Sooner or later, unless you live in the country and never ever venture into anywhere humans congregate, every photographer is faced with the challenge of shooting in an area where there are a TON of people around. This sort of situation used to make me sweat profusely because I had no idea how to handle it, but these days I have a few go-to tactics to help when our location isn’t as clear as I’d like! Joe & Sara’s wedding was such a good exercise for me- we were photographing part of their wedding portraits down at the Tidal Basin where the Cherry Blossoms were due to bloom, and there were literally THOUSANDS of people down by the water. It was crazy! While I was a bit more apprehensive than usual, it was just a matter of using these tricks to get (mostly) tourist-free photos!
1) Isolate the bride and groom. If there’s a particular place where you’re shooting that doesn’t have a ton of people in the background, shoot there! Maybe that’s a storefront, the waterfront, or a pier. Do whatever it takes to get the bride and groom AWAY from the people swarming your precious shooting space.
2) Get in close! These situations are the type that make me want to kiss my 85 1.2 lens. It allows me to stand far enough back that I’m not way up in my couples’ grills, but I still get those intimate, organic portraits that have become my trademark of a sorts. Shooting closer in eliminates the issue of people who may be on either side of the couple.
Unsightly tourists? Not a problem! I just rotated Joe & Sara a little bit, then got in close to eliminate the extra people.
Same thing here. I was shocked at how many people were willing to be up at 6:30 in the morning for the blossoms, but Tim & Lauren were champs and we just worked around them.
3) Throw the aperture WIDE open. I love shooting at f/2.0 and under, so the backgrounds of my images are typically buttery and soft, meaning anyone in the background becomes a blur. Just make sure to watch out for any “black holes,” or super dark things in the background that can distract from your subject.
See all those tiny people on the opposite side of the Tidal Basin? They could have interrupted the shot on the right by becoming distracting blobs of non-pink color, so I dropped my aperture to f/1.2 to blur them out of existence. Also, I had Tim & Lauren backed up right against the water so we didn’t have to worry about people walking through the background of our images.
4) Have your assistant or a couple of groomsmen run interference. If you need a couple of extra feet of space, position your second shooter or groomsmen far enough behind you that people will get the idea not to walk between you and the couple. Try to be sensitive to just HOW crowded the space is, and if you’re taking up the only possible avenue for walking, get the shot quickly and then get out of there. If you hold too many people up, you run the risk of being asked to leave.
5) If all else fails, embrace it and make the chaos part of the story. Maybe your bride and groom are getting married in New York City- people KNOW that New York is crowded, so have the masses as part of your images functions as part of the story you’re trying to tell. When Matt and I scheduled our anniversary session with J&M in New York, I knew we’d have people walking through the back of some of our images, but truth be told, I really love those images! It serves as part of the beauty of the image, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
How about you all? Any secret tips on shooting in places jam packed with people? I’d love to hear it!