Sometimes all your planning will go to hell.

Your Caribbean vacation will be overwhelmed by strong surf and heavy rains, or your visit to a city will be overshadowed by protests or riots. Don’t be discouraged. Make the most of what’s around you to create compelling travel photographs anyway.

Ill-mannered Herds of Tourists

You wake up long before the sun, pack your gear, and head to what you hope will be an epic sunrise, only to find at least fifty photographers who had the very same idea. Hopefully, the photographers will be generous with the prime shooting spots and welcome you to join them. Realistically, they’ll be just as annoyed by your presence as you are by theirs. Tourists can be pushy and self-centered and can become a major obstacle to work around. Take a breath. There’s no reason to give up or pack it in. When you are faced with a sightseeing horde, you have options—join them, wait them out, or find greener pastures.

ND filter or Photoshop

If you choose to join them, and they are swarming in and around your ideal shot, the obvious answer is to use a tripod and neutral density filter to take a long exposure to help blur them out of the image. Similarly, you can take ten to twenty images of any exposure length and Photoshop the tourists out by stacking images to make a composite later.

Representing the scene

Also, consider how you want to represent the scene—the most honest shot would include the tourists, demonstrating the popularity of the spot. In very crowded scenes, I like to take a longish exposure (3 to 20 seconds depending on the general speed of the crowd) to keep them present in the frame but still blur their features enough to avoid making them the focus of the image (Figure 12.1).

Temple of Dendur, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York ISO 100; 4 sec.; f/18; 18mm
The Temple of Dendur in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
4 sec. f/18 ISO 100 18mm

Wait or ask (politely)

If I have the time and am feeling particularly Zen about it, I prefer to simply wait them out. It took a long time to get a clear shot at Oak Alley Plantation, but it was worth it.

Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana ISO 100; 1/4 sec.; f/22; 20mm
Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana
1/4 sec. f/22 ISO 100 20mm

In my experience, groups of tourists tend to cycle through an area after ten or twenty minutes—especially if they all came from the same bus. By waiting, you’ll have the opportunity to more deeply observe your surroundings and potentially find more images in the same vicinity that interest you. In select situations, if I’m on an assignment or am particularly inflexible in what shot I’m trying to achieve, I will politely ask people to step out of the frame for a moment while I get my shot. I’ve had the most success offering to take a photo of their group with their camera or phone before they clear out— that way it feels more like a reciprocated favor and both sides are happy. If none of these techniques feel ideal, then I will move on to a new spot. Many times a fresh perspective, free from tourists, can be achieved with a little mobility and effort. Walk farther down the path, or hike higher up the hill, or just keep driving in pursuit of something that grabs you.

Change vantage points

Mount Rushmore, Keystone, South Dakota ISO 160; 1/400 sec.; f/5.0; 35mm
Mount Rushmore, Keystone, South Dakota 1/400 sec. f/5.0 ISO 160 35mm

On a visit to Mount Rushmore for golden hour, I was stuck in a massive line of cars waiting to reach the monument. I knew that the light wouldn’t wait, so I kept driving. First I found an unexpected perspective of Mount Rushmore, which I quickly photographed, before moving on and discovering an incredible overlook with a view of Black Hills National Forest. By choosing to abandon the lines and crowds, I lucked into several photographs that have become favorites in my portfolio.

Breezy Point, Keystone, South Dakota ISO 160; 1/200 sec.; f/5.6; 61mm
Breezy Point, Keystone, South Dakota
1/200 sec. f/5.6 ISO 160 61mm

Travel photography is hard work. This series of excerpts from “The Enthusiast’s Guide to Travel Photography” by Jordana Wright is published by Rocky Nook.

See all of the great photographic skills books from Rocky Nook.