There's not a photographer out there that hasn't experienced the pain of waking well before dawn, trek by headlamp, and huddle for hours breaking off the morning chill waiting for that magical first light only to find dozens, even hundreds, of people with the same idea milling about. It can break your spirit. Paying the price of early rise and careful planning no longer assures us shooters of having a destination all to ourselves.
I've run into this nightmare numerous times and one of the techniques I like to incorporate to ease the pain of crowds in my frame is utilizing the MULTIPLE EXPOSURE capability in my NIKON cameras. The process is pretty simple and actually diminishes the unsightly look of crowds.
Recently, while teaching a workshop in Vietnam/Cambodia for the MENTOR SERIESWORLDWIDE PHOTO TREKS, we woke at 4:30 a.m. to ensure a primo spot to photograph the temples of Angkor Watt at first light. We got there a good hour before dawn and already people had beaten us to the punch. It seemed hopeless we'd capture images of this World Heritage site without throngs of tourists in each and every frame.
I felt robbed. I wanted of a clean photograph of this wonderful historical site. I wanted it to myself. But, that ain't gonna happen in such popular destinations like Angkor Watt. So, let's turn our attention to making the situation work for us with the built in tools inside our visual instruments.
NIKON's Multiple Exposure selection allows us to shoot up to 10 frames (in most models - 3 frames in others) to overlap on a single photograph. It can be a wonderful creative tool in any number of visual situations.
At Angkor Watt, I chose to make 8 multiple exposures of the entrance to the temples. Crowds were pouring out of the temple entrance like water out of a faucet. Each time I tripped the cable release, with the camera on a tripod, I allowed a period of several seconds to pass before I tripped the shutter for each of the eight exposures. By the time I had completed the photograph, more than a minute had passed. I had eight frames overlapping one another giving me ghosts of the people moving about. The crowds, ugly in their original positions, now blended together, overlapped, created new colors, and gave my image a softness that brought the attention back to the temple and not the crowds.
Use this technique to add motion to your photographs. An example; You find a waterfall you want to photograph during mid-day light. Its impossible to get a shutter speed slow enough to give you that "cotton candy" effect you want. So, simply choose 5,6,7 or 8 multiple exposures. You'll find your image now has motion in the noon day sun! Using a tripod and cable release is a must in these situations. And, the beauty of Nikon's internal brain, it calculates all the exposures for you. It allows you to just be creative.
Ok, let's quickly look at a few other methods to bring home our vision in overcrowded locations. When I see there's no hope for clean images, I do one of two things. I move in tighter, like the detail of the carving in the wall, or utilize an alternative process to bring home the flavor of a scene. This can be done with a fish-eye, B/W, sepia, filtered, lensbaby, flash, night, ect., anything to make the photograph unique.
Don't get frustrated or give up when faced with unsightly crowds that pollute your scene. Find a way to make it work. Sometimes, you simply use the crowd as part of the shot. After all, its real. Be creative. Don't be discouraged by obstacles when your travels take you inspiring locations.