or throw on an ND filter, and people will start to "disappear" from the photo because they are constantly in motion. Even if the crowd becomes blurred rather than disappearing it helps show the busy nature of the scene without being distracted by the details of faces and clothing.