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Saturday, 28 September 2019


Two things:

I live in Huntington Beach, CA aka Surf City. On weekends, the city is over-run by people from the Inland Empire (60-75 miles away)—the locals stay-away. I've never seen any cameras on display ...if you say Big White, they think your are speaking of sharks.

One of my MDs has an iPhone 11 Pro. He uses it to send photos and text messages on an encrypted medical network. He says the camera is better, and the phone works faster. An endorsement from a real professional that I trust.

This post resonates with me for a couple of reasons.

I live in Italy one of the worlds major destinations. In the Eighties I spent my honeymoon in the Cinque Terre just over the Apennines from where I live. The was some local tourism and it was all very pleasant, uncrowded and romantic. I have a photograph of the local kids playing football in the main street of Riomaggiore. In the main square old people sat talking in the shade and cats slept on the little fishing boats. It was all very Italian.

I had the bad idea of taking some visitors from the UK there some five years ago in the same period. The Cinque Terre have become an overcrowded hell on earth. Only the cats are hanging on by the skin of their teeth.

Just down the road you will find similar villages that are just as pleasant as they were in the Eighties. They are lucky not to belong to the Famous Five. Although a gushing travel article in the Guardian the other day about Framura could mean the rot will set in there too.

I live in the industrial north, in a town, which is off the tourist bucket list. Scratching around in local bookshops throws up a whole load of locally published books with places to visit near to home. It is amazing the interesting places you can find near to home if you dig around.

I can walk in the high Apennines in some wonderful landscapes, without meeting another soul all day.

I have a Renaissance “perfect” city just an hour away as well as other interesting monuments that a bit of research brings to my attention.

The good thing about local locations is that they are usually uncrowded and the people are happy to have somebody around who takes an interest in their town or village. I can usually get permission to use a tripod in some old dark monuments and other things that make my photography easier. I also get to have some nice conversations with the local people.

I travel for my work, and I often am able to take the afternoon off to do some tourism (I am the boss). Even our heavy industrial cities like Brescia and Bergamo have loads to offer.

Then there is Mantua (Mantova) a splendid Renaissance city surrounded by a lake. I cannot understand why the nearby Verona is so much more popular with far less to see and experience.

The problem here in Italy is that the tourist presence is confined to four or five big cities. Spread around a bit more to the other cities, it would be more pleasant for both visitors and inhabitants.

Perhaps Virtual Reality will replace in-person visits to overloaded tourist destinations. Or maybe it will just allow people to visit who couldn't afford to (in real reality) with no effect on the number of "real tourists."

I think neither. As the world becomes wealthier, more will travel to see the world. The whole real world. And VR will be a marketing tool for travel.

I also find that the photos I enjoy the most are the ones I take in places I know best. The hardest thing about travel or even destination landscape photography for me is shaking off the preconceived notions of what photos are available. Once I can get past those, I can be much more receptive to the opportunities that do exist.

If you're unable to shoot a worthwhile picture within 40 ft from your doorstep then you're no photographer.

It's tricky. I do love to travel, but I have noticed this both at home and abroad. I live in Edinburgh, which is a lovely city, but it's changed a lot over the past few decades - it's well on its way to becoming the sort of tourist ghetto where locals can no longer afford to live (see the likes of Venice or Dubrovnik). Air B&B (which I've used) is blamed for a lot of this - walking along city streets you can see the lock boxes lined up on the door frames. There have been news stories about the amount of people trying to get to the Isle of Skye too - a place that lacks the infrastructure for the numbers going there.

I was in Arizona last Christmas (which is very out of season) and the crowds going through Antelope Canyon and at Horseshoe Bend were really staggering - I shudder to think what it's like in high season. If anyone has watched those old LuLa videos of Antelope Canyon, where it's deserted and they have it to themselves, forget about that notion - it's a literal procession of people shuffling through.

I guess people travel more than they used to - not to mention the increasing affluence of countries which didn't previously have a lot of external tourism, like India and China. I also blame the the Internet and all the photos of exotic places (many judiciously over-saturated and devoid of people), the books and articles of 'places to see before you die' (as if there was a way to do so afterwards) and all the people who just want pictures of themselves posing in recognisable locations.

But I'm as guilty as anyone else - I was in Antelope Canyon and at Horseshoe Bend, with the multitude I'd like to deride, after all.

Photographically speaking, I don't get much inspiration from the familiar. Nearly all the photos I like best I take on a trip somewhere.

