The problem with shooting beautiful landscapes is that there is often a herd of other people just as excited as you are about capturing the splendor before them. If you’ve ever been to a popular tourist destination, you know the difficulty of navigating through dozens of other people, some of whom are courteous and share the best vantage point and others who are totally clueless and consistently walk in from of your lens.
It can be frustrating, indeed, but there are a few things you can do to circumvent the crowds and still get the shots you want.
Plan Your Visit in the Off Season
If you’ve ever been to a place like Yellowstone in the high summer, you understand what it’s like to have to fight your way through thick crowds to get a good view of the landscape. Unless your goal is to photograph specific happenings, like the leaves turning in New England in the fall or the Northern Lights in Alberta, see what you can do planning-wise to schedule your trip when the crowds will be less pervasive. Where a visit to Yosemite in the summer would be chaos, a visit in the dead of winter will mean less crowds, yet equally stunning opportunities to take photos.
Go Beyond the Crowds
If you spend any amount of time at a popular photography spot, you’ll see dozens and dozens of people migrate to the one or two spots where there is a postcard view, take a few shots, enjoy the scenery for a bit, and then leave. There isn’t much time invested, and certainly very little creativity when it comes to the images they create.
It’s this glut of “one-and-done” photographers that usually cause the traffic jams at popular vantage points. But because they typically only visit the most popular vantage points, that means it’s relatively easy to avoid them. All you have to do is go a bit further than the main trail or overlook and you’ll be likely to find a greater level of solitude.
Obviously, safety is a primary concern here; not all beauty spots will have a trail or pathway that leads to a lesser-visited vantage point. But you should try, at the very least. Sometimes, just a five-minute walk beyond the popular spots will get you an equally good view of the scenery, but with far less congestion.
Try Your Hand at Night Photography
A healthy majority of your competition for space at a popular overlook won’t be there at night, so to avoid the crowd, shooting at night is a prime choice. Not only will you be more likely to have the specific destination you have in mind all to yourself, but you can also practice a more creative genre of landscape photography by capturing the scene at night.
Along the same creative lines, nighttime images of even the most popular landscapes often look completely different. Therefore, shooting at night allows you to end up with a more creative (and rare!) shot, even if it’s of something as well-known as Victoria Falls or Mt. Rainier. What’s more, shooting at night means you might catch some kind of astrological event, such as a meteor shower, that adds something extra special to the image.
Use a Slow Shutter & an ND Filter
If all else fails and you just can’t escape the crowds, all you need to do is slow your shutter down and pop a neutral density (ND) filter on your lens. Why? By slowing the shutter significantly, any movement in the scene, including people walking around, becomes blurred. And, if you work with a shutter speed that is at least a couple of minutes long, the more likely that people are to disappear from the frame altogether.
Of course, when using such a long shutter speed, overexposure becomes a significant problem, thus the need for an ND filter. Without getting too technical, an ND filter limits the amount of light that enters your lens. A 2X ND filter reduces the f-stop by 1 while a 256X ND filter reduces the f-stop by 8. This means that even in broad daylight, you can use an ND filter, slow down the shutter, and get a high-quality image of the landscape, even if there are throngs of people interrupting the frame.
Crowds at popular landscapes are just a fact of life. But by adhering to one of the tips explored above, you’ll be able to get the images you want without all the fuss of jockeying for position with a bunch of tourists and other photographers. It’s just a matter of planning appropriately, being willing to go beyond the typical vantage points, trying your hand at night photography, and spending some time learning the ins and outs of working with a slow shutter. If you can do that, you are sure to find more success and less crowds at your favorite photography spots.