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Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Gardening a Tourist Trap - Some tips on shooting in crowded locations

As a general rule I try to avoid places where there are plenty of tourists. It's just easier to get the shot when you are not shoulder to shoulder with a thousand other camera-toting sightseers. The joy of photography is that everything is photogenic, so often I can avoid the usual tourist haunts. My personal love for the Drakensberg is a good case in point. It remains one of the relatively un-photographed majestic landscapes of the world. Compare it to somewhere like Bryce Canyon in the States and it means that you are probably going to find parts of the mountain to yourself, and any images that you create are possibly going to be new. Now try shooting a 'new' shot in Macchu-Piccu (Peru) or Dead Vlei (Namibia). Not that easy.So, here are a couple of things that can help.

Choquequirau in the early morning. My wife and I were two of five tourists in the entire complex, and the only two who woke for the (non-existant) sunrise.

1) Try the less traveled route

When my wife (then my girlfriend) and I traveled to Peru we specifically sought out the less-traveled and visited sites. We were rewarded with experiences like being able to sleep in amongst the ruins of Choquequirau with literally only 3 other tourists in the entire complex. The ruins themselves, although not fully uncovered when we visited, arguably rival those of Machu Piccu (which we also visited) which receives thousands of visitors a day at certain times of the year. 

2) Consider the dates

Admittedly, not a unique image of the Dead Vlei, but an easy one to create when there are no other photographers or tourists around, which there weren't on this occasion because it was low-season.

There are certain periods during the year when places just get filled with travelers. You don't just have to contend with other photographers, but a phalanx of iPhone-wielding tourists that have zero respect for your tripod placement. It is for this very reason that the Namibia landscape workshop that I will co-leading next year takes place in October/November, after the busy season. For Namibia the busy season is the Namibian winter/Northern Hemisphere's summer. The weather is cooler and more stable and more importantly, most first-world travelers are taking their extended summer breaks. By choosing to travel during the low season you miss the hordes.

There is a downside to traveling in the low-season as a non-photographer though. The weather. Very often the weather is appalling during low-season. It's one of the contributing factors to why it is the low season for whichever area you are planning on visiting. BUT, as a photographer this is a plus. Bad (or interesting) weather makes for good photographs.

3) Look at the details

Brass details on a door in Zanzibar

Okay, so you find yourself in a melee of people and are starting to regret booking the trip. Rather than seeking out the well-worn tripod holes of previous photographers, start looking for details. I rather enjoyed Joe Cornish's description of his colleague, David Ward, "Only David will travel half way around the world to photograph rusty car door". David Ward is renowned for photographing the details - the inner landscapes - of the places he shoots. By artistically photographing details you are no longer constrained by those around you. Two photographers I've worked with, Sean Tilden and Martijn van Schaik both love the 50mm primes for their isolating potential in photographing details. 

4) Be prepared to garden

'Gardening' is a term humorously use for manipulating a 'natural' scene so that it looks better. This means using bits of tape, string and sticks to prop up a flower for instance. Or, as I once did, washing the leaves of an aloe plant with a soft sponge in order to clean the accumulated dust off their surface. Sometimes gardening can help, as was the case during a recent recce trip to Namibia's Kolmanskop ghost town. 

Kolmanskop is a small 1960's era town that serviced the diamond mine in the Spergebiet desert in Southern Namibia. After being abandoned the town has slowly been overtaken by the sands of the desert. It is an extremely popular photography destination. Of course sand leaves imprints, meaning that the lovely weathered look of sand flowing through doorways is somewhat lost by the myriad 'Teva' and 'Vibram' footprints that are scattered everywhere. The solution, garden them out of the shot. In this case by throwing sand into the air and allowing it to settle over the footprints. It's still not the same as naturally blown sand with its rippled contours, but it's a sight better than size 9 footprint. 

5) Go the extra mile

Tourists are lazy. Or at least the majority are, and it's the majority you are trying to get away from. If you are wanting to create interesting images, it often means putting on some stout walking shoes. Talk to the local photographers and find out where the best least visited places are. Then walk. 

The entrance to Rainbow Gorge lies at the end of a 7km slippery and sometimes rocky trail. Only a few of the hikers that set out on this walk opt to go the whole way, but it's worth it from a picture-taking potential.

We all want to travel, and as photographers we usually want to create meaningful images that are different to those that have been created before. If I visit Yosemite I don't intend to look for the exact spot that Ansel Adams created 'Clearing Storm' from. I have my own artistic vision with its own set of prejudices and influences from which to draw. Thinking outside of the box, and importantly, planning outside of the box will mean for better images that are both unique and an expression of your own artistic vision of that place. Just be prepared to put a little extra work in to creating those images and they will be different to everything else that has been before.

1 comment:

  1. nice post, Emil! That´s all true!
    I like "go the extra mile" most. ;)