There is a concept in quantum mechanics that states that the act of observation changes the reality of that which is being observed. I think overtourism is like that.

Whatever the term, the overcrowding of our National Parks in particular has been a serious and much debated issue for years, especially in the last five or so. A Google search will bring up dozens of published articles.

I have probably contributed to this, although my wife and I tend to do trips to Europe in November or March.

We don't travel to Europe often, but I have done so from 1975 to 2014, and the trend is discernible. More disposable income on several continents, I guess. My subjective impression is that there are far more tourists, that they tend not to know local languages and be in guided groups that descend en masse on locations and that this extends to secondary and maybe tertiary destinations as well as the biggies.

There are still many great places to see and cultures to enjoy. So I guess you can't ask people to stay home. You could ask them to be more respectful and polite. The "Ugly Americans" in Europe, at least, are usually not Americans anymore.

A subject close to my heart Mike, and you sure know how to pick the controversial ones. I haven't encountered the word overtourism before either, but I certainly have encountered the phenomenon itself.
Firstly though, and maybe pedantically, I would differentiate between a traveller and a tourist, but this is biased toward my own perspective and practice, which is to travel for longer periods but moving around less. That is, to actually get to know a place a little better than what can be achieved in a day or two. To get under its skin so to speak. I have travelled quite a bit and it's a major motivator for my photography, but tourist hot spots rarely figure on my radar. In fact they put me off big time and the crowds who visit them are getting worse all the time from my limited experience (seeing as I rarely visit any of them). Unfortunately in my eye, it has coincided a lot with the advent of digital photography and the ubiquitous selfies and social media. I remember travelling for months at a time through a single country in South America (for example) armed with an SLR and 50-100 rolls of film and having to worry about X-ray exposure at airports and border crossings. No problems now - it's so easy (even easier with just a phone) and I love it, but I would still be doing it the previous harder way if digital hadn't happened, which I don't think would be the case for 95% of travelling photographers now.
As you say, it's a major aspiration for many these days and this is probably the problem, exacerbated ironically by all the perfect pictures of these famous spots that proliferate on the internet thanks to the digital workflow. If tourists weren't aspiring to simply tick off another destination on their bucket list (which gets influenced and changed constantly by whatever is the most currently popular thing) and more interested in travelling around an area to meet interesting people, taste the local food, see how people of other cultures live and, if it works, to take some photos, then travel would be a very different thing. I get the impression that this is exactly what Peter Turnley does, hence his interesting and soulful photos rather than cookie cutter ones.
Of course the advent of budget airlines has not only magnified the problem but also has a detrimental impact on the planet, hence my justification to stay longer in one area rather than continuously hop all over the place. But it's definitely something to consider also.
In 2018 I travelled for almost the whole year continuously, but the shortest time I spent in any one place was three weeks. I lived in a Spanish village for three months and that was a major highlight. Actually there was one place where I stayed for less than a week which was the Venice region in Italy, as we were on our way to Slovenia and stopped in out of (misplaced) curiosity. As interesting as Venice is culturally and architecturally, I really disliked the whole experience even though we stayed on the mainland and either walked or bused it to Venice every day before sunrise and were out of there before the crowds were hardly stirring, and have no inclination whatsoever to go back.
The best experiences (and photos) involved out of the way places, local people and their hospitality and long stays in a single location, which is the exact opposite of what passes for tourism these days.
And I agree that there are pictures everywhere and travel is unnecessary to find them, but I'm a curious person and a romantic and want to see and learn how other people live and how they interact with, and are influenced by, their environment. It's my raison d'être for travel and the photos, especially photographic projects, although highly motivating are secondary to those amazing encounters with interesting people (who I curiously enough, rarely take photos of) and interesting landscapes and back alleys (which I photograph a lot more). A photo of something should never be the prime motivator to travel IMHO, and nor should the trophy of visiting a place for whatever reason.

A few years back Mrs. Plews decided I needed to revisit Arches and Mesa Verde. It was early fall and you could walk from one end of Arches to the other on the top of photographers heads. It was still fun, just don't expect to get anything unique.
That's ok, my friends like the prints I gave them and that satisfies what ambition I may I may have yet.
You've right about the best stuff being close to home but hitting popular spots can be fun too.

In the crime novels by Donna Leon about the Venetian detective Guido Brunetti, it seems like the characters spend a lot of time complaining about all the tourists and cruise ships.

