Tourism Has Run Amok…And Ruined Photography

Sep 16, 2017

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand. To see more of his work please visit his studio website blurMEDIAphotography, or follow him on Twitter, 500px, Google Plus or YouTube. JP’s photography is available for licensing at Stocksy United.

Tourism Has Run Amok…And Ruined Photography

Sep 16, 2017

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand. To see more of his work please visit his studio website blurMEDIAphotography, or follow him on Twitter, 500px, Google Plus or YouTube. JP’s photography is available for licensing at Stocksy United.

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Tourism has run amok and ruined photography

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.

Duomo di Firenze - just a mobile phone snapshot at sunrise - the right place at the right time.
Duomo di Firenze – just a mobile phone snapshot at sunrise – the right place at the right time.

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.

Arc de Triomphe Parid
Arc de Triomphe – Paris – One of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, you know there is going to be a crowd.

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.

Florence at Dusk from Piazzale Michelangelo
Florence at Dusk from Piazzale Michelangelo – A classic view, but it took some effort to get a spot at the railing for this photo.

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.

The grotto bruce peninsula state park
The Grotto at Bruce Peninsula National Park – want to visit between June and September? Forget it.

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.

Horseshoe Falls - Niagara Falls at Dawn
The Brink of Niagara Falls at Dawn – I live around the corner but never visit because it’s not a pleasant experience.

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.

"Forrest Gump Point" Mile 13 on U.S. Route 163 Scenic, Oljato-Monument Valley heading south from Mexican Hat Utah in early evening.
“Forrest Gump Point” Monument Valley Utah – this is actually a really busy highway!

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.

Boy at Nice Beach on the French Riviera
Boy at Nice Beach on the French Riviera – One of the most popular coastlines in the world – no people (except my model)?

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?

Blue Spring State Park Florida - Woman Underwater
Blue Spring State Park Florida – Photographer’s projection of visiting.
Blue Spring State Park Florida - Boy on Tube
Blue Spring State Park Florida – Reality of visiting.

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.

vernazza cinque terre italy drone photo
Vernazza Cinque Terre Italy Drone Photo – The streets were jam packed, but the sky was empty.

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.

Woman in Kayak - Stock Photography JP Danko blurMEDIA
Woman With Morning Coffee In A Kayak – Private beach in front of a cottage on Georgian Bay.

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.

Midnight on the Snaefellsness Peninsula Iceland
Midnight on the Snaefellsness Peninsula Iceland – an amazing moment, totally unplanned, nobody around.

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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JP Danko

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand. To see more of his work please visit his studio website blurMEDIAphotography, or follow him on Twitter, 500px, Google Plus or YouTube. JP’s photography is available for licensing at Stocksy United.

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23 responses to “Tourism Has Run Amok…And Ruined Photography”

  1. Michelle Cameron Avatar
    Michelle Cameron

    My biggest frustration is when I set up my camera, and I’m waiting for that image I’ve been dreaming of, and then all the selfie stick tourists suddenly decide my location and angle is also perfect for them because I have professional gear. End result is they block my lens and don’t care that I might have been there an hour already to get that one image

  2. Alexandre Grondin Avatar
    Alexandre Grondin

    Is True tourists ruin everything but it’s been like that since the turn of the 20th century.

  3. Julia Kupeli Avatar
    Julia Kupeli

    Thanks for great post! I’m so surprised to learn that situation seems to be the same everywhere else. I’m from Turkey and my field is mostly Ancient Greek cities. In summer it is now impossible to take a decent pic. Thanks God, in winter the weather is also mostly fine and sunny here:))) but personally I’m not much disturbed, as the article said, we are pushed to seek new locations and create new opportunities, at the end the world is fed up with millions of identical landmarks photos.

  4. Greg Silver Avatar
    Greg Silver

    I am sick of tourists wrecking my photos. I was at Moraine Lake a few years ago. Up top taking a photo when this old oriental woman steps right in front of me and takes a picture then just stands there. I’m like excuse me, I’m taking a picture. She just turned around, didn’t say anything, and didn’t move. How rude!

    1. Mrs. S Coconut Avatar
      Mrs. S Coconut

      Oriental? Now who’s rude? She’s not a rug. I’d stand in front of you, too, for that, but you’d probably call me a red skinned Indian.

      1. Greg Silver Avatar
        Greg Silver

        LMAO. I wouldn’t care if you called me a white man either. I’m not racist. But you’re comment about standing in front of me too lumps you in with all the other rude tourists.

  5. catlett Avatar

    This new trend of entitled photographer who has it ruined by everybody else articles may end up making me miss the “I changed to mirrorless because …” and “Film is better than digital because …”

    I started reading this because I thought it was going to be a satire of the article I read a couple of weeks ago that was essentially the same thing. Nope. Another photographer who thinks that the place they are VISITING is just about them and what THEY want to do while they are there.

  6. Maxim Bulat Avatar
    Maxim Bulat

    Avoid July-August months and you are good to go. Consult the graph you posted. The less comfortable is the weather the fewer people you will see at your locations. Then develop your creativity since the weather won’t be nice for you as well.

  7. Really?? Avatar

    These “ruined the joy of photography” articles are self indulgent crap. Get over yourself and accept the fact that you live on planet earth with others. The mountain that I live near sees more visitors than ever. I could bemoan my childhood when I had the mountain to myself or find beauty in two ways: incorporate the people into my photography or challenge my creativity to see new locations or perspectives. You’re just mad because its harder to sell your cliché boring pictures while you roll out of bed.

  8. KC Avatar

    “Entitled photographer”. That’s brilliant and I have to remember that. I’ll add it to “All the gear, all the time”, “distressed Leica syndrome”, “Camera bling”, “Another derivative image”, “Nice filter, bad image”, and probably a few more.

