Travel Portrait Photography
Travel Portrait Photography in Botswana
I remember once taking a photograph of a man in Botswana when I was younger. His face was intriguing – beautiful and expressive. I knew it was going to make for an interesting photograph. He saw me take the shot from a short distance and was angry that I had not asked his permission. I had invaded his privacy and he walked away furious. When I looked back on the photograph I couldn’t see what had initially inspired me to photograph him, only the anger I had made him feel. I felt ashamed and deleted it.
Sometimes photographers can be so caught up in getting the shot they want when travelling that the experience surrounding the capture is completely lost. I think good portrait photography shows a connection with the subject and a respect for their rights. Asking permission is now a fundamental step that I always take before pressing the shutter. Sometimes people jump at the opportunity, particularly in countries where cameras are scarce. Children have often never had their photograph taken and they are desperate to be front and centre. In other cases people simply say no, shake their head and walk away. The right to say ‘no’ needs to be respected in all situations. Sometimes people say ‘no’, shyly, unsure as to what it expected of them or how it will make them feel, and gentle coaxing or encouragement from you, friends and family often changes their mind.
Travel Photography Tips
Here are a few tips for portrait photography when travelling to ensure everybody involved gains from the experience:
Distance and consent – Sometimes distance allows you to take a photograph without invading somebody’s privacy or revealing their identity. They made be a silhouette or figure in a landscape and they are not central to the image. I think in such cases consent is not required, but if somebody starts waving aggressively at you ‘NO!’, don’t point your lens in their direction.
Money talks – When asking to take somebody’s portrait, you will occasionally be asked for money and whether you agree or not is at your discretion. In some communities, particularly tribal groups, who experience what is referred to as ‘human safari’ tourism, money is often required before any photographs may be taken, or you must deal with the consequences! In my opinion this is fair enough. They are well aware that tourists return to their home countries and some earn money from the photographs they have taken, so it is only fair that the subject is getting something in exchange. In other instances I think people are just beingopportunistic – there is nothing to lose asking a supposedly rich tourist for a dollar or two in exchange for your photograph. If you feel it is a fair exchange, then why not? However care does need to be taken, particularly with children, who could see it as a lucrative means of earning money and seek out tourists as an alternative to going to school. I try to straddle the line a bit and instead of paying money I will buy produce from the person if they are a vendor, or utilize their services, perhaps with a rickshaw driver, establishing a relationship built on their business, and the photograph also becomes a record of that.
Make adjustments, but make them fast – When somebody agrees for you to take their photo remember they are giving up their time for you so don’t prolong the situation unnecessarily. Sure the light may not be perfect, or your aperture could be different, or there may be something distracting in the background, but if you need to make adjustments, do them swiftly so that you are not making your subject change positions 10 times or wait until the goods train passes behind them. Remember that spontaneous moments can offer an expressiveness that no amount of planning can surpass.
Sharing the shot – In the digital age of instantaneous images and LCD screens, there is no excuse to not show people their photograph after the shot has been taken. The reaction of people to seeing their image, and those of relatives and friends, is the most enjoyable experience of portrait photography when travelling and it creates a connection between you and your subject. Sometimes when I go back through images it is the ones that hold the most memorable recollections of the shoot itself that speak the loudest.
Travel Portrait Photos In Action
Our Featured Writer, Pip Strickland
With ten years independent travel experience throughout more than 80 countries and a degree in Natural Environment and Wilderness Studies my interest lies in travel from an environmental or social angle. The evolution of perspective and self awareness that travel offers through immersion in foreign cultures and landscapes is the focus of my writing and photography, and capturing the beauty of everyday encounters that generate intrigue and empathy is my goal. Examples of my work can be viewed at www.pipstrickland.com.