How to get insta-worthy travel pics in busy locations

While traveling I quickly learned to embrace early mornings for two reasons; the soft light of the morning perfectly complements any photo and, more importantly in relation to this post, very rarely will anyone else be there and so many of the hindrances of large crowds are avoided. However, for various reasons not everyone is capable of this and, like so many others, can only visit these locations during the busiest of times. So the question becomes how can you get insta-worthy photographs in busy locations?

The importance of this question was highlighted to me on a recent visit to Nusa Penida, where I found myself on a tourism charter with about 50 other people all prying to take photos of the same thing. (To read the story of how I found myself in this situation and why I did not visit the place early in the morning, read my recent journal entry). Wherever I went I found myself in constant competition with others, some photographers others tourists, to take pictures. I found it impossible to take a photo without several others in the background, also the person I was shooting felt very uncomfortable attempting to pose amongst a large mass of people all glaring, understandably, whenever we would change spots.

Throughout the day I developed some key techniques and strategies that I found useful for getting images with the look I wanted i.e. not completely full of other people. Granted, it was far more challenging than waking up early but I still achieved good results and left feeling satisfied with the shots I had taken. So, these are six things you can do to get insta-worthy pictures in busy locations.

Get creative with your cropping

Few photographers like to crop their images beyond a hairline crop to correctly centre an object, as they feel it detracts from what photography is. As much as someone may oppose it, Instagram forces you to crop an image if you want it to sit correctly in your grid. The 1×1 square crop factor used by Instagram is a curse to some, such as landscape photographers, but a gift to you because this allows you to remove a lot of space from an image. Say, there’s a big rubbish bin in the corner of your beautiful image of an urban landscape. Normally an issue, but now it can be cropped out without anyone knowing that this amazing Instagram pic has a large bin just out of sight.

If you’re taking pictures with the intent of putting them on Instagram you can start to adapt the way you take pictures to this crop factor; you should be considering what the image will look like once it has been cropped; if key things in the image will be lost through cropping, then you will have to take the image from further back; an area may be busy, but is there enough room between the crowd for you to get the shot and crop the people out etc. Consider the before and after images below. (The exact same image). I knew that I would be cropping the image later so I waited for the perfect moment to take the shot; I waited for there to be a big enough gap between the people on the land-bridge so that I could crop them out while still being able to include the bridge in the shot.


Look for gaps and angles

The point made in the last topic leads perfectly into this one; looking for ways to cut people and objects out of images before taking a pic. You’ll be surprised at what can be accomplished with a picture when looking for angles and gaps. Instead of aiming for the typical shot of you standing in front of an appealing object look for different ways to take the shot. Try close-ups, vertical shots, side shots etc. Apart from giving your gallery a variety of different kinds of shots, it allows you to get creative with how you shoot.

Gaps in the crowd are another important thing to look for. No matter where you go the same thing always happens. For some reason or another, the composition of people in an area shifts all at the same time. This leaves gaps. They may only be small, but if you utilise angles in conjunction with gaps you’re sure to get some good shots. Both of the images below were taken at locations with at least 30 other tourists trying to get a picture of the same thing, but we waited for gaps and used angles to give the look as though we were the only people there.

Look for new perspectives

In every location, there will be a ‘spot’ where people congregate because, on the surface, it appears to be the best the place to snap a pic or maybe it is just the only composition people see. But, if you spend some time looking around you will find other perspectives that others have not seen, where fewer people will be taking pics. A common example of this is at waterfalls. Everyone takes pictures of waterfalls straight up to display its size and magnitude. There’s nothing wrong with this. However, everyone tries to take these shots so you will have a lot of competition. What I’ve found is that side shots of the waterfall with someone in the foreground are equally appealing and, more importantly, fewer people have this perspective. It may not be as easy looking for different ways to shoot an object or thing, but making the effort to find different perspectives will make your work unique and stand out.



Picking your moments

This is by far the simplest thing you can do, but it doesn’t always happen nor is it the most successful. Occasionally people or crowds will move in such a way that small openings become available for taking pictures. Whether it be for a photographer stopping for several seconds to look at the pictures they just took or a spontaneous event happening that draws people’s attention for just long enough for you to slip through and snap a picture.

You need to be vigilant in keeping an eye on where you want to go and seeing what people are doing, and be ready – camera set up and correct clothing – to go when the moment arises. When at Crystal Bay, the Photo below was taken when a small break in the crowd occurred, when one large group of people travelling together began to move on while other people where 30 meters or so down the track. This small opening was enough for us to run in and get several shots, one of which, was a keeper.

Come just before sunset

Unless your location is renowned for being a perfect place to watch the sunset, most people would have left or be in the process of leaving by this time because it means it is going to be dark soon. People new to the area with their own transportation will unlikely want to navigate the region at night and those who will arrange a local pick-up will be wanting to go soon before all the cabbies leave and their left stranded in the dark waiting for a pickup. Either way this is your opportunity. This particular time of day, the golden hour, delivers an amazing light for capturing pictures and most photographers will only do shoots during this time or early in the morning.  If you have no issue navigating at night, this is your moment.

While at the Tegenungan waterfall in Bali, we arrived late-mid day and were surprised by the amount of people still there. We were going to leave, but had faith that most people would leave before sunset. Our gamble paid off, and we had the run of the waterfall almost to ourselves apart from several other people. We were confident enough to navigate at night and we were rewarded with some amazingly lit pictures of the waterfall with no one in the background.

Lightroom’s merging tool

This should be a last resort for a picture and only used sparingly. Lightroom’s merging tool can be an invaluable resource. It removes a selected area of a picture and replaces it with a snippet from another region of the image that best suits that area. Say, you have a beautiful picture of you swimming at the base of a waterfall, captured at sunset with glistening rays of sunlight reflecting of the waterfalls torrent. It’s the perfect picture. Except on further investigation you notice someone in fluorescent clothing sitting in the background. It’s not particularly detracting from the image, but the bright clothes is enough to draw attention and it’s enough to bug you. With the merging tool you would select the area of the person, then choose another area in the image that would be able to be placed on top of the person, thus removing them and leaving you with a ‘perfect’ shot that you can’t wait to show everyone.

The reason this should be used sparingly is because no matter how good you are at merging with the tool any image where two or three objects have been removed begins to show signs of editing. Whether in the symmetry of locations, perhaps the spherical marking of the merge tool or maybe it may just seem unnatural that an image should have so many defects not present. You should attempt to take an image in such a way, maybe using the techniques mentioned in this blog, that this only needs to be used occasionally.

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