Being able to capture the faces and places from your travels is the best souvenir you can bring home. But if – like I used to be – you’re a bit nervous or unsure of how to photograph people when you’re travelling, here are our tips that will help.
I used to be too nervous to photograph people. I would cautiously shoot at a distance with a long lens and would never know how to approach anyone. I felt like I missed so many opportunities for a great photo.
Studying with Carla Coulson this summer in Italy was a revelation. I learnt so much watching her work. She makes shooting people seem effortless.
Carla has such warmth and charm, but she also has a carefully crafted process that she has perfected over the years to help her get the shot.
She shared some incredible insights with me, which I also want to show you. Along with other tips I’ve learnt along the way, I want to share with you how you can create those connections and capture your travel memories better.
How to photograph people when you’re travelling
1. Always approach from the front
I usually love a surprise, but street photography is one time when a surprise isn’t a good thing. Always approach from the front so they can see you and they’ll be more likely to say yes to a photo.
This was a tip I learnt from Humans of New York. I saw Brandon explaining how – when he sees someone interesting ahead – he always walks around them, crossing the street and back so he can make eye contact first.
2. Choose your gear carefully
A huge camera can intimidate people. I love our Olympus OM-D cameras, as they’re so compact but are incredibly powerful at the same time. They have every feature we want.
Often people think these are vintage film cameras. They can be a conversation starter that helps make people feel more comfortable for the shot too.
3. Get your settings right first
Stand back and observe the lighting before you approach. Set your camera up first so you’re all ready and can just focus on your subject.
4. It’s not about what you say
When approaching people to take their photos, it’s not about what you say; it’s all about your emotions.
It can help to have a script and some phrases in the local language, but it’s so much more important to give off a calm and friendly energy.
Smile and crouch down to their level if they’re lower down, seated or shorter than you. This relaxed approach will put them at ease and they’ll be more receptive to photos.
5. Pay them a compliment
If you’re not sure what to say, pay them a compliment. Be genuine and say something kind to them – it could be about what they’re wearing or doing that inspired you to take their photo.
In Italy, you can always just say “ciao bello” or “ciao bella” to get a smile back!
6. Don’t be afraid to ask them to move
If the background or light isn’t right, you can ask your subject to move to a better location. You’d be surprised how many people would prefer you get a better shot – even these nuns!
Or if they freeze up and become uncomfortable, ask them to continue with what they were doing so that you can capture a more candid shot.
In the very last photo of this story, I asked Giuseppe and his new friend to turn around so I could get the city of Monopoli in the background.
7. Show them your photos
Turn the camera around and show them your screen. Smile and show them how great they look.
8. Say thank you
Look up from your camera and keep that connection with your subject while you’re shooting. Say thank you and smile, even if you didn’t get the shot you wanted.
9. Offer to send prints
Share your photos with them. Get their email or address and offer to send prints if you think you have a shot.
10. There’s always another opportunity
You might feel disappointed that you didn’t capture the moment or the expression you wanted, but don’t be hard on yourself.
Realise that moments are happening all around you. Keep your eyes open and you’ll see incredible scenes happening all around you.
There’s no such thing as a missed shot; only practice runs for the one you want.
11. Get in the picture too!
As photos are our souvenirs, we love to get in the picture too.
We’re transported straight back into these happy memories when we look at these photos later. It’s not going to work in every situation, but some of the biggest laughs and best connections happen when I get in the picture with the person I’m shooting.
Note: Check local customs
Research local customs for your destination and always be respectful when taking people’s photos.
If you’re new to photographing people, we can’t recommend Puglia highly enough as a destination to start. Everyone was so welcoming and fun. Not only did we come home with wonderful pictures, we also made some new friends too.
And for our other stories, travel tips and photos of Puglia, click here.
Do you enjoy taking photos of people on your travels? What’s the best destination you’ve been to for photographing people?