An important part of travel photography are portraits. I know that people photography is not everyone’s favorite thing, but photographing daily life, emotional moments and ceremonies let others experience the destination through your photography. Everyone relates to people. You have two approaches to travel portrait photography; journalistic street photography where you don’t want to alter your subject’s behavior; and engaging the subject, even asking them to pose for you. Both types of images are effective and can be in the same travel portfolio.
My favorite approach is connecting with my subject. I feel that the interaction with my subject is almost as important as the photograph itself. I always ask permission, and get turned away frequently…no problem, just move on. I never touch my subject if I am asking them to pose in some way for the photograph. A local guide can be very helpful facilitating a portrait. Sometimes I offer to send my subject a jpeg, other times I have a small Polaroid I can offer them, and other times I pay them. In Bhutan I desperately wanted to photograph the monks…our guide said if we gave a contribution to the local monastery this could be arranged. Other times I will hire a performer after hours and set up a portrait session. Sometimes street musicians and performers are very photogenic, so I just drop a little coin into their collection pot. In Turkey I was amazed…the locals considered it an honor to have their photo taken, and their only request was that I shared some tea with them to talk afterwards…perfect! Interacting with local people is very important to me with my travel portraits. Make sure to show them their photo on the back of your camera.
The other approach is also very effective, and documents daily life and people with no interruptions. I might stand against a building wall and photograph workers or shop vendors. I love walking down streets with my 35mm 1.8 lens and photographing daily life, including portraits. You may run into someone who catches you photographing them and doesn’t like it…walk away. But street photography brings a raw reality to travel photography that is can be very powerful.
Portraits are vital in travel photography. The viewer wants to connect with people that live in this part of the world. Don’t be shy, try taking a few portraits. You might be surprised at the connection that happens between you and your subject, if only for a moment.