I liked how My wife and I “toured” San Francisco. We found places we liked within walking distance and returned several times. A jazz bar with great pizza and great jazz. A little coffee shop owned by a Russian immigrant who made good coffee and super good egg sandwiches. Another breakfast nook owned by an Asian couple. Cheap, delicious, classic American Breakfasts with Stir-fried rice always an option. Haven’t returned but the memories are strong.


I will say that travel - real travel, or expatriation, as opposed to box checking the latest famous monument or visiting the latest resort - is indispensable for learning more about and understanding the world.

Given today’s hyper-polarised climate, the best metaphor is social media - many who use it believe that it sufficiently replaces face-to-face communication, but based on the research and evidence, it clearly does not in a net way improve cross cultural or cross political understanding and discourse.

I’ve lived and worked on four continents, and consider those experiences the most valuable and impactful in my life. On my website, I’ve tried to distill what my photographs from those experiences mean to me, and for what sort of audience they are intended, and although I’m no JFK speechwriter, I strongly believe in the meaning:

"for all those that travel not to escape reality, but to better understand it, and for all those that rather than explore their fears, fear not having the opportunity to explore."

You get the point - in the end, it’s always about opening yourself up wherever you are, and not remaining in the echo chamber.

Thank you every day for TOP.

Best Regards,


I blame the internet.

When I bought my plane ticket to Nepal, the airline agent reminded me that it was the second peak trekking season, and hotels book up.

I had been to India twice, and I had seen Nepalis in northern India. I pictured life outside the capital. In my imagination Nepal was not in the 21st-century and not even in some ways in the second half of the 20th century.

Then I emailed a hotel that was recommended in the Lonely Planet guidebook, and Googled for other hotels. And it was a disquieting experience. The Google results returned a couple of hotels with quaint, dated websites. But there was a link to Booking dot com, and lo and behold those hotels and other hotels were all listed there.

How was I going to refuse to book through booking.com when it was so easy?

It was all too easy. It robbed me of whatever adventure there was in finding a hotel down some street in a country a world away. But why run the risk of finishing up with an unprepossessing hotel when it was all so reliable and quick, and I could the perfect hotel by booking online?

In twenty minutes I had booked three hotels. I had more or less completed my itinerary. I was a holidaymaker, not a wanderer. It was inevitable in some ways. I had a limited amount of time in the country. It was not as though I would be away for a year and able to spend an extra week here or there because it took my fancy. Still, was a very strange experience. It wasn’t horrible because in some ways it was really nice to get the hotels off my back so I could start thinking about other things.

What it had done though, and this is the point, is it had made me rethink where I was going to. What was Nepal?

I do most of my photography within 40 kms (25 mi) of where I live, and much of it within a 5 km radius. Things change day to day, season to season and I can see by looking out the window if the light will be right for an image I may have had in my mind for a while.

“ I'm also convinced that there are pictures everywhere. We don't necessarily need to travel to find them.”

You are absolutely correct, Mike. But that aesthetic philosophy doesn’t sell many cameras. “Kodak Moments” have always been someplace or sometime else, regardless of the marvelous possibilities sitting right in front of that capped lens in your home.

I must say, however, that phone photography is changing that scenario. People take photos with their phones that they would never schlep a camera to take.

Selfies could also be called Overt Ourism. Same word, different pronunciation.

Completely agree. Photography workshops might not help, since they tend to be situated in spectacular locations that are already stressed from the presence of many visitors. I've started thinking that a more educational workshop would involve the instructor coming to your town, and helping you photograph more effectively there. But it's obviously tougher to sell a photo workshop in say, Mt. Prospect, Illinois, than Yosemite or Glacier or Arches National Park. Nothing against, Mt. Prospect; it's a perfectly fine place. Just don't think it's provocative to that it's less scenic than most national parks. It'd also be riskier for the workshop instructor than doing a workshop at that black beach in Iceland. But I think you'd learn more if instructors started scheduling workshops in the ordinary places people live. Obviously not gonna happen. Anyway, good thoughts in your post!

Thank you for doing your part....

