Travel Photography Tips for Photographing People

Unfortunately, when it comes to travel photography, people are one of the most under-photographed subjects.

The reason?

Well, it is much easier to shoot a building, landscape or a piece of food laid out on the table in front of you. Buildings don’t move, landscapes don’t judge you, and food doesn’t require your permission to be photographed.

a woman wearing face paint
Karo tribe people are famous for their body painting

However, people are often the most important part of a travel destination’s character. No one other subject more obviously radiates the culture and emotional sentiment of a destination than its people. You should be taking photographs of people because it is these shots that carry more than just an image, but a feeling, they carry true emotional value.

It is true, photographing people, especially for the amateur photographers out there, is difficult, but hopefully, my following tips will help people move past that to a place where they can take travel images they are proud of.

1. Always have your camera ready

I can’t stress this point enough as it is a mistake that nearly everyone makes. Many people don’t like carrying their cameras in their hands, around their necks or even in their pockets. I can understand the fear of theft that scares some people from packing their cameras around, but if you really want great pictures you have to take it everywhere, even if it is just to the grocery store.

You never know when you’re going to stumble upon a great travel image. On the other hand, a lot of people don’t pull out their cameras because they are afraid of looking like a tourist. If that is the case: get over it. You are a tourist so take your pictures.

It is true that you sometimes get funny looks as you take travel pictures, but you don’t know these people so stop worrying about what they think and do what you really want to do and take your photos.

Personally, I leave my camera on and in the sleep mode because things can happen out of nowhere. The beauty of travel is the spontaneous moments it so often delivers. If you want to capture that spontaneity on your camera, you have to be ready.

2. Go to places where people are going about everyday life

When I have a day planned for travel photography I set up a basic schedule of where I want to be at what time. The best time to shoot people is during the day when people are working, so I work this into my schedule.

One of my favourite places to shoot is at local markets, although the trick is to go early.

If you go early people will be busy getting ready for their day, still happy as the stress of the day hasn’t set in and there won’t be a lot of others at the market either. Capturing people in their natural environments will give you a proper description, in the form of your images, of the people.

3. Build a Relationship

Building a relationship is a key ingredient to getting a great selection of people within your travel photos. Many people simply walk up to people and ask if you can take their picture which works alright, but I think you’ll find that in doing this you tend to get “posed” pictures.

In the future, try going up to people chatting about any subject (key subjects are sports and their products). You’ll find that this opens people up to you and you’ll get much more natural looking pictures as a result.

If you don’t speak the local language don’t fear, you can always manage to find a way of communicating simply by asking shop owners how much something costs; this alone opens them up.

4. Ask don’t steal

People steal photos of people for a variety of reasons. The first reason they do so is because they are too scared to ask to take a picture. The second reason is that they want to capture a spontaneous photo of the person in their natural environment without them posing.

However, if you followed the previous bit of advice both of those reasons should no longer be important.

One of the biggest tricks in asking for a photo is to say something like “can I take some photos while you work.” This will keep them from giving you a pose, have them settle back into their natural mood, and give you the permission to fire away at will.

A bit of travel photography advice though, don’t over shoot the person; shoot the product as well. Photographing just one person too much will quickly make the subject self-conscious and get you right back in the problem of having your subject appear uncomfortably awkward.

5. Use the rule of two-thirds

Tips for Photographing People
Put them to the side

The rule of two-thirds is a classic photography rule where the subject should not sit in the middle of the image, but off to the two-thirds point of the shot. You’ll find that in doing this with your photos of people your images will look much less flat and much more professional.

This is also great to do when shooting people in their natural environment as it provides a context to their place in their world. Use this simple trick and I promise you will see a vast improvement in your travel photos.

6. Be brave, just shoot

Travel in general has a way of forcing us to come out of our various comfort zones, and shooting travel photography is one of these shells many of us have to break free of.

When I was starting out I tried my best to try to think of myself as a professional travel photographer that way I would have a look about me of confidence, and maybe trick myself into feeling more brave about taking pictures. In the end, it worked.

And at the end of the day, you need to suck up your fears and just get out there and take pictures of the moments you really want to capture. When you settle down at the end of a trip to view your travel photos you’ll find out that it was all well worth it.

Check out our other travel photography articles:

Author Bio

a man smiling

Brendan van Son is a travel writer and photographer from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, Canada. For more photography tips you can also check out his travel photography ebook.For more from Brendan you can check out his personal website, Brendan’s Adventures, or follow him on facebook or twitter.

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21 thoughts on “Travel Photography Tips for Photographing People”

  1. Great tips and very practical. I actually like taking more natural shots without people. I took a lot of photos this weekend and as much as possible, I tried to not have people in it. I actually find that a bit ironic.

    Good ideas about asking and relationships. I also recently started looking at my photos in thirds.

  2. I also like your tip about asking to photograph ‘while’ they work. When I traveled through Turkey a while back, I rarely had to ask anyone if I could photograph them, they rather insisted. Nearly every time I went out I wore my camera around my neck and as I walked around looking for interesting landscapes or whatever, folks saw it and said “You National Geographic…you take my picture!” Needless to say, I got a fair amount of posed shots.

  3. Thanks for the tips…
    i’m just a newbie in this kind of photography things…
    the two-third is a great tips..

  4. I definitely agree with you. Photographing people is one of the hardest thing to do but it’s also the most satisfying. I think having a dslr also helps because of its ability to shoot very quickly and quite discreetly if required. I think it’s ok to be discreet at times rather than missing the whole opportunity to take a photo. Great article

  5. I couldn’t take photos of people as much as I want to because I fear the bit of walking up to people, have a small talk and ask them if I could take their photos. But thank you for telling me to suck up my fears. 🙂

  6. Great tips here. People photos are very often the most interesting. I always find it difficult asking to take someone’s picture, though. Just have to get over that, I suppose 🙂

  7. Excellent read and all good tips. One of the first things I learned about photography while traveling was the tip about asking permission to get a photo and creating a relationship. Opens doors!

  8. Good tips! I’ve often found out that if you simply ASK people to take their photo, they’re so enthusiastic and willing,as opposed to sneaking. Especially kids, they love to post! I love photographing people as I travel!

  9. Great tips. I carry my camera everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. The one day a month that I don’t have it on hand is the day when something amazing happens. Like yesterday – the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen in my life came out of nowhere and there I was, camera-less. *sigh*

  10. I think it’s very important to ask permission before photographing people. Also, if it is a busker or person who make their money by providing services on the sidewalk through other methods, I think the subject should be compensated a few dollars after asking permission.

    Yesterday, in Athens, I saw a tourist who was photographing an Indian shoe shiner on the sidewalk. It looks like she wasn’t going to pay him, and he was looking very uncomfortable about having a camera stuck in his face. I don’t like to see that kind of disregard for other people. I also really dislike it when tourists come to my country and photograph me without asking permission…

  11. Thanks immensely for the tips. I’ve always had small issues photographing people. The build a trust tip is very helpful. Also wanted to tell you about this great book that has helped me a lot by making my travel blog more professional and taught me how to make money from it. I’m sure you’ll like it. Thank you!

  12. thanks for this article. It’s very important to ask people for permission. If you don’t do it can go really bad in some cases like photographing aboriginals in Australia. Already heard some crazy stories…

  13. Great post on photographing people. This is something I really wish I was better at, but it takes a special kind of personality to be able to take photos of people, or take them well. Even if you are “hiding” behind your camera, its hard to feel brave. For me at least. But people are such an important part of travel, so it’s something I want to work on.

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