When you travel to exotic countries in Asia, Africa or elsewhere, every photographer is of course very keen to capture some candid shots of the locals, preferably in their natural surrounding without posing in a studio.

Here are some basic tips how you can do this without getting in trouble with a furious crowd or the police, insulting their feelings or religion, or simply just seeing the back of your preferred model. Those tips are less technical,, but without them you won’t be able to capture any interesting street life moments, it doesn’t matter how well you can control your camera.

For me this is a very important subject as we as photographers have to find a respectful compromise between our longing for good photos and having respect of other people’s privacy and tradition. We have to be a bit thoughtful and shouldn’t force it too much.

Travelling with us on one of our photo tours, we will make sure to respect other people’s privacy and still we will make it possible that you get interesting people photography. Fair travelling is important to us.

More info: phototourgroup.com

1. Ask permission

The most important rule is – ask for permission to take a photo. It doesn’t matter if you speak the language of the locals or not. You can always ask with your eyes, a smile, pointing to your camera and then to the person you want to shoot. And you can watch their reaction if they agree or not. It might be tempting to shoot without permission. But you might be in big trouble if you do so. In some countries they even take your camera and try to destroy it. or they can arrest you (if you shoot for example military or government people in certain countries). I already watched an angry crowd chasing the photographer through small and dark alleys after he shot a tribal woman which was against their religion…
Photo copyright: Joana Kruse (www.joanaimages.com)

Image credits: www.phototourgroup.com

2. Respect religion and tradition

In some countries they believe that the camera sucks their soul out of their body. In other countries it is considered to be profane and against their god having a picture of oneself. And in some countries a photo of a woman is considered to be shameless. Yes, you might loose some good photo opportunities. But we photographers should have respect of other traditions and religions. Or how would you feel if a tourist comes into a sauna and is taking a picture of you without clothes? They might feel the same, according to their traditions, as we would feel in that situation… Besides being rude – you might get into big trouble as well.
Photo copyright: Joana Kruse (www.joanaimages.com)

Image credits: www.phototourgroup.com

3. Learn a few words in the local language

A great icebreaker is to learn a few words in the local language. That is not hard to do and will take you 10 minutes to learn. Something like “hello”, “nice day” and “thank you” or “please”. The locals will love you for that and will be much more willing to pose for you or to let you do your photos while they continue with their work or other activities you are interested in to capture with a photo. While travelling in Vietnam children were very camera shy and tried to hide behind other people or were running away seeing me with my camera. I then started to say a few words in Vietnamese – and they were amazed and couldn’t stop giggling (probably because of my horrible accent). But the shyness was gone and I was able to capture some lovely moments.
Photo copyright: Joana Kruse (www.joanaimages.com)

Image credits: www.phototourgroup.com

4. Take a long lens

Don’t embarrass the people to go too close to them. Rather take a long lens and keep your distance, so they don’t feel threatened by your camera. A 70 – 200 mm or a 70-300 mm should be perfect for this occasion. It has also the most flattering effect for people photography and if you really zoom in, you might get some interesting details in their faces. Try to open your lens with a wide aperture like 2.8 or more. You will blur out any distracting background and will focus on the detail you want to focus on.
Photo copyright: Joana Kruse (www.joanaimages.com)

Image credits: www.phototourgroup.com

Photo copyright: Joana Kruse (www.joanaimages.com)

Image credits: www.phototourgroup.com

5. Take it slowly

People photography while travelling takes time. When I was travelling in Asia, people got at the beginning very excited about me. A white woman with a huge lens. I wasn’t able to shoot anything interesting because they were either hiding or starring at me without doing their traditional activities I wanted to capture. So I always try to blend in the surroundings. I give them time to get used to me and my camera. Become “one of them”. Having a cup of tea in their village cafe (which means probably you have to sit down in the dusty ground cross-legged and drink a cup of a mysterious brew, but it might be worth it…!). Start reading a book (just pretend to read, be always alert and watch to not miss a good photo opportunity). Having a chat with a local guide or anyone who can speak your language. Or simply enjoy the sun. Give it enough time so they don’t pay attention anymore.
Photo copyright: Joana Kruse (www.joanaimages.com)

Image credits: www.phototourgroup.com

Photo copyright: Joana Kruse (www.joanaimages.com)

Image credits: www.phototourgroup.com

6. High ISO, open aperture, fast shutter speed

Once you achieved a relaxed atmosphere – then be quick! Have the settings of your camera ready so you don’t loose precious time to fiddle with the aperture and shutter speed. Check the light beforehand. Set your camera on a high ISO, wide open aperture and a short shutter speed to make sure to capture even moving people in bad light sharply. React fast, because a good photo opportunity might last only a few seconds but doesn’t come back so soon.
Photo copyright: Joana Kruse (www.joanaimages.com)

Image credits: www.phototourgroup.com

7. A little money helps

In some areas it seems to be impossible to take photos of locals. They just don’t want it. For whatever reason – religion, tradition or because they don’t like Westerners.
Try it with a little tip. It very often opens doors… Don’t pay too much though. Especially in India I met people who asked a massive amount of money per photo. They even dress in a special way to be an interesting photo subject. They know that some Westerners are desperate for photos. I always avoid those “fake locals”. They are not real, they are models with make up and costumes. But if I see someone interesting and he/she is not totally averse against the camera but not yet willing – a little tip often helps. Most of the people you are interested in taking photo of, are poor people. So a little tip is nothing for you but could mean a days food for them. I think it is worth it. It is better for them than begging.
Photo copyright: Joana Kruse (www.joanaimages.com)

Image credits: www.phototourgroup.com

8. Show them the photos on your display

Today most of you will use a digital camera. So it is possible to see the photos right after you have taken them. Show it to the people. They will be amazed (at least if you are a good photographer…) and will want more and are willing to let you shoot more. And other people around you want to see now a photo of themselves on that little display too. So they will give you permission with the biggest and loveliest smile to shoot. them. I know a photographer who even has a portable printer with him and gives photos to the locals after he shot them. For them probably the only photos they will ever get in their lives. What a nice idea.
Photo copyright: Joana Kruse (www.joanaimages.com)

Image credits: www.phototourgroup.com