Travel Photography Tip -Taking Photos of People You Don’t Know

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Travel Photography Tip -Taking Photos of People You Don’t Know

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© 2011, David/Anna Smith. For copyright permissons


Glamour, Dress, Vertical, Looking At Camera, Outdoors, 2024 Years, 2530 Years, Ethnic, Cheerful, Indonesia, Asian Ethnicity, Standing, Sitting, Smiling, Holding, Traditional Culture, Day, Bali, Padang Bai, Cruise ship. destination, travel, Traditional Clothing, Mid Adult, 20s, 30s, Color Image, Ornate, Three People, Women, Young Women, Portrait, Photography, Adults Only, inba011 Close-up portraits of young Bali women wearing traditonal costumes at Padang Bai, Bali, Indonesia, Asia

Local people add color and excitement to travel pictures so photograph them…an intimidating idea to many of us. Flowers, animals and mountain lakes don’t talk back to you but it is people who make the world colorful, friendly and more interesting (IMHO).  Be aware that different cultures react differently to foreigners and photographers.  Don’t violate cultural or religious taboos on photo taking – research this before you arrive.

To start: Experiment with people you know, Use telephoto lenses. Try children first ….they are much easier with few hang-ups. On Location:  Relax, study your site for interesting subjects, get people to be used to you and that you are a photographer with a camera and using it!  When you arrive at a scene for the first time  you are like a rock in a still pond causing huge  ripples everywhere.  If you have the time, hang out, relax, sip a latte, let the “ripples” subside and others will soon get used to you.

Shoot around your subject, then move closer & SMILE.  Engage in friendly conversation “I love your hat” “you have a beautiful village”  “Can you help me find —?”  Learn a few words of the local language, people always appreciate your efforts. After establishing any type of relationship with your subject ask “may I take your picture?” or if there is no common language, point to your camera then your subject with  a “may I?” gesture.  If there is a negative response – move on, there are billions of people in the world left to photograph.   The first poses are often stilted or unnatural – get your subject to hold and show you something or interact with others and plan on taking several shots to get a good one.  Come back later and try again, the second time your subject will be more natural and relaxed.

Don’t feel obligated to tip unless your really want. Bring home town pins, flags, mementos to hand out. In high traffic tourist locales tips can attract amazing subjects dressed in local costumes for better images. Some of your subjects rely on tips for their livelihood so carry lots of small bills to hand out, particularly in high traffic popular sites.

In a photo rich setting, watch and prepare for candid shots and practice your camera technique at home to be ready for that once in a life time opportunity, like this one of women fruit sellers in Antigua, Guatamala. David had 2 seconds to grab 2 shots before they turned down a lane.


Closeup. portrait, ethnic, Viet Nam, Viet Namese, Asian, Asia, Da Nang, Hoi An, village, historic, looking at camera, old, man, 70 to 80 years, 80 to 90 years, ancient, rotten, teeth, no teeth, toothless, straw, hat, wearing, smiling, backlight, tooth, toothy smile, blind, backlit, back light, water, boat, canoe, fishermna, fishing, fisher, posing, staring, People, Contemplation, Dress, Hat, Outdoors, War, Vietnam, Traditional Culture, Day, Hue, Traditional Clothing, One Person, Vietnamese Culture, Adult, Young Adult, Color Image, South Vietnam, Old man, Photography, Vietnamese Ethnicity, David Smith, Interface Images, Close-up of a Vietnamese man wearing a straw hat in a fishing boat in Hoi An village, Viet Nam

Close-up of a Vietnamese man wearing a straw hat in a fishing boat in Hoi An village, Viet Nam

A few tricks:

  • Let children pose themselves – they’re natural; Say “Touch heads” and you will always get a smile and a laugh.  Want a friend for life? – exchange contact info, send/email photos.
  • Using a digital Camera? The BIGGEST icebreaker by far is to show them the picture you took.  Everybody likes to look at themselves. Capture yourselves with your new friends by using Dave’s Smile Circle ä effect, a technique which will be explored in detail in a future post.











teenage, girl, young, model, beautiful, attractive, Karen, hill, tribe, Chiang Rai, Thailand, brass, neck, long, ring, neck, longneck, village, villagers, ancient, historic, medical abnormality, ethnic, portrait, tribal, custom, smile, smiling, photographers, adventure, travel, outdoors, Asia, Asian, culture, Thai, ethnicity, culture, David Smith, Interface Images, Teenage girl in the Long Neck village of the Karen hill tribe near Chiang Rai, northern Thailand

Teenage girl in the Long Neck village of the Karen hill tribe near Chiang Rai, northern Thailand


















No need to travel afar, watch for local festivals and special events.  When people get dressed up for parades and cultural festivals, they are really saying “take my picture”  Don’t get there just for the parade – get there for setting up and post parade interaction. If you are on a tour be sure to photograph your traveling companions doing things, your tour guide and any local hosts or entertainment events.

gay, pride, pryde, parade, Vancouver, rights, festival, lesbian, bisexual, homsexual, public, nudity, celebration, event, day, editorial, procession, gay rights, movement, transvestite, out of the closet, David Smith, Interface Images, Image by Interface, gayp019 Participants in the annual Gay Pride Parade in Vancouver, BC, Canada on August 5, 2007

Participants in the annual Gay Pride Parade in Vancouver, BC, Canada


















Remember -A memorable portrait is really a moment in time between a photographer and a subject and is an effective  tool to get to know, experience & appreciate people around the world.

Please share some of your favorite photos and stories of people you didn’t know.















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David & Anna

Travel Photography, World Fine Art, Photo Teaching, Fabric Arts & Cruise Ship Lectures & Workshops with David & Anna Smith. For more see