Travel Photography – Part 2 of 4: PEOPLE

In Part 1 of this Travel Photography blog series, we had a look at some of the “generic” issues related to the wonderful world of travel photography.  These were things that essentially apply to any facet of photography, as they form the foundation for all that follows.  

This time around, we’ll explore some of the tools and techniques required for photographing “people” while on the road.Travel Photography - People

Why photograph people?  Simple.  Because it is the people that convey the true “spirit of place” where you are traveling, whether that be vendors in a market, kids playing in a village square, or nomadic people in the middle of the Sahara Desert.  People exemplify the culture.

How do you approach people?  First and foremost, be courteous and friendly!  Proper protocol is to ask permission to photograph someone, especially if you want to get a close-up.  If you don’t know the local language, at least learn a few phrases, particularly things like:  “May I take your photo?”  And, of course, “please” and “thank you” are paramount.  When photographing children, best bet is to ask permission of their parents.  Note that if you are taking a very wide shot (e.g., of a market), and there are many people in the shot, it is not necessary to ask permission from every person.

Plan ahead & work quickly.  If you see someone from a distance that you think you want to photograph, before you approach them, give some thought as to how you want to compose the shot, and how you want to set up your camera.  This way, if they oblige, you don’t spend a lot of time getting set up.  Be sure not to annoy your “model” by taking too much of their time (i.e., work quickly!).  Having said that, your interest in photography may be a way for you to get to know the locals better, so don’t be shy, and welcome a conversation!

Travel Photography - PeopleTo pay, or not to pay?  This is often a tough one.  In some countries, it is very difficult to photograph the local people without some type of monetary exchange.  It’s usually a personal choice as to whether you want to pay for taking a photo.  When it comes to children, it is not recommended that you give them candy.  Try giving out pencils and pens, especially in “developing countries”.  At least they’ll have something to help with their education, rather than something that will rot their teeth.  Of course, in any locale, offer to send a copy of the photo via e-mail (and, be sure to follow up with your promise!).

Do you want a “portrait” or an “environmental”?  A “traditional” portrait is typically a close-up of a person’s face (i.e., their head fills the frame.  An “environmental” portrait takes in the person’s surroundings (i.e., it’s a wider shot that has context of location or setting).  They both tell a different story.  Don’t forget that horizontal / landscape and vertical / portrait shots allow you to vary your composition.   For the close-up portrait you may want a shallow depth-of-field (wide Travel Photography - Peopleaperture, e.g., f/4 or wider if you got the f-stop), whereas for a wider shot, try a deeper depth-of-field (narrower aperture, e.g., f/11).  When photographing children, it is often best to have your camera at their eye level (i.e., you may want to stoop or kneel down).

Focus on the eyes.  This is of particular importance when working with a shallow depth-of-field (e.g., close-up portraits). You might have the perfect composition, but if the eyes aren’t sharply focused, that beautifully-composed portrait becomes a deletion.

A few final thoughts…  When taking group shots, be sure to click your shutter multiple times to ensure that one of the images will have everyone’s eyes open.  Don’t forget to photograph your travel companion(s) and, remember, they don’t have to be posing for you (nor looking at the camera).  In fact, candid shots are usually more fun, and more genuine.

Tune in soon for Part 3 of our Travel Photography feature (“Places”).

Would you like to learn more about “travel photography” in Ecuador?


Ecuador Photo Tour

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