How to Get the Perfect Travel Photo and Still Be Kind to Other Photographers and Tourists
In a world where Instagram drives millions of tourists to destinations each year, the photo keepsake has become a hot commodity. Places are becoming more packed than ever with people trying to get the perfect photo for the ‘Gram. So when you are visiting places that are packed with tourists like Times Square, Yosemite Village, or the Eiffel Tower, how can you get a good photo without being inconsiderate? While manners and preferences with personal space do differ depending on the city or country you’re visiting, here are some kindness guidelines that you can follow the next time you’re taking travel photos, or just getting a basic mural photo for your Instagram.
Be Patient and Go Early
For your best chance at a less crowded shot, visit the destination during a lull in the day. Go during standard work hours if it’s a restaurant; go during lunch or dinner hours if it’s a hot spot, and avoid popular destinations during high season. But if avoiding high times is not possible, allowing yourself some time to be patient is possible. In fact, a bit of planning will let you enjoy your visit with less stress, and more tolerance for frantic pace of others around you.
If you’re visiting a place like 30 Rock or the Space Needle, notice that there are gaps in time between elevator drop-offs. There are moments when large crowds emerge from the elevator and take over the space for the next few minutes. But soon, they will disperse and start to go on with their day. As people start to move on or leave, that clear shot with many fewer people in them is likely. If you really want a shot from a particular standpoint, you have to be patient.
If you want to beat almost all of the crowds, we always recommend getting there earlier, no matter the destination or event. Tourists like to sleep in, even if they’re visiting national parks.
For example, we found that visiting many of the hot spots in Yosemite before 8am gave us the place to ourselves. But as soon as 8:30am came around, a small forest of tripods sprouted to capture photos in front of El Capitan and Half Dome. And if you’re thinking about starting a hike after 3pm on a Friday, then you will join the “I left work early” crowd and you may never get a shuttle. If you have your heart set on a photo of you in the middle of a street with no foot or car traffic, a photo of you at a waterfall with no tourists, or a photo in front of the Eiffel Tower, get there just after sunrise. You will have very few people, or no one, in your photo.
Give a Photographer and the Model Space
As we mentioned above, while personal space does differ between cultures—in Asia, acceptable personal space is much less than in the U.S.—give as much space for other people to take their photo as you can and hope they will do the same for you. This is how you can you apply this in real life:
1) Give the photographer space to take an image. Give them the option to take a few steps in each direction in order to line up their shot. Treat them with the respect you would like to receive when you are shooting. If you bump into them, the shot they take could be blurry, they could drop their camera/phone, or you could bump into each other and potentially fall down. In places like national parks, this could be a dangerous, even fatal move.
2) Allow space between a photographer and their subject. If the photographer is using a wide-angle lens, and you want to take a photo in the same general area, try to space your subject 10 feet away from their model to reduce overlapping your shots. However, if it’s a standard 18mm lens or an iPhone shot taken vertically within a close distance (short depth of field), setting up your subject a few feet away should be respectful enough.
3) Having children in tow is a special consideration with kind photography. Teach them the same respect for others you hope the other tourists will show you. Don’t allow your children to run around with little guidance. They need to enjoy their visit too, but everyone’s safety must come first. Be aware that without your supervision, your kids may be photographed without your consent, or bump into other photographers. This is as disruptive as having someone ruin your shot in the same way. Do all you can to keep it safe and polite for them to run around. (Please note that a child with special needs may be energized by these new environments. In this case, patiently make room for the child so they are safe, too.)
Give the Photographer and the Model a Reasonable Amount of Time
If you are in line for a special photo, let’s say at Disneyland, allow each person in line enough time to take their photo. Thirty seconds is usually enough time for a model to get into position and take a few shots of the photograph they want. If someone in front of you is taking too much time, you can politely mention there is a line behind them. If you are the photographer or model, be aware of how much time you’re taking and how you could be delaying the other people hoping for the same opportunity. Furthermore, just because you’re OK with having other people in your shot, doesn’t mean the person in front of you does. Please don’t jump into anyone else’s frame or let your child run in just because you feel it’s been long enough. It’s always a nice thing to ask first before sharing a space that’s being photographed.
If It’s Crowded, Even Without a Line, Don’t Hog a Spot
There are certain destinations where standing in that “one specific spot” is the only or best option. Examples would be: in front of murals that say “I Love You” (you don’t want to crash that photo), specific photo points in Disneyland or Disney World, at the Rocky statue in Philadelphia, or the Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park. In these situations, don’t have your photographer try out a new lens or have the model walk around the statue trying out 30 poses. Instead, have the photographer take a few sequential shots in the poses you’re most comfortable with so you can be out of that spot in 20 seconds, to allow the line to keep moving. Imagine if you were the one at the back of the line. Would you want a family to pose their children for their Christmas card and hog it for 30 minutes while you miss your lunch reservation? Everyone has things to do and people to see, even the people behind you.
If It’s Crowded, Don’t Break Out Your Tripod or Selfie Stick
If you’re at a crowded destination where there’s a lot of people moving around, extending a selfie stick could hit someone in the face or cause someone to trip. If you have a tripod set up 10 feet away from you and there is obvious foot traffic, then you are both endangering those who are walking through the space and endangering your equipment as it could easily get knocked over or snatched.
If you are kind to those around you, you are likely to be awarded the same kindness, and therefore given the time and space to get your ideal photograph. We hope you will encourage this ethical behavior in your travels as well as call out those who are unkind, and potentially unsafe, just for the sake of a photograph. You might get some mean or confused looks for reminding people about their manners and personal space, but if we work together, hopefully we can all create some wonderful mementos for ourselves and prevent any more of the “deadly “deadly “deadly “deadly “deadly “deadly “deadly “deadly “deadly “deadly “deadly “deadly selfie” stories from happening ever again.