How to Shoot High-Traffic Locations Creatively

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The experience of the hustle and bustle that comes from shooting in high-traffic, highly photographed areas is a pain that most photographers know all too well. People can be packed into overlooks and pull-offs with hardly even room to stand let alone set up a tripod.

It seems as if everyone is trying to get the same shot. Not that there’s something incredibly wrong with making photographs just like the person standing next to you. If you are simply after a snapshot to record where you’ve been then a quick capture or two taken from the herd will do just fine.

How to Shoot High-Traffic Locations Creatively

However, if you’re like me, you probably want more from a location than just a cookie cutter photo. When I visit a well-known photo spot that is crowded with people all shooting the exact same thing, I feel a need to produce something that is more of an artistic expression of how I view the scene.

While recently shooting in Yosemite National Park, I observed this situation in full force. But how can you shoot in these high-traffic areas creatively? Believe it or not, in some cases it doesn’t require too much effort in order to breathe new life into a stale or overshot scene. In this article, we’re going to talk about three ways that can help you break the monotony and guide you toward making your photos of well-known areas less ordinary.

#1 – Get High…Get Low

Changing from the common perspective to one that is either more or less elevated can have a huge impact on the final interest of your photographs. Often times, the majority of photographers shoot from the same plane of view each and every time which often produces literal “photocopies” of the same location.

This changeup doesn’t have to be anything drastic, either. It can be as simple as holding your camera at waist level or even above your head.

How to Shoot High-Traffic Locations Creatively

If you’re able to be more adventurous, then search for even more unique vantage points. Ones which can show people a well-known place from a different angle than what they’re used to seeing. This is the key to setting yourself apart as a photographer.

How to Shoot High-Traffic Locations Creatively

This was just up the road from the famous Tunnel View in Yosemite. While it’s virtually the same landscape, the higher elevation adds a different feel to the scene.

#2 – Shoot at Night

This is likely the easiest and most powerful methods of creatively photographing popular locations. There’s almost always less crowding (unless it’s a spot popular exclusively at night) which will give you much more room and creates a more relaxed experience.

However, the most obvious benefit that comes from shooting at night is the instant change in the visual appeal of the landscape.

How to Shoot High-Traffic Locations Creatively

The inclusion of stars and moonlight or even bright city lights and cars can add so much to a scene that has been completely worn out during the day. If it can be done safely, I urge you try out shooting a popular destination at night during your next photo excursion. You just might get hooked.

#3 – Ignore the Popular Subject

Yeah I know, this is one idea that is difficult for some people to get a handle on initially. Please don’t misunderstand me here, I’m not talking about completely disregarding the main attraction. Rather, place the popular subject within your photograph in such a way that is still recognizable but doesn’t consume the composition.

How to Shoot High-Traffic Locations Creatively

Just remember that if you want to produce something truly unique you will have to learn how to think critically and creatively about what you’re shooting and why. This means coming up with new ways to display the subject in a way that might not have been considered by many others.

How to Shoot High-Traffic Locations Creatively

This image was made while standing shoulder to shoulder with about 25 other folks. I happened to notice the reflection of Half Dome in the water and decided to approach the scene in a more surreal, abstract way.

Some Final Thoughts

There will be times when a location becomes almost too popular for its own good. Even beautifully majestic locations can become artistically depleted. This is when we as photographers have to stretch our creative legs to produce more unique images.

While there’s nothing wrong with shooting alongside the masses, the overall power of an image can be lessened if every photo of a place looks exactly the same as the next 50 images. Here’s a recap of some ways you can shoot a little more creatively:

  • Change your perspective. Try shooting from a higher or lower vantage point than is usually seen.
  • Try the nighttime. Popular locations are often deserted at night. Night photography will also give you the opportunity to present the scene in a way that might not be common.
  • Move the primary subject to the back burner. Try setting the commonly shot subject matter as the secondary subject.

Adding a little spice to your images taken in such high-traffic places can be a lot easier than you might think and can work wonders for your photography. A little effort truly goes a long way.

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Adam Welch

is a full-time photomaker, author, adventurer, educator, and self-professed bacon addict. You can usually find him on some distant trail making photographs or at his computer writing about all the elegant madness that is photography. Follow his blog over at
aphotographist.com or pick up his new book Cameras in the Wild.

  • Thank for this awesome post. I believe that this post helps me High-Traffic Locations.

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  • Some very good points and very useful for somebody like me who is not an early riser and always end up at monuments / places of interest when they are full of people all around…

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