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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.