One of the things that can be really annoying when trying to take pictures in a touristy location, is of course, the tourists. I guess it’s alright if you’re doing street photography or taking a picture of a building, but if you’re trying to take a picture of yourself it can be super difficult if there’s tons of people in the background.
Although sometimes it adds characters, this is one of the questions I’ve been asked many times on Instagram – how do I get pictures from some of the most Instagrammed locations with absolutely NO ONE in my frame? Magic right? Here are some ways in which I achieve it:
1. Go there at odd hours
It sounds pretty obvious, but you can NEVER underestimate how important it is to reach a location well before other people have reached there, if you want to clean shots (and for me personally I enjoy the place more). For example, Plitvice National Park in Croatia gets over 1 million visitors a year – not only is it a hassle to walk around when the tourists come swarming up your fucking armpit, it’s also next to impossible to take decent long exposures on the walkway because there are hundreds of people walking past.
And if you are going to a publicly open location, try and reach there at least 30 minutes before sunrise so you can figure out the place a bit before the sun comes out (I often get out around an hour before just for the fun of it). There are always much less people in a location during sunrise compared to sunset. Some exceptions might be locations like Angor Wat in Cambodia where tons of people come to watch the sunrise. However, the earlier you go the better chance you have of owning the place.
Here is a picture that I took of myself in the early hours of the morning in Lisbon. This place called Pink Street is super heavily photographed – when I went, there was no one. Unfortunately I couldn’t be bothered brushing out the trash on the side before uploading, but that’s because I went before the cleaners even came in for their morning shift.
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And when people ask me how I do it, I often just smile and laugh and crack some jokes. Of course it’s not always easy to walk around with your own weight in luggage and manage everything by yourself. It’s not easy, to take your own pictures to get others to take them how you want it. And it’s certainly not easy to look after yourself. . But once your out there. Once you’ve left everything behind, you know that the struggle is totally of your own choosing. And so somehow the universe helps you out; you’ll get the energy when you’re weak and the people when you’re lost. Because being self sufficient itself radiates a powerful energy that will take you through all situations. . And somehow along the way, the pain becomes the pleasure. You’ll start laughing, loudly to yourself in the middle of the street, through all the bagstraps strangling your shoulders. I don’t know why I enjoy being alone so much, but I know that it’s something incredibly, and indescribably empowering. . What’s the most empowering experience you had? And what situations do you seek out to feel that way? Leave a comment below:
2. Use the Spot Removal tool in Lightroom
This is probably the second most important thing. Though I don’t use Photoshop to edit pictures, I get by pretty well with this problem using Adobe Lightroom (an editing software). If there are a few people here and there in the background that I want to get rid of, I zoom into the picture and try as best as possible to remove them using the spot removal tool. There are two options with this – clone or heal, and you can choose the opacity of both. I generally use the clone option so that I exactly replicate areas that have been covered by people as far as possible. Then when you zoom out, if you’ve been precise enough you really can’t tell there was anyone there in the first place!
Here’s a before and after of a crowded location where I removed people, using this tool. To understand more about these features in Lightroom you can watch the video below:
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And it’s funny because the dosage wasn’t even that large. But as is always the case, you never know what’s going to happen until you’ve taken it. And so as I started to walk away from the stage, appreciating all the incredible beauty around me, as the acid started to peak, there overcame me an overwhelming sense of discomfort. And this happens sometimes when I’m tripping; when something will make me feel entirely uncomfortable, and I don’t know why. . So I stopped at the iced tea stall, and told the lady – I don’t know where I’m going. She asked me where I wanted to go. I was silent for a bit, before telling her – home. “We are all just arriving, we are all just going home,” she said. “And you are home now, you don’t have to be anywhere else.” And the tears raced down my cheeks in a plethora of contrasting emotions. . I stayed like this for quite a while, and it’s funny because when I’m tripping the way people appear to me changes entirely. As she spoke to me, I knew that she was coming from somewhere from deep; she could see me inside out. She was meant to be there, and I was meant to be there too. ‘It is all just love,’ I exclaimed and she said, ‘that’s it.’ And it was so overwhelming just to feel it so much. . And we laughed and laughed, before I eventually took the tea and started to walk towards the lake, in a different state of mind. But then, every moment is a different state of mind, and on acid you’re just so intensely conscious of it. And I laughed because it was all just so beautiful; walking around the grass and staring at the sky as it swirled and morphed into many different shapes. . As somewhat of an anticlimax, I ended up getting caught in a thunderstorm. There were quite a few of us there, running for shelter under the fragments of a tent as the sky blurred everything in vision and the ground turned into a melting river of mud. But it’s never an anticlimax, really. It was nature. It was just so indescribably poetic. And I never felt so free. Because ultimately, we are all just trying to come home. . N.B. Acid is a strong substance. Never take acid without proper information, environment or awareness. Educate yourself. (erowid.org is a good site)
3. Tell people to move
The Spot Removal tool for me is really a last resort, and for the most part I focus on not having people there in the first place if I don’t want them. Tourists are generally quite mellow. Most tourists are there to look around, and not too seriously interested in taking a photograph. So if you are trying to take a picture, don’t hesitate to ask people who are standing BANG in the middle of your frame to move to the side – mostly they don’t even realize they are. Because if, you don’t create your own space other people will invade it. Of course there’s no need to act like you’re herding sheep (which I’ve been guilty of doing), but if you ask people to nicely stand to the side for five minutes, they will generally oblige.
