10 Travel Portraits Tips

10 Travel Portraits Tips

How can I take pictures of strangers while on holiday?

Traveling always opens a world of opportunities for us to see many different things. Different foods, different landscape, different cityscape, different culture and many local peoples. What do you photograph the most? Some will say the cityscape and the landscape. Some will say they photograph the peoples on the street or at the market, shot using wide angle lens to show the street and the market, thus showing the scenes of what they see. But, how about taking portrait of the strangers too? Portrait of the local people we meet while on holiday. How can you do that?

Shooting travel portraits is actually not difficult. No special techniques required even though I will share some technical techniques I usually use in my future posts here. But, the most important aspect about shooting travel portraits is actually non technical. So, without further ado, in no particular order, here are the top 10 tips for shooting travel portraits while you are on holiday:

  1. Respect them
    This is the basic courtesy that applies not only when you are on holiday and taking pictures of strangers but also anywhere anytime when dealing with people. Do not think that you are ‘higher’ than them just because you think you are from a more developed country for example. You should remain humble and treat them with the same respect as you would to others in your own country or how you would like people to respect you.
  2. Smile
    Smile will open up and build a warmer connection between you and the stranger even if you don’t speak their language. Smile is also the cheapest way to make us look good without having to go for plastic surgery.
  3. Talk to them – 5 minute rule
    When you first arrive at the location, try not to shoot them immediately. Talk to them if you can and show them that you are interested in what they are working on and want to know more by asking questions sincerely. Spend the first five minutes to build a good connection between you and your subject. Ask questions about what they are working on, where they are from and how far the place is and try to look for commonality between you and them if any. Find out what their hobby is, their favorite football club, their favorite food, how many children they have, etc. You can also start by shooting details of what they are working on first without having them in the picture, such as shooting their hands while they are weaving fabric, peeling onions, cooking, etc.
  4. Ask Permission
    Ask permission whenever possible. If you don’t speak their language, use the body gesture to ask for permission to photograph them. Raise your camera toward your eyes while keep looking at them and smile. If they smile back and/or even pose for you, you know that you get the approval. Do not insist if they do not want you to take their photos and don’t be discouraged. Continue to smile and respect their decision. Continue to explore the place and look for other subjects.
  5. Respect the local culture
    Do not judge or criticize the local culture no matter how you feel about it. Respect it highly. It’s not about which one is right or better, it’s about seeing and accepting the differences that make up this beautiful world. Enrich yourself by learning about these differences.
  6. Look for colors and expression
    Open your eyes and look for colors and expression. I don’t mean the color of their skin obviously, but the color of their clothes, their headscarf, their hat, etc. Something very colorful that will make an interesting photo. Look for expressions on the face too: smile, giggle, laughter, solitude, etc, when you are talking to them and be ready to shoot.
  7. Share what you shoot
    Digital camera has made it easy for people to view the photos taken on the spot. Share what you shoot with them. I guarantee you that this will make them smile even more and you are more likely to be given more access to photograph them. Others who see it may also give you access to photograph them. If possible, ask for their mailing address or email so you can mail them the photos.
  8. Don’t shoot and run
    When you think you have shot enough photos, do not just walk away. Spend some time again talking to them and especially to thank them for their time talking to you and for allowing you to take their photos.
  9. Get a local to be with you
    If you can, get a local to be with you when you walk around exploring the villages, wet market, etc. This will help a lot especially when you don’t speak their language. The local will also be able to bring you to more interesting places where you can shoot more interesting subjects.
  10. Be alert and stay safe
    Regardless whether you are just in a different city or different country altogether, you need to remain alert and stay safe. Ask the people at the hotel about the places you want to go and ask about the safety there in general. Do not go to places where even the locals try to avoid for safety reason. When you are walking and exploring the place, remain alert of the surroundings while continue being friendly and smiling.

So next time you are on holiday, don’t forget to try these tips and let me know if they help and I would love to see the photos you take too. Share the joy of photography.

Have you heard about Singapore Blog Awards 2010? I am one of the Top 10 Finalists for the Best Photography Blog category. If you like this blog and you have a moment to spare, I would appreciate if you could vote for me.

10 responses to “10 Travel Portraits Tips”

  1. Hi Bing … thank you so much for dropping by and thank you for voting for me too. Very much appreciated. I have seen your blog too and you’re one of my favorites in the category. You know you have my vote too. 🙂

  2. I’ve been dropping by for abit. Your tips are great! Thanks for sharing. And I’ve just voted for u at the blog awards too. Good luck!

  3. Thank you Aubrey and Mic.

    Hi Mic, take it easy. If the assignment is to shoot portrait of your father, you can do few things:
    – shoot a portrait that shows your father’s profession. So include some elements that can tell what his job is
    – shoot a portrait of him doing his hobby
    – if he has great smile to show off, take a portrait of him while he is smiling 🙂
    – you can always take a traditional portrait of your father. Position him at a slight angle from the camera. Position him near the window to have good natural light. Make sure the background is not messy and is not distracting. You can shoot either full body, half body, or just a head shot.

    But most importantly, understand the theme of the assignment first in case there is specific message that they want to show in the photograph. Hope this helps.

  4. wow. i thought that was super useful. 🙂
    have you got any tips on how to shoot on a particular person?
    im on an assignment requiring me to shoot my father,
    but i dont really know how to go about shooting…

  5. Photography may no be my hobby, but I can say these tips are really good. Thanks for sharing them.