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Travel Photography: How to Take Pictures of Local People

When it comes to travel photography, pictures of distant landscapes can capture people's imagination only for a moment. It's well known that human beings are wired in such a way that observing other humans is what interests us most. And foreign people also raise our natural curiosity.

A woman practicing her travel photography with a Canon DSLR camera (photo: Lisa Fotios)
Woman using a Canon camera (photo: Lisa Fotios)

There is a certain flavor to portrait photos taken in distant countries during travel that other genres of photography do not have. And there also are specific challenges.

There is no all-encompassing solution or single right way to approach people. But some tips can make taking great portraits of locals a more manageable part of your travel photography. 

Travel Photography Tips

1. Prepare Your Gear

Let's assume that you have everything arranged. Someone has allowed you to take their picture, feeling comfortable and waiting for you to fire the shutter.

And then, you begin to mess with your camera settings, which can easily ruin the mood and the shot.

The easiest way to avoid such embarrassment is to adjust your camera beforehand.

It is much better to engage someone in a photo session when neither of you has to worry about technicalities.

2. Study the Culture

To take good portrait pictures, you must interact with your subjects. To make this communication smoother, learn more about the culture and etiquette in advance.

Even your outfit should fit local “fashion,” especially in more traditional or conservative countries like Kenya.

You will have a much easier time if you appear to locals as a fellow person of culture. And, wherever you may go, being polite is a must.

3. Find Yourself a Guide

Having someone to show you the way around in a foreign land is a good idea and has some benefits for travel photography.

A guide can help you find a way in an unfamiliar place, navigate local culture and show the intricacies of local etiquette – a necessary knowledge if you want to communicate with the local people.

Furthermore, why not take some pictures of the guide(s) themselves?

4. Make it Personal…

It's one thing to grab a lens with a great zoom and “snipe” people's portraits from a distance without them knowing.

But you'll have to establish closer contact to achieve something more engaging, even visceral.

Start with small talk and build up from there. You may appear annoying, impolite, or even threatening if you run toward someone and ask them to take some close-ups immediately. 

5. …Or Keep Your Distance

Contrary to previous advice, keeping the world unaware of your presence is also a way to go. Especially in cities, where people come together and their culture is vividly expressed.

This way, you capture the mundaneness of local life and take pictures of people minding nothing but their own business.

This method will also work in rural or natural environments – wherever people go about their lives.

Related: Instagram and Comparison Culture

Face paint (photo: Salvatore Gebbia)
Face paint (photo: Salvatore Gebbia)

6. Give Something in Return

More often than not, by allowing you to take their pictures, local people are doing you a favor, not the other way around.

Showing some gratitude for this is the right thing to do. Sometimes a friendly smile and handshake are enough.

In other cases, it is better to offer cash or a printed copy of a travel photograph you're taking (carrying a Polaroid camera is helpful in such situations).

Be aware of local culture and etiquette and read the room to know the right thing to do.

7. Don't Neglect Post-Production

Very few photos that look professional have not undergone editing or correction. So if you think your image could look better with post-processing, do it! After all, neither you nor your camera is perfect.

There are plenty of programs that can help enhance your photography. We recommend checking out PhotoDiva – an easy-to-use portrait editor designed for this kind of photo processing.

It allows you to smooth the skin, remove wrinkles and dark circles, apply makeup, and more. This photo editing software includes tools for face sculpting, background removal, and a built-in library of artistic filters.

The possibilities are endless, but remember to keep things natural. It is one thing to add more contrast or color to your shots and another to iron out all the wrinkles on the face of an older adult.

Conclusion

Taking photographs of local people in your travels is a great way to give others a greater insight into a country's people and culture. Plus, getting to know them is its own reward, an enriching experience.

Why not give some of these travel photography suggestions a try the next time you're on a global adventure? You could be pleasantly surprised by the outcomes!

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