When we travel, I think we all have a grand idea of what it will be like when we get there. You imagine yourself checking out the place, snapping beautiful Instagram-worthy photos and soaking up the moment. What you don’t imagine is the hundreds of other tourists in front of you, dodging selfie sticks and waiting in line to get one photo without other people in it.
But take a look through most of the Instagram photos on my Pretty Little Grub or Couple of Suitcases and you won’t see many people in the background. How do I manage this sorcery? I will reveal my four tips…and one bonus!
1. Get up Earlier
The number one thing you can do to get a picture without the crowds is to beat them. The busiest time at almost any tourist attraction is early afternoon (or sometimes sunset). This is the time you want to avoid. In my experience, early morning is always the best time to avoid crowds.
That means at times, I wake up at 5 a.m to see the sunrise at a site or to be there as early as possible. It’s not always easy but not only do I get better pictures, I also get to enjoy a place begore it’s overcome with crowds.
I took this picture of the Fushimi Shrine in Kyoto when I arrived around 7 a.m. There were only a handful of people ahead of me.
This is the picture I took around 10 a.m. when I came back down from completing the shrine hike, and I imagine it only got worse in the afternoon.
Not only was the peace and tranquility of these shrines completely lost when the crowds arrived but there is also no chance of getting a people-free picture.
The one place where the “get up earlier” motto didn’t work was Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Arriving for sunrise is what 99% of the tourists do. It’s amazing but it also means the temples are extremely busy in the morning. So how did I score the picture with almost no one in it? I went back to the temple in the afternoon after most other tourists had moved on.
A good way to plan your day is find out what the typical tours do and either start your tour earlier or plan it in a different order to avoid the crowds. And if you see a busload of tourists unloading, run in front of them as fast as you can!
2. Try a different angle
One of the best photography tips I’ve heard is take the picture no one else is taking. Look around and notice the other tourists. If everyone is taking the same picture in the same spot, try to do yours different. Not only will your picture be unique, hopefully you can also get it people free.
Maya Beach in Thailand was packed with tourists coming from tour group boats. Everyone was taking their picture in the middle of the beach but Tom and I noticed the sun shining off to the side of the beach where the boats were parked. Just a quick walk down the beach gave us a unique and (almost) people free picture.
Don’t be afraid to venture away from the centre of the tourist attraction. I find the smallest bit of effort to get away from the crowds leads you to equally beautiful but far less crowded areas. When we visited the cherry Blossoms in Tokyo, some sidewalks were so crowded you could hardly walk down them, but a 15 minute walk away from the crowds and we found ourselves completely alone with the blossoms.
3. Visit in Shoulder or Off-Season
Just like the time of day you visit matters, so does the time of year. If you’re visiting a place during peak tourist season, you’re unlikely to avoid tourists. But if you’re able to be flexible with your time, shoulder or off-season ensures you won’t be fighting as many crowds.
If it looks like we’ve been alone on some of the beaches we’ve visited it’s because we were! Many people don’t want to travel to Southeast Asia during the hottest months. Sure I’ve complained at times about the heat but I’d take the heat over the crowds any day.
4. Fake It
Sometimes despite all your efforts to avoid getting people in your pictures, it’s just not possible. I try and keep my pictures as realistic as possible but once in a while, I will edit someone right out.
I don’t have any fancy software like actual photoshop, I just use the app Snapseed. The healing feature allows you to remove people with one swipe. It also works for unsightly signs, garbage cans, etc. However, it doesn’t always work. The app replaces what you remove with the background beside it, therefore it works best when people are far in the distance or up against a solid background.
In the photo below I removed the person in the water. But I was unable to remove the people further back due to the background.
Bonus Tip – Use the People to Make an Interesting Photo
Having people in the background of your photos doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Seeing streets full of people shows the hustle and bustle of a busy city. Find a way to make yourself stand out in the crowd by wearing a bright colour or doing an interesting pose and the rest will just fade away into the background.