I have the same feelings about all the iconic photo “must do” locations. I don’t even need to name them. But I have an idea for a coffee table book titled: “50 Paces Back”

The idea is to go to all the iconic photo locations and take a photo from about 50 paces behind the phalanx of photographers lined up cheek to jowl shooting their “unique” interpretations. 😳


I,ve just re-read in an old Granta magazine ‘The end of travel’ by James Hamilton-Paterson. He says it all - how in the 1920s he first went to Brazil and went by boat up the Amazon, the only foreigner for miles around and how he was offered Brazilian citizen-ship with out even asking. Try doing that today! Photographing in Asia during the 1970’ s and even into the early 200’s generally was accepted without any fuss. Today it’s a zoo of ‘Sellfees’ with otherwise normal-lucking people falling off bridges. Things aren’t what they used to be.

Misha's Leaning Tower comment gave me a laugh. I've driven past the Niles, Illinois tower, but never stopped.

Living, as I do in Oak Park, there are not many nearby opportunities for solitude. A bit of an open secret, which I won't directly identify, is a Cook County nature preserve 40 or so minutes from here that actually has a place that is farther from a road than any other location in the county. Much of it has been restored to its original habitat, which included removing invasive exotic shrubs. It's open to foot traffic only, although some local equestrians ignore this rule. But, almost as often as not, I've hiked through this preserve and not seen one other person. This is amazing considering it's in a metropolitan area of nearly ten million people.

I'm currently in Dubrovnik. It's beautiful. Get up early, take a nap in the PM and then go back to the old city in the evening.

Oops, now I've ruined that time period too.

Regarding travel...
I often find myself more interested in creating photographs in places in which I am not so familiar. Which, is not at all the same as going to the most popular photo spots of course...

Personally, I hope the sheep continue to congregate. Better to have the concentrations concentrated, than to spread it all out and ruin everything. It's easy to find great places off the beaten track, but like excellent fishing spots, damned if I'm going to tell you how!

From The Odes of Horace “They change their skies, but not their souls, who rush across the sea. What you seek is here”.

Stay home and thereby fight climate change. But at least you’ll help the decline of some tourism dependent economies.

I liked James Michener’s approach. When he got interested in a place he moved there.

It's amazing how easy it is to lose the tourists. I have visited Venice twice, but managed to acquire a detailed map of the city streets.

If you avoid the main drag that follows the streets from the cruise ships across the Rialto and ending at St Marks Square, you can find many areas that are quiet and fascinating.

I also amaze friends by taking them around London's West End, a notoriously busy place, entirely using backstreets and alleyways. No crush, no traffic, and lots of quaint little yards and pleasant little bistros and cafes.

I lived in Vienna for a year, and while the centre was heaving for most of the tourist season, the vast majority of the city was just local folk going about their business.

Tourists are predictable. They have a bucket list and queue up for hours to say they have 'done' the Tower of London and the British Museum, and have a selfie to prove it. It's like acquiring scout badges, or collecting stamps.

That also makes them extremely easy to avoid, even in a tiny area like Venice, or Malta.

Ah, the Leaning Tower of Niles... only a short drive a little bit past the Superdawg Drive-In. Well, let's face it, some destinations just cannot be missed.

I have experienced the ruination caused by overtourism first hand. I live in Monterey, California and have at hand the lovely Big Sur Coast. There is a bridge. When I was a teenager, fifty plus years ago, a couple of friends and I would hitchhike down the coast to Bixby Bridge and scramble down the hillside to sleep on the beach by Bixby Creek. Bixby Bridge is a lovely old bridge from the 1930's. My grandfather worked on the bridge –– probably as a laborer. It has been part of my life since I began to roam on my own initiative.

In the last four years, roughly, it has been 'outed' by cellphones and Instagram and it is swamped with selfie takers who block Highway One and litter, shit in the bushes and generally make a good thing miserable. Selfie tourism is a blight everywhere there is something of beauty and grace. I always hate when some magazine article or half-witted 'influencer' gushes over a beautiful scenic location and launches the hordes upon it. So much of what I love on Earth has been buried in people who want to be there, but who lack true appreciation for what they so briefly see.

IMHO the problem is cheap air travel. Non-emergency air travel should be charged a per mile 'carbon footprint' tax. Win-win. (maybe not for tourism dependent economies, but whaddyagonnado?)

My in-laws who are 99 and 91 went to the Chateau Versailles in 1949. The place was deserted and they practically had it to themselves. When we went several years ago, it was a lining up for hours hellscape.

I especially agree about familiarity breeding better pictures. After going to Europe for a few years and loving it, we read A Year in Provence 25 years ago. So, we gave it a try. We loved it and booked rentals in different villages for a few trips, until we discovered one tiny hilltop town that felt like home. We have returned to it every year, for longer visits every year, for 22 years. Two years ago a tiny house came up for sale and we bought it.

