1. Get up early. Really early
We’ve all been there. You turn up to see a famous landmark, but all you see are hundreds of people who had the same idea. Or you want to photograph an old city street, but it is so crowded that you can’t get a clear view.
The best way to experience a popular tourist destination is to get there early in the morning. And I mean really early, just as the sun rises. There is this period of stillness between the late-night entertainment and the early morning chores when the city is having a moment to itself. This is an excellent time to explore and photograph the place. You can have entire neighbourhoods to yourself. Not to mention some of the best light of the day.
As an added bonus, without the modern-day distractions of souvenir stalls and selfie sticks, old cities look very… well, old. It is easy to forget what epoch you are in when you find yourself alone on Charles Bridge in Prague, for example.
2. Change perspective
Another good way to avoid the crowds is to move above them. A bird’s eye view of a city can also reveal details that are not obvious from the street level, such as smoke rising out of the chimneys, ornamental roof tiles or a river beyond the city.
With a little research, you can find high vantage points virtually anywhere, be it a tower, a window on the top floor of a department store, a roof-top restaurant or a natural hill overlooking part of a city. You will thank yourself afterwards.
3. Capture the emotion of the place
We love exploring new places because they make us feel something. The aim here is to identify that feeling and try to find a scene that captures it. If it is a busy marketplace, look for people haggling; if it is a temple, see if you can photograph the altar through the smoke of the burning essence; if it is an albatross, don’t zoom in but fill the frame with the ocean instead to capture the freedom and the solitude of the open sea.