Do you love photographing stunning landscapes but get discouraged by the crowds of tourists that seem to photobomb every shot? You’re not alone! Shooting at popular tourist destinations can be a real challenge – and when you’re faced with dozens of people constantly walking in and out of your frame, it’s enough to make you wish you had just stayed home.
But fear not! With a little planning and some insider knowledge, you can capture outstanding landscape images even in the most crowded of locations. As a professional landscape photographer, I know firsthand the frustration of trying to take a picture of a breathtaking waterfall or picturesque mountain range, only to have your shot ruined by a group of tourists (or even other photographers). That’s why I’ve developed a handful of tried-and-true techniques for avoiding crowds and getting the shot you want, no matter the area.
In this article, I guide you through the process of planning and prioritizing so you can choose the right time and location to get the perfect photos without the crowds. I also discuss key techniques that you can use to eliminate people from the frame – so even if you’re stuck shooting in a tourist-filled area, you can come away with some satisfying images.
Let’s dive right in!
1. Wake up early
If you love landscape photography, you probably already know that the golden hours – around sunrise and sunset – are the best time to snap stunning shots. During these times, the sun sits low in the sky, creating soft, dreamy lighting that’s perfect for photography.
But did you know that waking up early to capture the golden hour light also helps you avoid crowds? Since most tourists prefer to sleep in and have breakfast at their hotels, we dedicated photographers can use these times to beat the rush.
So if you want to capture the beauty of popular landscapes without the annoyance of crowds, set your alarm and head out before the masses. You might come across one or two fellow photographers, but you’ll have plenty of space to take your shots and enjoy the moment without jostling for position.
And here’s a little secret: It takes about an hour or two for the first buses filled with tourists to arrive after sunrise, depending on the season. That should give you plenty of time to explore the area and capture those epic shots that’ll be nearly impossible to snap once the crowds arrive.
2. Catch the magic of sunset
If getting up early for sunrise isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry – you can capture stunning landscape shots at popular locations during sunset instead. Although the crowds do tend to be larger during this time, particularly if you’re shooting near a bustling town, most people present will be fellow photographers.
You see, during the sunset hours, many regular tourists head back to their hotels or go out for dinner, leaving the photographers behind. And as fellow enthusiasts, photographers tend to understand the challenges of capturing the perfect shot at popular locations, which means they’ll be more considerate and mindful of one another. You’ll find that everyone makes an effort to stay out of each other’s way.
And the best part? Since everyone is looking for the best compositions, you may find that they – and you! – tend to cluster in the same areas, leaving other key spots completely empty and ready for you to snap that perfect shot.
Don’t be afraid to stick around after sunset, either. The magical blue hour that follows offers an ethereal light that can add a beautiful touch to your photos. Plus, by then, the crowds will have thinned out even further, giving you even more space to work your magic.
3. Photograph the night sky
If you’re looking for a unique and exciting way to photograph popular landscape locations, then shooting at night is definitely worth a try. Trust me, once you get a taste of it, you’ll be hooked!
Not only will you have the chance to capture awe-inspiring shots of starry skies, but you’ll also get to enjoy the locations with fewer people around. Most folks will be snuggled up in bed while you’re out exploring – and even if you do run into other night photographers, they’ll be few and far between, leaving you plenty of space to get your shot.
Another advantage of night photography is that it allows you to create images that stand out from the typical shots taken during the day. The intense darkness, the way the stars shimmer in the sky, and the eerie stillness of the landscape often create a unique and captivating atmosphere that makes for jaw-dropping photos.
However, night photography does come with some challenges. For one thing, you’ll need to sacrifice some sleep to get those perfect shots. Secondly, you’ll need to plan ahead to ensure your safety. Make sure you tell someone where you’ll be and have a solid plan for navigating in the dark. And lastly, don’t forget to bring something warm to drink – it can get pretty chilly out there at night!
4. Choose the month strategically
If you’ve already planned a trip and have the dates locked in, this tip won’t be much help – but if you’re still trying to decide when to travel, planning your visit during the off-season can make a huge difference.
Of course, it’s not always easy to take time off during non-holiday periods, and some locations are simply best during certain times of the year. For instance, if you want to snap the vibrant tulips at the PSNW (Washington/Oregon) Tulip Festival or the blooming cherry blossoms in Japan, you’ll need to visit during a specific window.
That said, if you’re not photographing a specific event, visiting during the low season is a great idea. Not only will you avoid the worst crowds, but you might also encounter unique weather and light.
I’ve gone to Iceland during the low season a few times, and I can vouch for its wonders. Sure, the harsh weather can be a challenge, but when the light is good, it’s jaw-dropping! Just make sure to do your research before you book your tickets. The last thing you want is to arrive and find it’s pitch dark 24 hours a day.
5. Use a neutral density filter
I’ve talked all about the value of timing your photoshoot for the low season, the morning, the evening, or even the night – but what if you’re not able to go during these times? Or even worse, what if you arrive only to find that the crowds still exist? Should you just give up and head back home? Of course not! There’s always a solution, so don’t worry.
If you find yourself in a busy location and you can’t wait to get your shot, try using a neutral density filter. This handy little gadget won’t cost too much and can be attached to the front of your lens.
I won’t bore you with all the technical details, but basically, the filter blocks some of the light from hitting the camera sensor, which means you’ll need to use a longer shutter speed to get a good exposure. And a longer shutter speed will blur out any moving objects in your frame, so if you’re taking a shot of a busy street or a crowded beach, you can make all the people disappear!
Just set your shutter speed to a couple of minutes, and you’ll be left with a beautiful, pristine image that’s free from any distracting elements.
And if you’re worried about camera shake, don’t be. Just make sure to bring a sturdy tripod along, and you’ll be just fine.
6. Stack multiple images
Stacking multiple images is another powerful technique that can help you remove crowds from your landscape photography shots. The idea is to take several photos of the same scene with people walking in and out. Then you blend the images together to get rid of all the people. It’s a bit more advanced than using an ND filter, but with the help of software like Adobe Photoshop, it’s easy to learn.
Here’s how to do it step by step:
- Take a series of shots from the same position. It’s best to use a tripod to keep the frame consistent across all the images. Aim for about 20-25 shots with an interval of roughly 20 seconds between each one. This will allow any people in the frame to move around a bit between shots.
- Import your shots into your computer.
- Open Photoshop and click File>Scripts>Statistics.
- Choose Median as your Stack Mode in the dialog box that appears, and check the box for Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images.
- While Photoshop does its thing, go ahead and take a break! Watch some funny videos on YouTube, grab a coffee, or just relax for a bit.
- When Photoshop is finished processing the images, zoom in to 100% and look for spots where the script wasn’t able to do a perfect job. If you find any, use the Spot Removal Tool to carefully heal these areas.
This technique is incredibly effective for removing unwanted people from your images. In my experience, the script works well on 99% of shots, and even on the remaining 1%, it still does a pretty good job.
So if you’re tired of crowded photos that don’t do your favorite landscape locations justice, give image stacking a try! It’s a simple yet powerful way to take your shots to the next level.
Photographing at popular landscape locations: final words
Photographing at popular landscape locations may be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right mindset and approach, you can still take stunning landscape images even in the midst of a crowded tourist spot.
Remember: Photography is not only about capturing a moment but also about enjoying the experience. With these tips, you can avoid the crowds and take images that are not only beautiful but also meaningful. Happy shooting!
Now over to you:
Which of these approaches do you plan to use? Share your thoughts in the comments below!