We’ve all been there. You’re standing in front of an amazing landscape with the camera in your hands ready to take beautiful pictures but there’s one problem: there are hundreds of people surrounding you and obscuring the scene, making it difficult to capture a good-looking image.
With photographers becoming more and more eager to capture the so-called trophy shots that’s guaranteed to give you likes on social media, this is becoming a more normal scenario than what it once might have been. Places like Iceland, Lofoten and Pacific Northwest, amongst so many others, are continuing to grown in popularity amongst both photographers and non-photographers. So what can you do to avoid the crowds? That’s exactly what we’ll look at throughout this article.
Photograph While Others are Sleeping
The majority of non-photographer tourists have slightly different priorities than us photographers; there’s normally no stress in the morning and the day starts with a breakfast at the hotel. This is something you should be taking advantage of. Either it’s during night or sunrise, you should be out photographing while the tourists are still at the hotel.
Sure, if you’re photographing a location that’s popular amongst photographers, there will probably be some more people there but it’s still fewer than what it will be a couple hours later.
Take the famous Skogafoss on Iceland as an example: I’ve spent several sunrises here completely alone or just with a few other photographers besides my workshop. However, only an hour or two after sunrise (depending on the time of year), the first busload of tourists arrive and the area quickly fills up, making it nearly impossible to get a shot without anyone obscuring the waterfall.
Take a Chance and Go During Low-Season
Certain locations are popular during a specific season for a reason. If you want to photograph the cherry blossom it has to be during spring, autumn in Patagonia might be easier to photograph than mid-winter and the northern lights in Norway aren’t visible in summer. Still, the best way to avoid mass-tourism is to go outside the popular season.
Lofoten in Northern Norway has never been as popular as it is right now, heavily due to social media and all the beautiful images shared on it. The summer months, however, aren’t quite as peaceful as what it might seem from the images.
In reality, tourists are everywhere and hundreds of caravans are known to make traffic jams on the narrow roads. Winter, however, is quite different. Yes, it is becoming more popular amongst photographers but you’re often able to photograph those popular locations completely alone and, in my opinion, winter is much more picturesque!
Explore Beyond the Popular Compositions
The reality is that most aren’t able to go during low season. With regular 9-5 jobs, the options are limited and travelling normally takes place during holidays and summer vacation, which is when most others travel as well.
Whenever I’m travelling without a workshop and can focus on my own photography, I try to look for something else then the classic shot that has been taken so many times before. In fact, often you don’t need to walk far before you find something new.
I took the image above a few years ago at one of the most popular locations on Iceland. Only a short 5-minute walk back to the parking, (and out of my sight) there were at least a dozen of tourists and photographers. Being slightly demotivated by the amount of people around me, I decided to explore the area and ended up climbing down a small hill and walked along a rocky beach until I found this composition.
That just shows that you don’t always need to go far in order to get away from the crowds.
Go Somewhere Different
Ok… I’m not going to spend most time on this as it might be a bit off-topic but the best way to avoid the crowds are by simply going where they aren’t. If you’re an outdoor photographer, isn’t part of the adventure to go outside exploring? Either you’ve researched the area before or not, taking a risk to going somewhere different can be quite rewarding. Perhaps you even come back home with an incredible image of a location that others haven’t seen before!
When There is No Other Option
So, all of this is nice to know but what about those times you simply don’t have a choice? What about those times the crowds are large even off-season? Or what about those times you’re photographing a specific event that gathers crowds? Should you just give up? Not at all! There are a few tricks you can use to remove people from your images:
Use a Slow Shutter Speed
The easiest way to remove people from your frame is by using a slow shutter speed, known as long exposure photography (also, see the previously published long exposure photography tips). If the picture you plan to take allows the use of a slow shutter speed, I recommend using a 6 or 10-stop ND filter to achieve a shutter speed of several minutes.
Most likely, the majority of the people within your frame will move during this time and therefore blur out and “disappear” from the image. Just make sure that you have a shutter speed long enough for people to move more than just a few meters – if the shutter speed isn’t slow enough, the people will still be visible but as blurry lines instead.
Manually Clone out People
The final trick to remove people from your images brings us back to a computer. Most professional photo editing software has built-in tools to clone/heal parts of an image. This is a great way to get rid of dust spots but it’s also an efficient way of removing people from the shot.
This article has been submitted by Christian Hoiberg, a Norwegian landscape photographer who has had his work published in several online and print magazines. To help inspire and educate aspiring photographers, Christian shares his knowledge through his website CaptureLandscapes, a place to improve your landscape photography.
We just went to Banff for my son’s elopment and from my pics it looks like we were only ones around but it was packed! We found walking a bit away from the bus drop off and avoiding all the selfie sticks made huge difference. Honestly our favorite places were smaller and less traveled spots. Less trampled.
Oh if I only had the resources and time back in the 70’s that I have now! The world was different, safer, and quite! YouTube and other social medias have destroyed the secret places of our youth! But now we don’t have to leave home, just watch YouTube videos! How sad.
I was a sports photographer at Runner’s World in the early 1970s. A couple years ago I shot a major track meet at Stanford. Naturally, the pros with passes were filling all of the prime positions. I had absolutely no problem getting the shots I wanted. There’s always a crack to shoot through. In this case, I walked up a grassy berm and shot over the other guys’ heads. I also shot the steeplechase from the fence across from the water jump – it’s where the most scenic action happens. And I prepared well in advance, getting my head calm and centered. It was a great way to enjoy the meet. Thank God for meditation and preparation.
Also, it helps if you are an introvert and don’t care much for crowds anyways. You’ll by nature seek out those lonely places that often make for stunning shots. :)
As an alternative to either long-exposure or straight to cloning, try taking two photos and median-filtering them together.
Nice sum-up article Christian and nice pictures. I like most the snowy village. It sums northern landscape in one picture – warmth of human presence and cold nature of the place.
Thank you for taking the time to read and leave a comment, Tibor!
I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed the images. The winter-village is a very picturesque (and popular!) spot in the beautiful Lofoten Archipelago in Norway :)
1: Set your camera on a tripod.
2: Take a picture about every 10 seconds until you have about 15 shots
3: Open all the images in Photoshop by going to
File > Scripts > Statistics. Choose “median” and select the files you took.
4: Photoshop finds what is different in the photos and simply removes it!
Photoshop has a function that lets you fuse more shots! With an algorithm it delete form the photos the things that are not static ?
Thanks for sharing this method, Francesco.
I’ve used it on some occasions before and it really does a good job – very rare that you need to use spot removal afterwards!
instead of long exposures, stacking of multiple shots in PS should do the trick as well…
This is a great way to remove people from your photos. Thank you for sharing! :)
I have just reminded myself about this. Some years ago there were scores of people clambering onto the Giants Stairway in Ireland. I just wanted one picture without anyone on it and had just about given up. Then it was clear and I turned around to set up when suddenly a young couple clambered up and stood in the middle!! I took the shot anyway thinking that at least they can provide the scale for the scene. At this very moment it has occurred to me that I can hopefully relocate that photo probably in the bowels of an old iPhoto album somewhere and slip it into LR. I did not know about LR in those days. Wish me luck…