Are Tourism and Photographers Ruining Photography?

I came across this interesting video in which a frustrated photographer examines the issue of too many people and impolite behavior making landscape photography difficult at beautiful locations. It's definitely an issue that deserves to be addressed, and his take on it is worth hearing. 

Brendan van Son recently posted this video in which he asks if photographers are ruining photography for other photographers after finding himself frustrated by both the number of people and their behavior at a beautiful mountain lake. Personally, I think the issue is more complicated than simply photographers ruining life for other photographers, and I also don't think it's as extreme as he asserts. Nonetheless, the rise of social media has highlighted locations that once took a good deal of committed research to find, while travel has become more affordable. On the same token, as cameras get better and better and the price of entry for a decent kit continues to decrease, we've seen a proliferation of tourists who aren't really photographers, but enjoy the pursuit of it enough to spend time in these locations shooting. I've certainly had my share of shots ruined by an intruder, but I often remind myself that out of the person standing in a river with a camera and someone walking along a trail, I'm probably the odd one. In other words, photographers have no more right to be in these places than anyone else, but as the masses continue to flock to them, we might see paradigms shifts in what landscape and travel photographers shoot and how they shoot it. Have you dealt with this? How do you handle it?

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60 Comments

Digital has made things worse, but to be fair I first encountered this problem decades ago when photographers were still shooting film. I hiked to delicate arch in Utah at sunrise and was surprised to find about 30-40 people were already there and half of them were taking pictures. My shots turned out very mediocre, so I considered it to be my fault for choosing a view that was so popular in the first place. I don't think that there is anything wrong with photographers that want to take pictures of established views, but I do think that they should relinquish all claims to originality and just consider it a standard photo/tourism experience. The shots can be fun to take and nice souvenirs but they're too "old hat" to be much more than that.

Timothy Daniel's picture

This has nothing to do with digital or film, Lake Moraine is about 5 minutes away from a large hotel its incredibly easy to access and in an area that 3 million people visit every year.

There is an infinite number of unique locations in the canadian rockies to photograph, you just need blood sweat and tears to get there.

Anonymous's picture

It was more difficult for photographers to get great shots in the past because you had to the legwork and research to find them. Well, now it's still difficult for photographers to get great shots because we have to find NEW great locations and vantage points. We have to go in less comfortable weather. We have to be more patient. It's not really all that different. jmo

In my case, I'm graphic designer but not a photographer. I used to like to take astrophotos. I'm from Tenerife, Spain, and the worst thing I've been seeing is not only with tourists but with local people. Ultramarathons and all that kind of mountain races are the trend in the last years. Locals use to train in mountains (I understand that) but they are too much people in a place very small like this island is. So don't worry if you visit Tenerife and you have an accident in mountains because a runner will help you...haha.

When Star showers have place, or "super moons" etc, where I found silence, calm and enjoyed the moment, now there are what we call in Spanish "botellón". A lot of people with cars and drinks, smoking and music. So sad and photos at the end...well, is complicated to get a good dark area when this things happens (celestial events).

John Cliff's picture

that attitude! it's kind of like not looking past the end of your nose...many photographers seem to think that they, their shot and their profession are the most important part of any public scenario...people are free to enjoy all parts of our world...as a photographer you need to work around this and get the best shots you can without denying people their freedoms

Robert Nurse's picture

True. But, some folk need a lesson in simple awareness. Like, if you see a photographer already set up, don't park yourself right in front of their lens.

I've been lucky. Most people move out of the way and apologize when they see my 70-200. I'm always surprised because I think someone with an Iphone has as much right to be there as I do. I joke to my husband that "this thing is POWER."

I didn't catch a negative attitude from Brendan van Son at all. He was actually quite positive and accepted the situation for what it was. He lamented for the days when the average person didn't know the difference between midday and golden hour light, but it was just an observation, not a complaint. And he certainly didn't deny anybody their freedom. He simply left when he knew he couldn't get the shot he wanted. Spoiler alert: The moral of the video comes at the end when he still has a great day by enjoying a paddle for the sake of it. I'm not sure many of the commenters here actually watched the video.

Elan Govan's picture

I thought he sounded like a spoil brat having a bad day.....grumbling..sorry lamenting the lost of his perfect sanctuary. Unable to enjoy his privilege position first thing in the morning....peace and quiet, just him and nature as he used to be in the good old day. Sorry Stephen, nobody has that absolute right in public spaces.

Kyle Medina's picture

Yeah lets be pissed off that travel has become very affordable for people, WTF people. Though this photographer travels to these locations knowing its popular taking the exact same shot, chasing the same image that inspired him to pick up the camera. You are part of the problem to the narrative you're pissed about. You're nothing special, you're not that important. https://fstoppers.com/photo/136299

Le Moraine Lake by Sherwin Magsino

Le Moraine Lake

Zoom in, go in the off-season, go at an unusual time, shoot from a less obvious viewpoint or find yourself something new to photograph. Those are the only options available.

Crystal Provencher's picture

Exactly. I was there a few weeks ago and instead of going to the typical shot, we hiked 6.7 miles up switchbacks in pitch black to get to a new spot and photographed those same peaks at a new perspective.

That is exactly how I felt last time I was in Las Vegas.... ;)

ooooo, i love vegas

Elan Govan's picture

I am a landscape/travel photographer. During my last visit to Angkor Wat in June, the place was packed with visitors by 5.30 am. Rather than getting frustrated and irritated with the crowd's presence, I just adapted and still manged to get some great shots. This is not the 18th or 19th century where only the privileged few traveled and made a name for themselves.

Kyle Medina's picture

"This is not the 18th or 19th century where only the privileged few traveled and made a name for themselves." Exactly.