    I live in a tourism area. I suspect that half the time I’m a prop in someone’s image. If not me, my dog or my car. In fact, there’s a “style” named after the area. It’s that common. On a given day, there could be thousands of people all pointing in the same direction, capturing a version of the same image, from all over the world, with all different cameras.

    It’s great. Those images, as derivative, often filtered, and public as they are should be applauded. It’s the renaissance of the candid photographer and candid photography. Whether these people are out there with a smartphone, enough digital gear to burden a burro, film or vintage cameras, it’s all good.

    Let’s look at it this way. There’s not enough “entitled photographers” to keep the industry going. Those causal photographers are the next generation, the ones camera and accessory makers are hoping to capture. Our upgrade cycle is not enough.

    Yes, we may be at a different level, because of training, experience, and gear. Anyone can capture an image of the obvious. Some might get lucky and capture an extraordinary image. The “extraordinary image” has little to do with the gear, but recognizing it, and capturing it. That’s not an “entitlement”.

  9. davegold Avatar

    Well, one option would be to leave your camera at home and just enjoy being at the location “in the moment”. All the popular tourist locations have been well photographed before in the best conditions ad infinitum, and someone will have already done it better than you are ever likely to.
    Then go out with your camera and find new places that haven’t yet ben discovered.

  10. Albin Avatar

    Also a Toronto resident, I like to get up early on travel days just to get past the rush traffic – one of the last / best photos I took with a film camera was of Niagara Falls passing through it on a visit to the USA: arrived there about 6:30 a.m. and had the falls to myself. I had a job in the 90s that often took me there off season and I often found the whirlpools and good views of the river with few tourists. Agree with the writer that most “destinations” have become more theme park than photo site, but that’s during tourist season and banker’s hours. Selfies are good enough to prove you’ve “been there done that”.

  11. MiamiC70 Avatar

    Too many people on the planet. Most addicting by little or no value we need a major purging of the population.

  12. Anthony Kerstens Avatar
    Anthony Kerstens

    If you don’t want people in your photos, then just do what I do, go places off-season in bad weather. The clouds are much more dramatic than sunny days anyway.

    To quote Agent Smith: I
    hate this place. This zoo. This prison. This reality, whatever you want
    to call it, I can’t stand it any longer. It’s the smell, if there is
    such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink and every
    time I do, I fear that I’ve somehow been infected by it.

    If you don’t like the reality, then pick a different one. I’m going to Iceland in October after the tour buses stop running.

    1. Anthony Kerstens Avatar
      Anthony Kerstens

      Or, you could just change tactics and go with long exposures. People would just be blurs or possibly even eliminated. There are also ways with photoshop and multiple exposures to remove people altogether.

  13. Avatar

    Been thinking about this subject during my current trip through Italy–all popular places are so packed, it’s often not worth even attempting a photo. Instead, enjoy the moment, and maybe pull out the camera if you see a shot worth taking. Also, it’s worth evaluating why you’re taking the photo in the first place. So many iconic places have been photographed well, so what is the point of doing it yourself? Another tactic is to visit off season and go places that are more under the radar.

  14. Arthur_P_Dent Avatar

    I was at the Seattle Aquarium, and they were feeding the otters, and this woman with an iPad positioned herself in front of the viewing window, and nobody was able to get a shot because she was blocking the view. And it was the last feeding of the day, so the opportunity was lost.

  15. Roelof Moorlag Avatar
    Roelof Moorlag

    Isn’t it a little bit arrogant and selfish to not want all those other photographers in the neigborhood at a beautifull location and time of day?

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      I’m not really sure where the assumption that this point of view is entitled, arrogant, selfish or lazy comes from.

      Think about it this way: You’re a swimmer. You love swimming lanes at your local pool. The quiet solitude, just you and your thoughts in the water lap after lap and the challenge of improving your times. You always go to the pool at 2:00 on Tuesdays. There are usually a handful of other swimmers – everybody knows the etiquette of swimming lanes and it’s an enjoyable experience. Then one Tuesday there is suddenly 100 people all trying to swim in the same lanes at the same time. Some people are swimming freestyle, some breaststroke, some can’t swim at all, occasionally somebody’s going backwards and nobody knows how to pass…its a gong show. Is it selfish, arrogant, lazy entitled etc to prefer the former?

      1. Roelof Moorlag Avatar
        Roelof Moorlag

        I’m not sure, thats why i asked. I am a swimmer too so i can see what you mean, i prefer a quite lanes also but that is almost never the case. I’m always swimming in a crowd. However, i cherish the moments when it’s actualy quite. When i’m photographing i try not to be the annoying one that is blocking the view for everyone else. Sometimes i mis the shot i wanted but thats live. I’m a tourist as all the others and they have the same ‘rights’ as me. Because i like to take photo’s in a quite environment too i’m looking for locations other than the obvious

  16. Harma Moorlag Jonker Avatar
    Harma Moorlag Jonker

    As a tourist i hate it if someone is standing on that special place for a long time because he or she is standing and waiting for a picture while I just want to enjoy and make a picture on my IPhone. We have to make it a fine world for everyone and not just for a happy few with expensive camera’s.

  17. Chris Avatar

    go find new places then, you lazy bum

  18. Aaron M. Avatar
    Aaron M.

    Tourism ruining photography? Give me a break! Ask Air BNB and local pet shelters on how good photography can help drive up business most folks won’t have. How about this! Spend less time complaining and more time figure ways to address obstacles interfering in your creative process! What’s the point in complaining if you’re not doing anything to fix it.