Photography is and has always been a very personal vocation.
For many photographers, the process of capturing an image is just as important as the end result – the long hours of preparation, planning, overseas travel, getting to the right place at the right time and the inner satisfaction of clicking the shutter at just the right moment, knowing you’ve got it.
However, in recent years there seems to have been an explosion in tourism that has completely drained the joy out of the process of photography – from world renowned locations like Moraine Lake to simple local locations like a nearby waterfall – if it is a tourist destination it will be overrun with hordes of people and the experience of photography is ruined.
I have no idea why tourism seems to have exploded in recent years.
It could be the Instagram effect, a global increase in disposable income or just better marketing to a much bigger online audience, but wherever you go in the world now it seems like there is a legion of tour buses descending on anywhere worth visiting.
And not only has there been a dramatic increase in tourism, there has also been a huge dispersion of tourism.
Up until very recently it seems that most mass market tourism was confined to global destinations: Paris, Niagara Falls, Venice, the Caribbean, Disney Land etc. If you were going to photograph one of those – you knew what you were in for.
But in recent years even State/Provincial Parks and local conservation areas are so crowded it’s often not even possible to get in unless you book way in advance. Places that you could just pack up the family for an afternoon hike or picnic are packed beyond capacity.
As an example – here is a graph showing demand versus vehicles admitted to Bruce Peninsula National Park. This is a small, relatively out of the way national park that until recently was really only regionally known – but now even with time of day parking rotation and even a dedicated parking Twitter account (hashtag #GrottoParking) – there is no way you are getting in anytime between June and September.
That’s not to say that as photographers we are somehow solely entitled to these locations, or that there are no positive aspects to tourism.
I have been to many difficult to access locations at sunrise where you run into a handful of other photographers. This has always been a truly enjoyable experience: meeting photographers from around the world, maybe talking a little shop – or just a friendly nod of acknowledgement – one photographer to another and everyone respectfully going about their business to get their photos.
But recently that handful of dedicated photographers has turned into dozens (if not hundreds) of people all at the same place at the same time clamoring to take the same photo.
For me, that is where the joy of the process of photography ends – it’s the chore of having to find ways to work around masses of tourists that really ruins the process of photography – and it seems to be happening everywhere.
As a commercial photographer the extra added headache is that unless I have model releases for everyone in my photos – they’re useless – which in many cases defeats the purpose of putting in the time and effort to capture them in the first place.
As photographers I think we have to accept a large part of the blame for this phenomenon.
We have the skill to capture amazing photos – even in challenging conditions – most of us love to share how we do it (that’s the whole point of DIYP right!?) and then we share the story of those images with the world on social media.
From the outside, the whole thing seems incredibly romantic – stunning locations, amazing people, phenomenal conditions…geotagged location – it’s no wonder everyone else wants to visit!
But there has to be a saturation point – how many people can possibly travel to the same place to take the same photo at the same time?
The end result of tourism run amok is that photographers are forced to abandon locations that have long been staples.
This is both positive and negative.
On one hand, it forces us to use our creativity to find new locations and to photograph established scenes in new and different ways.
On the other hand, a lot of the locations that are not overrun with crowds of tourists are private property. Solitude comes at a price – which means that photographers either need money or influence to gain access – creating a segregation between those photographers in the loop and those left fighting for space at public access points.
As frustrated as I often am with crowds of tourists at my favorite locations – especially if I have put in significant time, effort and money to get there – I am fully cognizant of the hypocrisy of a tourist complaining about tourism (but that doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist).
I also love the fact that so many people are interested in photography – and are willing to put in much the same time and effort as I am.
However, the result is that I have had to shift my mentality from photographer to tourist.
One of my favorite movies is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I love the scene with Sean O’Connell photographing the snow leopard:
Walter Mitty: When are you going to take it?
Sean O’Connell: Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it
Thinking like a photographer, it is hard not to get extremely stressed out about getting the shot – especially if there are a hundred people poking you with selfie sticks.
As a tourist, it is much easier to just be there and enjoy the experience. If there is an opportunity for an amazing photo, capture it. If not, relax and stay in it.
Has Tourism Run Amok and Ruined Photography?
Are you sick and tired of tourists ruining your photos?
Have you given up trying to photograph well know destinations?
What was your worst experience with tourists ruing your shot?
Or do you think everyone has the same right to be there?
Do you think that it’s great that so many people have an interest in photography?
What was your best experience helping a tourist get the shot?
Leave a comment below and let us know!
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