Photo Journal, 2016 Photo Journal

How to Photograph Tourist Attractions

In today’s journal, we’ll be looking at some examples of my work and discuss how to photograph tourist attractions! Let’s face it, when we go somewhere either to visit a new city or country we have limited knowledge and experience of that location. So, what do we usually do? We generally do a little bit of research on the places that we would like to visit.

If you’re a photographer, you’re likely looking for the best possible locations to take photographs. When you do your research, you’ll likely compile a list of the places you feel are likely to be most fruitful. Those places based on your research will most likely be tourist attractions! And there lies the issue! How can you photograph tourist attractions that are likely to be overrun by, well…, tourists?

Before we delve into that question, if you don’t already know who I am and what I do, my name is Don. I’m a photographer who got my start when I was abroad living in Seoul, South Korea. I was there from the end of 2012 until I moved back to Ontario, Canada with my family in mid-May of 2023. I got started in photography at the end of summer 2014 with the purchase of my first DSLR camera, which I have barely put down since! The Photo Memoirs is my personal photo journal, where I share my photography journey with you, in addition to providing meaningful and helpful insights, tips, and motivation for photographers of all experience levels.

With that said, until recently I have shared my journals from my past photography archives, I’m happy to continue that from late April 2016, with one minor change! As noted by the title of this article, how to Photograph Tourist Attractions, I will publish my new articles with the main lesson to be taken away at the fore! (Whereas in the past I have used just a timeline of my photographs with commentary on them.) I will still be sharing the photographs and have some comments on each of them, but I hope this new format will serve more benefit to you!

How to Photograph Tourist Attractions

So back to the bedrock of the question! How do you photograph tourist attractions? The obvious and most simple answer is to go there, take out your camera, and photograph what you see, and what you like. Obviously! But I have a few suggestions for you to try, to make the most out of your visit to a new city/country.

1. Do Your Research

The first suggestion to photograph tourist attractions is a basic one. One that you don’t need to be told, because, let’s face it! You’ve probably already done it. But to reiterate the point, you’ll want to research the locations you plan to visit in advance. You’ll need to know the basic information.

For example…

When is the attraction open?

What are the times/days it’s closed?

When might it be the best time to visit for photography?

These are important pieces of information you will need to know! For example, if you’re a landscape photographer and you’re the best time to visit a place to photograph is 6~7am and 7~8pm, because you’re chasing that golden hour, or better yet, the blue hour, that’s wonderful! But if the location’s hours are 9 am-4 pm, you don’t have that option. But can you photograph from the front of the attraction without having access to go in? Or will you need to adjust your timing and make the most of the availability they present? A little bit of research will go a long way in determining what time will be best to go.

In addition to the time restraint, you’ll want to check into when it’s most likely to be busy! Again in the case of the landscape photographer, if the attraction is opening from 9 am-4 pm, would it be more likely to be overrun with tourists and other visitors in the afternoon? Or can you beat the rush by arriving earlier and getting to the specific spot quicker than other guests? Hit the ground running, sort of speak, as soon as the attraction opens its gates.

The additional information you’ll want to get, of course, involves the cost of entry and the best directions to the location so you don’t wind up lost or going in circles trying to find your way. That could put a downer on your experience!

2. Get Your Postcard Shot

Everyone and their dog, not literally, wants to photograph tourist attractions in the precise way that everyone does! It’s that shot that is the highlight of the attraction. You can see them in your tourist guides, in calendars, on postcards (do those even exist anymore?), and in basically every area of the city that bends to tourists, with every souvenir-selling location.

Some people hate these! They are the same old, same old boring photograph that everyone takes. They all look the same, there’s little interest in them. However, some photographs just HAVE to have their own. So, if that’s you, get your postcard shot out of the way early, then move on to getting more creative in the next tips!

3. Get Creative

Now this is where things get good! You want to capture your photographs based on the way YOU feel, in YOUR photographic style, and not the same as the average photographer. How do you photograph tourist attractions in such a way?

