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:
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.
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.
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.
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.