JT Blenker's picture

As an artist and a photographer, the biggest thing I do is exempt parts of a landscape I don't want seen. Remove the distractions as much as possible. Digital has made creating a scene easier than ever because we can direct the focus of the viewer even if a distraction ( including a moving person ) is present originally in an image. We are problem solvers at the heart of it and even though we may be helping many more people see and want to explore these beautiful areas, if we are a professional then we need to take their involvement as either part of the experience or as part of the job: to have the viewer see what we want them to see and never know we were surrounded by those who value the landscape as well.

I can't stand snobs. I may not be a "professional" photographer, but that doesn't mean that I can't go and photograph what is beautiful to me. I went to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge last weekend and yes there were lota of people. But I still managed to get some nice shots. I even climbed a small peak and waited two hours until after dark to get some photos. Ansel Adams may not have had to deal with "annoying tourists and wannabe photographers", but he also couldn't just hop to a spot in the world with a digital camera and Adobe Photoshop on his laptap to edit and upload his professional photos. If too many people is all you have to complain about then go to friggin Antarctica where you won't run in to anyone and have your little pity party there.

I can't stand snobs either. So full of sh*t! What's a wannabe photographer? I wanna-be a photographer. LOL.

Robert Kirkwood's picture

I'm new to the dslr game after spending YEARS as a point and shoot camera guy. I love everything about photography so this type of thing does not bother me. I watch other photographers, their models, and attempt to shoot each shot like my own. I have met some jerks but MORE often, really helpful people. Enjoy the experiences and the opportunity to be around like minded people. Just my opinion y'all. PEACE from the STL.

Jonathan Reid's picture

Um, didn't your landscape photography around the world tutorial cover exclusively well known iconic views? It seems that the trend is to aim to get the best possible image from the established viewpoint rather than risk exploring and finding something not as picturesque.

I remember being at a New Zealand chapel at 2am in the morning to see the night sky and photographers were there in mass with a photography magazine. They were recreating a shot in the magazine to the exact millimetre.

Kris Singleton's picture

Entitled photographer annoyed with other entitled photographers being entitled.

Carlos Santero's picture

This article sucks. Eveyday I see the same pictures from landscape photographers. I understand, that photographer want to shoot the same picture that someone did before, because its something special. Sometimes we all do this. But this is nothing special. But today it is so easy to find new great locations, you only have to open your eyes at google maps with satelite view or geographical view (sorry but english is not my native language).
Go out and shoot near your location, show the world something new.
Don´t cry like a Baby..."OMG thera are so many phorographers"...you are one of them.
I don´t have a problem with other photographers if they respect the nature and don´t leave anything there if they go home.
The Author of the video is a young arrogant guy who don´t know what he says. I grow up with analog photography without GPS without Google or anything. Now it´s very easy to see great photos and localize where photographers made this, but the author of the video do the same like other photographers do that he talked about.
Real photographers do their own thing and respect other people and nature. And also other photographers.
So go out and find something special in the near of your hometown!

Simon Patterson's picture

Sounds a bit like a retailer complaining that customers get in the way of their work day.

Anonymous's picture

I've dealt with more than a few retail employees who acted like I was bothering them. :-)

Simon Patterson's picture

Yeah, they sure make themselves noticed, don't they! I've also worked with a few people who've said quite seriously "it would be so much better if we didn't have to deal with customers".

Then again, here we have a photographer whose Youtube videos are encouraging others to get out and shoot, saying the same about people who actually get out and shoot!

Michael Breitung's picture

We shouldn't complain too much.. although I'm also doing it quite a bit ;-) We select the locations we shoot in and as many of the commenters alraedy said, first we should know what to expecct at those popular spots, plus it's still possible to find new locations.

I have been guilty myself of standing in a river composing a shot for a few minutes and certainly ruining the image for a few tourists while doing so. On the other hand I had to wait 90 minutes at the Bayon Temple for a women to finally leave hear selected seat at the entrance until I could take my shot. It always goes both ways ;-)

I think we all just need to be a bit more thoughtful, respect that those places are for everybody and be patient. Although this patience might sometimes be tested to the extremes.

Ansel Spear's picture

I witnessed the most extraordinary thing in the Lake District, UK, last year.

I got to a well-known stone circle at the start of a winter's golden hour. The light was a wonderful weak watercolour. I was not the only one there, but we were all aware of the etiquette - not to hog the view, allowing everyone an opportunity to have a go.

Suddenly an elderly man with all the gear - the fur hat, the jacket, the kit - oh all the kit, plonked his Gitzo tripod down on the periphery of the circle - obstructing any possibility of further wide shot photography. In a slow, lumbering manner, he adjusted the tripod legs up; he adjusted them down; up again; took the cover off the RRS BH-55 ball head; twiddled with a knob or two; attached the Nikon D810; took the body cap off; looked inside; took his Rocket blower from the bag: puffed inside the mirror box; attached a lens; took the lens cap off; looked at the glass; took a cloth out of his bag; breathed on the lens; cleaned it with the cloth; replaced the lens with some other; repeated the cleaning process;

As yet, he still hadn't actually looked though the camera or at the scene enfolding in front of him.

Next he took a filter holder and attached it to the lens; took out a grad from his bag; held it up to the light; looked at it; breathed on it; cleaned it with the cloth; attached it...

...It was at this point that I left. There was no point hanging about. What was bizarre was not so much his complete lack of regard for others, but that the magic watercolour moment had vanished. He'd missed all of it!

I left him twiddling, puffing, adjusting and attaching, whilst all that was left was a flat, lifeless scene.

Elan Govan's picture

I think they call it ritualistic approach to photography. .....probably the same with anything he touches. Never mind, at least you got it out of your system.

Anonymous's picture

If he was so elderly, why didn't you kick his arse!? ;-)