Why I Include Strangers in My Travel Photos

Don’t worry, the next London post is coming. But I came across this article in the Daily Mail that I thought was very interesting and proves a great point about travel – especially given my philosoraptor musings in my latest post about the scale of tourism in London.

Namely, the article targets that fantasy of feeling like you’re the centre of the universe when you step out your door; that you hit the road to go off on this adventure that’s all yours and yours alone.

Something like this probably.

Santorini Ideal. Photo Credit: Daily Mail.
Santorini Ideal. Photo Credit: Daily Mail.

Time for a reality check.

Santorini Reality. Photo Credit: Daily Mail.
Santorini Reality. Photo Credit: Daily Mail.

Lesson of the day: if you go on vacation to somewhere iconic that everybody recognizes when they see that pristine, peaceful photo…be prepared to be wading through everyone else who had the same idea as you.

Travel is cheap and accessible – at least to a great portion of the first world – and that means everyone wants that special experience once (if not several times) in a lifetime.

When I scrolled through the first few photos listed (as I recommend you do asap, even before finishing this post – check it out here), I have to admit I felt a little jaded.

Unimpressed Camel
Jaded camel face. Photo credit: Asergeev.

But as I scrolled further down the pictures (I think it was the one in Venice of the crowded pagoda boats that did it), I found myself kind of liking the reality shots. Sure there are a ton of strangers in the frame, but it feels more like the experiences I remember of traveling.

Sometimes that people-free shot is a disservice to the memory. If you never saw the Great Wall of China without rubbing elbows with other wanderlusting vagabonds, why pretend they weren’t there?

I know I know, we all want that idyllic shot – the classic one that looks like it could have sprung from the glossy pages of a travel brochure. I myself try for this too, no doubt about it. I always will.

But lately I’ve also been on a mission to capture the actual feeling of being in a given place, and that means including strangers in my photography.

2016 London January Tower of London Crowd of Tourists small
Tourists at the Tower of London.
2016 London January Nelson's Column Street Scene small
Passing crowds outside Nelson’s Column.
2015 Seoul Trip street crowd small
Crowd scene in Myeongdong, South Korea.

I like to think of it as grabbing everyone in front of me in a big group hug and noogie-ing them into an awkward family photo. You get those unflattering about-to-sneeze expressions, the resting bitch faces, and sometimes if you’re lucky enough the genuine smiles too. Everyone going about their business. No one paying attention to each other.

Everyone’s there to have their own personal good time, but sometimes it’s fun to do that reality check and just laugh at how ridiculous it is that there are so many strangers around all pretending everyone else doesn’t exist.

So I guess just to shake things up sometimes, I like to turn my gaze to include them, to make these fellow strangers as much a part of my travel photographs as any monument or landscape.

After all, I’m just a face in the crowd myself – or rather, a face in the background of someone else’s vacation album.

7 thoughts on “Why I Include Strangers in My Travel Photos

  1. Excellent! Touching onto something a lot of people pretend doesn’t exist. LOVE love LOVE this line: “I like to think of it as grabbing everyone in front of me in a big group hug and noogie-ing them into an awkward family photo.” Perfect description of embracing the reality of the crowds.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great reality check – I did once see the Great Wall in ’83 without a huge crowd, but later in 2003, it was exactly as you said.


  3. When I muse over the fact that the population of earth has increased over 250% since the day I was born it’s not surprising that people are part and parcel of the scenic scenery more and more. You are definitely capturing the reality of our social landscape growing around cities and nature.

    Liked by 1 person

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