I did once get this really angry American woman in Croatia, who was like – you don’t own the beach, bitch, and I was like fuck you haha, as if you had 10% of the understanding of the effort that goes into taking my own pictures. Never feel bad if people react badly, it’s a reflection of their insecurity and the fact they don’t understand that this may be your work. On the whole in fact, if people see me with my camera and tripod, they automatically move out of the way because I look like I need space. I’m not saying I’m superior in any way, you can take just as good photographs with a phone; but to get shots that I want I have to exert a certain degree of time and effort, and I guess this reflects in the reactions of people around me.
4. Position yourself smartly
If you have someone with you who is taking your photograph, then this is much easier. You can simply tell them to adjust and move around so that you are covering any major people standing in your frame. For example, if you have a giant dustbin in the middle of a street, you can stand a bit in front and the photographer can position themselves so that it’s totally covered by your body.
But if you’re mostly a solo traveler like me, and you take most of your photographs on your own (this is much easier for me than getting strangers or even people with a camera to follow my damn instructions) – you need to do a bit more work. The best way to do this is to link your camera to your phone so you can see the frame when you’re standing in it. If you don’t have such an option with your camera, then position it first so that you can see where you need to stand. Take the picture a few times, go back and check, reposition yourself, and take it again.
Never be ashamed of the people walking past or the people staring at you like you are fucking crazy – it’s totally your right to stand there and take photographs if you want. (Trust me I’ve had way worse reactions going up to random people on the street and stroking their head whilst filming them at the same time).
It’s most certainly not a lie, that you can create situations that you want by simply imagining them. By visualizing them in your mind until you go into them, and they will manifest in your reality. It’s also very true that some things are more fluid than others – like for example it’s going to be difficult to visualize the Eiffel Tower turning into an octopus and that happening. Another thing that’s difficult is people, because it’s very difficult to change someone’s mind about something they strongly believe in and is a total waste of energy anyway.
However, with something as fluid as travel, it’s very easy to create the energy combination you want at a particular time in your mind. So try picturing the image that you want. Picture your surroundings when you take the photograph. See yourself, in the future, doing what you have to do, and there being no people in the frame. See the frame itself, see the whole reality of it – and it will actually start to turn into that. How do things even happen? What determines who is walking into your path and who is not? It’s really all a mass of vibrating energy and to a large extent you can direct it.
Visualization is something that we actually do anyway. It’s something that we are doing every second that we are thinking – seeing the future, remembering the past. And most of the time as human beings we are in our imaginary thought world and not in a state of present moment awareness, with the real-time world around us. (Another reason why I love LSD). So in general, I’ll leave you with this thought. Just take a few seconds to observe yourself right now. You’re probably thinking of or visualizing something. And just know that, the power to change that image in your mind – is always yours.
P.S. Here are some pictures with people in them, because they were a part of my experience, or I was trying to convey something. Just for the sake of contrast.
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It was a quiet morning at Khar Danda. The shutters on the shops were still closed and hardly a few people populated the streets. Though I don’t wake up early as often as I used to, by the end of the hour I felt fully alert. We roamed around the small streets in search of colourful houses, and though we couldn’t find the specific place we had seen, we found a bunch of other things instead. . And that’s what happens in life: you’ll go in search of one thing, and end up in a different place altogether. You’ll have this image in your mind and life will change all the colours. Your ideas of what is supposed to happen will keep changing every hour. You won’t have ticked all the boxes, but you will have made some new ones. And all the sorrow comes from fixating yourself on a particular object, without allowing the idea to change. . That doesn’t mean that your determination to reach somewhere should be any less; rather, you accept the direction in which life is naturally pushing you and allow yourself to meander like the river flowing into the valley. Because maybe, what you’re looking for is down a different alley. Maybe it’s an entirely different country. Maybe the universe has already read your deepest intentions and is unfolding itself for you, in it’s own way. . 📸 @worthashott editted myself
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And isn’t it beautiful, that moment of surrender. When you’re standing on a mountain and you totally give yourself up to the expanse that is the sky and the valley that could kill you in a minute. The moment when you’ve bended your head towards the ground and instead of struggling, you drop down into your body and the energy flows from your fingers into the ground in a continuous circle. Or the onset of a trip that’s turning you inside out, and you submit yourself to whatever it’s showing you inside yourself. . And I’m someone who often finds it hard to surrender. And so I put myself in situations that will make me feel small or take me beyond myself in some way, in order to change that. Because I realise that life is not just about staying in one place, internally. It is not about trying to hide from the truth. It is the acceptance that there are things that we really just do not know, and in order to grow in life, we need to take ourselves out there. And that’s why, surrender, is one of my favourite states of being. Because at that point, there is no me – there is only love. There is only, that what is.