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Abracadabra: Now You See Them—Now You Don’t!

Tips for Dealing with Photographers and Other Distractions in Your Photos.

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Once the Summer Season begins—and continuing well into Winter—it is often difficult to take photos in most of the popular spots without having one or more tourists or photographers in your shot. You can get there early, stake out our spot, and spend the rest of the morning screaming at the intruders (not recommended)—or you can keep your blood pressure down and just roll with the flow. It’s much easier easy to fix the distractions than it is to worry about confrontations. That’s my position anyway! Most of the suggestions below might be overly apparent to veteran photographers, but still be eye opening comments to others.

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There are lots of “battle plans” you can consider while set up to take your shots. Here’s my short list. I’ll address them individually as I go through the post.

  1. Get there early! Most tourists and tour groups don’t get out at first light. You’ll get better shots with beautiful saturated light, too!
  2. Move around & compose “in camera”. Sometimes it takes only a step or two to eliminate a distraction. I’d much rather deal with it in the field than in Photoshop or Lightroom.
  3. Wait! Most tour groups or photographers are in a hurry. Give them a few minutes and they will usually disappear like magic!
  4. Stagger their movements. It is easy to copy “good parts” from two or three images and layer them into an image. A little planning can make it much easier.
  5. Use the photographers in your shot!  Sometimes, including a large group of people, or even a single photographer, in the shot can actually “tell a story”.
  6. If all else fails and the best light is slipping away, plan on using the cloning and healing tools in a program like Lightroom or Photoshop to remove them. Pick your time and place to take the shots to make the cloning steps easier on you. Going back to #1: other die-hard, early bird photographers may already be set up when you get there. They probably won’t be leaving until after the best light is long gone.

Photographers, tourists, and tour groups can be obvious “distractions”. Other times, you might have to deal with a parked car or trailer. Roads and power lines might be a problem. in some shots. Airplanes can take a while to travel out of a scene. Some jets leave con trails in the sky at the most inopportune time or area of the sky.  At night, they can leave a trail of light on a long exposure. In some areas, you might not be legally allowed to go out and remove a distraction. Unless you can recompose a shot to eliminate them, you’ll either have to live with them or remove them in post production.

In my list above, the first three focus on attempting to reduce or eliminate the issue in the first place. The last three deal with recovering an image if the first three just don’t work out.

Get There Early!

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Hard to beat Alpenglow light!  No matter when you get there in the Fall, there will already be people at Oxbow Bend. If you move around a little, you can almost always find shooting locations where no one will be in your photo. Other hot spots like the Mormon Row Barns and Schwabacher Landing can be crowded on some mornings, but the early visitors usually have less people to deal with for their shots.  You’ll have a better chance to get a choice spot if you are there before sunrise, knowing the bulk of the visitors are still sleeping or just now sitting down for breakfast. Besides the semi-private photography, winds are usually calm and the light is so beautiful.

Move Around & Compose “In-Camera”.

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Sometimes, it only takes moving a few steps to the left or right to eliminate distractions. These photographers were there before me. I put the two photographers on the right against the gray stucco building in this image. Occasionally, getting lower will allow sagebrush or small bushes to hide elements. Likewise, I watch for something “natural” in the scene to block a man made distraction, like a camper or reflection off a mirror. It might take only an inch or two of a move to save some time later.

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Just the Homestead: While I liked the dark photographers against the foggy gray buildings, all I had to do was move a few feet to the right to eliminate them. Abracadabra!

Tip:  I don’t believe a lot of people actually take time to LOOK at their image before taking the shot. This especially applies to landscapes and portrait images! Many people, especially amateurs are so focused on seeing their “subject”, they forget to look for conflicting lines and distractions. For example, it is easy to take a shot of a couple of kids along the lake shore, only to view the photos later and see there were a couple of sailboat masts in the distance, protruding up from their cute little heads. After seeing it in the viewfinder, all it takes is stepping a couple of feet in either direction. Instead of being a distraction, the distant sailboats can actually add to the scene.

Wait!

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Tour Groups often park at the intersection and walk to the barn using the dirt road. Most seem to have little regard for the groups of photographers set up in the field long before they arrived. This shot has only six people taking their time in front of the barn. Sometimes, there a 30 or more people getting off the bus. This image was taken at 7:31 a.m. last September.

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By 7:46 a.m., the group was gone and first light hit the barn. Perfect timing!

Stagger their movements:

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At times, a person (or animal) will be moving around in the scene. Just to be safe, I snapped this image with the girl in a “workable” spot in the scene.

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This image was taken only a few minutes after the previous one. It is fairly easy to select and copy the area in the red box above and paste it into the first image. As it turned out, she moved completely out of the frame a minute later and I didn’t have to deal with the layering of the two images…but at least I gave myself a few options.

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Who knew the girl would walk out of my shot? I certainly didn’t at the time! Ideally, I would have taken a shot with the girl just to the left side of the barn. It would have been very easy to remove her later. If I remember correctly, she was in that spot at about the same time as that group of six was about to exit to the right of the scene. There are plenty of “bad” places to photograph the girl in this image! The cloning and healing tools in Photoshop and Lightroom are not great dealing with data at corners of buildings as seen in the ovals above. For this image, I had lots of options for removing the girl, but that wasn’t totally by accident!

Use the Photographers in Your Shot!

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A Photo is Worth a Thousand Words!  It would be difficult to accurately describe this scene to anyone, yet it is common around the first of October each year. Some of those people had been there since 4:00 am to hold their spot.

If All Else Fails

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The three people in the lower right might not be a problem or distraction for some viewers. That is a subjective call. I could have cropped them out in post production or even cropped them out in-camera by just rotating the tripod head a few degrees, however if I still liked the full composition, it’s not a hard job to remove them. Adobe Photoshop has a variety of power tools in including the “clone stamp” tool and a “content aware healing brush”. If I need to do extensive tight work, I use Photoshop to complete the task. For quick edits, including removing dust spots, many people use Adobe Lightroom. The Spot Removal Tool (Shortcut: Q) now has an option for either cloning or healing. Many photographers swear by Lightroom, suggest it is all they ever need.

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The cloning above took only a few minutes in Photoshop. If you do a few web searches, you’ll find plenty of tutorials on both tools in both programs. KelbyOne.com and Lynda.com both offer great online video training on the two programs. I won’t attempt to cover the tools in this post—but maybe someday!

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Cloning Candidate? Not for me! Cropping?… Maybe! But in reality, I found a good spot somewhere along the shoreline and took a bunch of shots of the scene as individual images and several versions as candidates for a stitched panoramic image. You have to work quickly at this time of the morning, however!

Comments on Cloning

There are still purists in the world that frown on any kind of post processing and editing—even cropping or straightening an image. I can respect their position, but it’s not mine. Journalistic photographers are required to follow strict rules. Their editors might require getting a copy of the original raw files for their records. Conversely, fashion photographers get away with murder. But, for most purposes and most photographers, photography is simply about delivering an image that pleases them. A few adjustments (or even a lot of adjustments) are perfectly fine. Shoot your shots and make yourself happy!

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Comment (1)

  1. Lowell Schechter

    Hi Mike
    this park is quite large and there are many opportunities to take photos with out any one you don’t in the picture. But I know that when I was there, tour groups would show up and I would have to either move on or just wait till they have exhausted all there photo ops. So many people ask me to take there people and I happily oblige them. From what I see from your post that early morning and late day is a bit of a problem.
    thanks Lowell

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