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Photographing in Crowded Locations – 5 Tips to Avoid the Masses

Travel photography is certainly one of the most rewarding experiences you, as an image-maker, can have. You get to combine visiting amazing places, learning about other cultures, and, of course, your passion for taking photos, all at once.

VENICE, ITALY - CIRCA MAY 2015:  Piazza San Marco and Doge's Palace with San Giorgio Maggiore behind.

Piazza San Marco and Doge’s Palace with San Giorgio Maggiore behind – Venice, Italy

However, certain famous locations, or populated cities can be frustrating. You arrive there to find out they are always crowded with visitors and tourists, making it almost impossible to shoot clean photos without intrusions. Granted, locations like these have been photographed millions of times by somebody else before, but I know you can’t consider it your very own until you’ve pressed that shutter button. Here are some suggestions to avoid becoming disgruntled and frustrated in crowded locations, so you can return home from your next trip with memorable images.

1) Shoot up

A good way to avoid the masses is to photograph above their heads. Pointing your camera up makes an interesting and different angle. There are plenty of subjects, and architectural elements, that can be easily recognized when shooting this way. Landmarks such as national buildings, memorials, or iconic temples, just to name a few, are ideally suited for this as they can be effortlessly recognized by your viewer without showing them in their entirety.

BANGKOK, THAILAND - CIRCA SEPTEMBER 2014: Detail view of Wat Arun, a popular Buddhist temple in Bangkok Yai district of Bangkok, Thailand, on the Thonburi west bank of the Chao Phraya River

Detail view of Wat Arun, a popular Buddhist temple in Bangkok, Thailand

2) Shoot details and close-ups

Get closer and make details stand out. One the best themes to try this one on is food. Epicurean photos are often used in travel publications to illustrate local customs and traditions. This is easy, as you can just aim your camera straight and click. You can photograph your own food during meals, or walk into a market and search for interesting colors and textures. You can also try close-ups on reflective surfaces, like windows, or water reflections in the streets. The idea is to concentrate on small details that can also help to tell your story.

Vegetables in Hanoi

Vegetables in Hanoi

3) Go early

Beat the crowds by getting there right at dawn. This is not for everybody – but no pain, no gain. The quality of the morning light, and beautiful sunrises, are the main reasons why most landscape and nature photographers love to work at this time of the day. But you’ll also find that in popular destinations, most of the tourists are sleeping, so this is your opportunity to find empty streets. Go out and take photos early, while nobody is there, then get back to your hotel and catch up with breakfast.

4) Go late

If you are not a morning person, you still have chances to take great photos. Surely this works the opposite of going early, but in most cases, you’ll find empty quarters as well late in the day. You can take advantage of strolling around well past dinnertime and shoot the sought-after spaces with nobody in sight. Better yet, do like the pros and photograph both instances for better results, and more options for better pictures.

Riga Freedom Monument

Riga Freedom Monument, Latvia

5) Photograph the people

If nothing else works out, you can just photograph the people. After all, what better way to show sense of place than documenting the locals, or even the flocks of tourist enjoying their thing? You see, it’s okay to try to avoid conglomeration, but in some instances it just can’t happen, or simply won’t reflect the true spirit of the destination.

Corner Street in Hanoi

Corner Street in Hanoi

Needless to say, there are several other ways to address the matter. You are more than welcome to share in the comments below your photos and experiences in similar situations, and what you find works best for you.

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Daniel Korzeniewski
Daniel Korzeniewski

is a Miami-based, travel photographer. His work has appeared in several publications and he contributes to various stock photography outlets. You can find out more about his work, travel adventures, or join him on one of his upcoming photography tours (to Morocco, India, or Myanmar). You can also follow him on Instagram.

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