Travel Photography: Photographing Cultures And People

Samara Beach, Costa Rica

Samara Beach, Costa Rica

As a travel photographer, one of the most interesting and rewarding subjects to capture is the many different cultures and people the world has to offer. Photographing people also brings its share of challenges. This article looks at some of things to consider when looking capturing a culture in an image.

Do your homework

Before starting out, ask yourself this question. Do I know anything about the people I want to photograph? If the answer is no, or not really, then do some research. A little homework and you can gain some helpful insights into how to approach your subject. For example, some cultures might take offence to having their picture taken, some will expect to be paid, while others will rush you begging for you to take their photo. Having some idea of what to expect gives you an advantage in considering how to approach people. Research can also give you insight into the culture of the people. You may discover a piece of clothing native to that part of the world and look for people wearing that piece of clothing. These small pieces of knowledge can make the images you come away with more authentic and real by being able to gain people’s trust and cooperation.

Model releases

If you intend to sell your images, you may need a model release. This can present some difficulty in language barriers and people being willing to give their permission for their image to be sold. It can be daunting to ask a stranger to sign a piece of paper allowing you to make money from their image. The best advice I can give is make it easy for them. Have your model releases easily accessible and make them easy to read and understand. Be patient and answer any questions they might have. Most importantly, be honest. Don’t hide your reasons for wanting permission. Most times, if people see you are being upfront with them, they are more likely to cooperate. There will however always be times when people will be unwilling to sign a release, or maybe even unable to sign because of illiteracy or language barrier. In these cases simply accept their decision with a smile. Arguing with them will not change their mind.

Be considerate, give something back

It is important to remember that wherever you are, you are a guest in someone else’s country, and to behave accordingly. To take great images of people, you need to get them to let their guard down, to relax and open up to you. You will never achieve this with a grab and run approach. Slow down. Stop and talk to people. Give something back rather than making your photography only an act of taking. This may be as simple as engaging in conversation with someone before asking to take their photo, or you might carry around small gifts to give people. Whatever your approach, you (and for that matter your subjects) will gain so much more from the procedure.

A little sensitivity can go a long way in photographing other cultures. It is a practice that will allow you to come away with more than great images. It will also allow you to gain an education. Which, at the end of the day, could prove much more valuable.

Mark Eden is a freelance travel photographer and writer, and the founder and director of Expanse Photography, a photographic services company offering fine art, limited edition prints as well as stock and assignment photography and publishing services. Mark can be contacted through the Expanse Photography website http://www.expansephotography.com.

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