I have been photographing there for all this time. I know the little back streets and most of the residents. I know who does not want their picture taken and who does. We have great friends there and miss them when we are here. The town is full of many nationalities. French,American, Australian, English, North African, New Zealanders, German, Italian, Swiss, Canadian and others. We all refer to it as Brigadoon, as it only reveals itself to people who will love it.

If my wife goes looking for me almost everyone will say, “He and his camera walked up the road to Auribeau.” or another direction. It feels much more like home then here, where there are no central gathering places where you see the whole town. In our little village there is at least one event every month that brings us all together. They are used to me photographing and a lot of them have prints that I make for them.

So, travel, find your place and treasure it.

I don't pretend that I'm a great photographer when i travel. Vacationing and photography go well together. I rarely need to get a shot, or even visit a sight. It took six trips to London before i even walked across tower bridge, or saw the tower of London itself. I don't really like photos filled with other photographers, nor am i patient enough to wait in line. I love getting to know a place. Usually after a day I've already developed a morning coffee routine.

Photography does slow my mind down in a way, by keeping it busy looking at and thinking about the place I'm in. Photography reinvigorated travel and backpacking for me. For that, I’m grateful.

I’m developing a very personal style that allows me to reconnect with the memories of when i was there. Hopefully, other people can experience a bit of the joy i felt when i was there. Again, I’m grateful to be able to photograph while I travel.

Sometimes, you can tell if a place is "overtouristed" simply by looking at the size of the visitor center and parking lot. Here's a picture of Mount Rushmore and its foreground.


And sometimes, you don't even have to do that. The beautiful old port cities of the Mediterranean have a big problem.



Overtoursim seems like a global phenomenon. Up here in Canada where I have photographed national parks for decades, I remember going to Banff National Park, usually in September when the crowds would thin out and great fall light. Thirty years ago I would go to Moraine Lake to photograph, I made pictures from the "rock pile". I remember only a few other people there, the parking lot had lots of places left to park. The same with Lake Louise, one of my favourite hikes is Lake Agnes which takes off from that beautiful spot.

Last month I was visiting the Rockies, Parks Canada now has an overflow parking lot for those wishing to visit either Lake Louise or Moraine Lake. The main parking lot at Lake Louise was full by 10 a.m. on a weekday in the third week of September. The overflow parking lot about 10 km away was getting full. A shuttle bus takes tourists and photographers like me to the lake. I didn't even bother going, I have been there many times before but I was struck by the massiveness of the tourists in September.

I try to search for other places that are less overwhelmed by the masses of tourists.

There is an interesting side-effect to the many pictures taken of popular attractions. There are so many of them that when combined, they create sufficient data to create 3D-models of buildings, places, even cities.

Here's an article from 2007 describing a project where scientists used vacation snap shots off of Flickr and were able to create models of Notre Dame, the Statue of Liberty, and the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (among others): https://www.washington.edu/news/2007/11/01/vacation-photos-create-3d-models-of-world-landmarks/
Apparently even back then, the quality was getting close to that of a a laser scan regarding details.

And here's an article from 2017 that describes the VarCity project which applies that technique to 3D-modeling whole cities, using Zurich as an example: https://www.geospatialworld.net/article/3d-modeling-of-cities-can-be-done-using-images-alone/

It's pretty mind-boggling to consider just how many pictures of the same thing need to be taken from ever-so-slightly different points of view to make that kind of modeling possible (especially since the first project was already from twelve years ago, before smartphones made the number of pictures taken of, well, anything and everything, basically explode). Or, put a different way, it makes it very clear that whatever point of view one could assume in one of those places to frame a picture, someone else likely has already been there and taken that exact same shot.

Could be depressing, but there lies a certain freedom in that, too – nothing will be lost by not pulling out a camera at one of those attractions. The biggest achievement will be whatever personal enjoyment one can derive from simply being there, but the documentation of the place itself is already well taken care of.

Hi Mike
There's a very simple formula that has been in place for decades now.
You want to get away from the crowds? well:

Population is inversely proportional to distance travelled multiplied by height gained.

This is a hiking formula. I live close to the Canadian Rockies in Calgary. I'm an aging hiker, and can vouch for this formula, absolutely true. However, it may not hold true for the Everest area :)

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