Photographing People: Dos and Don’ts When Traveling

In this day in age, we can all recognize that there is something profoundly special about capturing the dynamic, captivating, and distinctive scenes we see when traveling the globe.

The increase in digital camera ownership and the enhanced capabilities of cellular cameras means that almost everyone who sets off on a trip has the mechanism and the hankering to snap some images.

However, one of the most significant debates in travel photography at the moment concerns the unspoken “rules” surrounding photographing people. On the one hand, as any travel photographer knows, to truly capture the essence of a destination, you need to showcase its people. Yet, because these people represent their culture, the dos and don’ts when it comes to capturing them can be very murky.

Here are the some important dos and don’ts for photographing people while traveling.

photographer tourist

Do: Appreciate locals customs and beliefs surrounding photography

In plain and simple English, people are not tourism sites. While the cigar-smoking mulattas on the streets of Havana, Cuba or the Buddhist monks on the streets of Nepal may ignite in you the same passion and creativity as landscapes and monuments, the fact of the matter is that they are people and therefore deserve utmost respect and privacy.

Language barriers and intercultural differences can make it difficult to take photos of people when traveling in a foreign country or continent.

Prior to arriving, you must do some research about locals customs and beliefs surrounding photography. There are some groups who ban all photography of themselves, such as the Amish, and others who just aren’t comfortable with it.

Consider gender norms in the country you are traveling to and whether you are dressed appropriately for any interactions you may have.

Don’t: Forget to ask permission

Here is the thing with asking for permission: When standing in the middle of a busy street, market, or souk, you can’t ask every single person in the frame for permission. No one expects you to do that.

However, in all other scenarios, you must ask people for permission and accept their first “no.” Don’t give money to children for a photo, but adults who are dressed up in cultural costumes probably expect something.

If you are in a country where photography is acceptable, then before traveling you must spend some time learning a few words in the host’s language. When you want to take a photo of a local, first and foremost, use this opportunity as a cultural exchange. Show them photos you have already taken, take an interest in what they are doing, smile lots and be friendly, and answer questions they may have for you about your country.

Don’t: Be afraid to direct your subject

Once you have received someone’s permission to photograph them, then don’t be scared to direct and instruct them within the frame. Most likely, you have an idea in your head of how and where you want them to stand and whether you want them to be doing something or looking a certain way.

Many people are uncomfortable in front of the camera and want to please the photographer, so by giving them instructions and guidance, you may also be helping them to relax.

Consider whether your subject would look better with or without their hat on, or if the photograph would be more dynamic if they were moving, or if the background is a little too busy.

If you are new to travel photography, these things might not be evident in the moment. But over time and with lots of practice, you will start to see the multitude of ways to improve your shot.

These dos and don’ts will not only guarantee that you are acting respectfully while traveling, but they will also assist you in capturing the most magnificent shots. Approach your subjects not as a camera but as a person, because by ensuring that the person you are photographing is as comfortable as possible with the situation and by generating a connection between the two of you, you are more likely to come away with a valuable shot.

About Author: Barry Morgan is the creative force behind Barry Morgan Photography, which is a corporate photography company based out of Dubai. He firmly believes you should love what you do, and do your best. Originally hailing from a background in advertising agencies, Barry now brings his business experience to create exceptional and effective marketing photography to help businesses achieve their goals.
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