I. Be observant

To photograph tourist attractions well, explore the location that you’re visiting. Try to get an idea of the essence of the place. Observe the people. What are they doing? How are they doing it? What are they enjoying? What are they drawn to? Basically, how are they interacting with the attractions?

Can you create a photograph that tells a story based on what you observe in the location, and what other visitors are engaged with? That has the potential to make a fascinating image.

I’m not saying that I perfected this way back in April 2016, but the images that I took at Gyeongbokgung Palace on this specific spring day prompted me to share my thoughts on this topic. The following is an example of being observant.

Black and white photograph of a Elderly Tourist taking a picture on his phone at Gyeongbokgung Palace Pavilion. How to photograph tourist attractions tip on being observant.

In this instance, I could have just focused on taking a beautiful picture of this Joseon Dynasty pavilion. But instead, I observed what was going on, and how others were interacting and captured this photograph that I’m quite happy with. I think this is one of the keys! To photograph tourist attractions well, be observant!

II. Focus on the Details

Another way to photograph tourist attractions fascinatingly is to get up close and personal, of course within the rules and guidelines of the attraction. Look for details that could otherwise be missed. Can you notice something and include that in the composition of a photograph?

When I photograph tourist attractions, I always try to make this my goal. I try to look for things that others may pass by and not give a lot of attention to. For example, the image below is of a small statue in an enormous palace! The majority of people flock to the main buildings, but as a photographer look for the details!

Statue of one of the zodiac animal statues with Gyeongbokgung Palace King's chambers in the background. Photographed by documentary photographer Donald MacDonell in black and white. Photograph for How to photograph tourist attractions tip: Focus on the details.

III. Try different Angles

This one, I do not have an example of in the photographs I took on this particular day. But it’s important still to mention when you photograph tourist attractions you should always be trying to get creative concerning your composition. Can you get a little more creative with your angles? Always test out and see if you can capture something unique by trying low angles, or high angles! And be on the lookout! Try to look up, down, left, and right and search for something that could make a fascinating image.

4. Embrace the Tourists!!!

So this one is something that I have never heard anybody say! If you’re going to photograph tourist attractions, you’re likely wanting to have as few tourists in the photographs as possible, if not completely removed!

This is not my opinion! I formed this idea a while back just with my experience. I’ve been to several locations where I wind up going to photograph tourist attractions. I often find that these places at one point in history didn’t have tourists, and photographing them in that way may have made sense back in the day.

However, when you photograph tourist attractions today, that is NOT the case. Now the tourists make the attraction what it is! That’s not going to change! To document these places accurately, it should include the tourists, that is just the reality of the location. So when you photograph tourist attractions, EMBRACE THE TOURISTS!

Now, whenever I go, I always try to embrace the tourists when I photograph tourist attractions! These are some of the photographs that I took that day at Gyeongbokgung Palace of tourists and local visitors!

Tourist taking selfie at Gyeongbokgung Palace. Black and white photograph by photographer Donald MacDonell
Korean Couple wearing hanbok smiling and laughing as people take their photo at Gyeongbokgung Palace Pavilion. Photographed by photographer Don MacDonell
Chinese tourists at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, South Korea. Black and white documentary photograph by photographer Don MacDonell
Beautiful Korean Women wearing Hanbok at Seoul, South Korea's Gyeongbokgung Palace. Photographed by Don MacDonell

April 2016
Photographs: #8314~8488

Before concluding this article, I’d like to take the opportunity to tell you about a program that I am offering to photography learners, beginners, and aspiring photographers, free of charge. The goal is to help you improve your photography and develop your unique style. I will become a mentor to help guide you and give advice. We will also review your images and determine how to improve them. I call this The Photography Mentoring Program. You can sign up for the program here.

Learn more about my work or visit me on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube.

Leave a Reply

Discover more from Donald MacDonell

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading