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How to Improve Your Travel Portraits

Street photography, low light photography, golden hour sunsets, spectacular landscapes, cityscapes and wildlife photography.  I’ve shot them all but capturing travel portraits inspired me most of all.

Obsessed with improving my photography skills I needed confidence to break through and learn to take perfect travel portraits.

So today, I bring you my best tips to help you overcome your reservations when photographing people on your travels.

Quick guide to improving your travel portraits

I often missed the perfect moment due to my hesitation to intrude on people’s privacy.

Continuously making excuses for myself like: “I don’t want to disturb the moment”, “I don’t want to intrude”, “they might be offended”, “I don’t want to interrupt”.  I knew I had to lift my game if I wanted to overcome this.

It was only by talking to other photographers that I was able to gain perspective and confidence to break through this.

Let me share my best tips to improve your photography when taking portrait photos on your travels.

Be ready to shoot

Katz Deli

This is so simple, but so important.  People photography is about capturing brief moments in time.

Landscapes give you time to set up your camera, plan your photograph and not rush the shot.

With portrait photos you need to be ready to go!   You need to make sure your camera is switched on, your lens cap is off, your aperture and focus is ready for the final tweek.  Be ready for action.

Get up close

watching closely

To get crisp, sharp images which tell a story you have to overcome your hesitation and get close to your subject.  Fill the frame with your subject.

This will add clarity to the subject’s face, it will increase the sharpness and focus on your image.  It will also give you greater control of your subject, your lighting, the composition including the background and depth of field.

Taking a good portrait is so much easier to control when you are close to your subject.

Learn how to approach people

Approaching people is often the biggest challenge in photography.  Are you comfortable asking strangers if you can take their photo?  Most of us are not, however it is something that can be improved with practice.

Start with a smile and light conversation. Be open and people will respond the same in return.  Don’t be shy, exchange pleasantries.  I often start by chit-chatting to the doorman at my hotel as I pass each day or the waitress in the coffee shop.  They’re usually friendly and full of great suggestions for photo opportunities and they love having their photo taken as well.

Learn a little of the lingo

Learning a few words and phrases in the local language will help you approach people and start your connection.

Generally a few simple pleasantries is easy enough to learn.  Ask your receptionist, taxi driver or guide how to pronounce the words.  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Try to learn the following phrases:

  • Good morning and Good evening.
  • Hello, how are you?
  • My name is ….
  • What is your name?
  • Thank you!

Smile and connect

Look at me!

Even if you don’t know many words or phrases, make sure you smile.

Whilst it’s still best if you have a few phrases, saying them with a smile connects you so much better.  Smiling sends a message of warmth and allows you to connect with others. Make eye contact to translate that connection into your photo.

A smile can do so much for a travel portrait and translates into every language, instantly.  It can make your photography experience so much more fun.

Take your time

Once you have made a connection with the person you want to photograph, and they’ve agreed to pose for you, take your time.  Set the photo up for that ‘shot of the day’, make sure the light is right, the background compliments the photo and your portrait is as you want.

You can easily control how your subject looks and what you want to feature in your photo. Think about where your focus is going to be – their hands, their eyes or how the person themselves fits into the background.  Relax and don’t rush.

Move around

Often a little movement can be the difference between a good photo and a great portrait.  Ask your subject to walk, look at something in the distance, talk to others or perhaps try to capture the portrait from another angle.

Get a 50 mm lens

One of the best things I did was to invest in a 50mm prime lens.  This was a game changer that took my photography up a notch and improved the quality of my images almost immediately.  It was the perfect solution to ensure control over my photography.

Start with the easy portraits

Travel Portraits

My best tip is to photograph busy people.  People who are busy will not care about you taking photos.  Look for traditional workshops where they are just going about their day-to-day business.

Another opportunity for travel portrait opportunities is to photograph kids.  Kids usually love getting their photos taken and jump at the opportunity to pose. This is easy to do in Asia and other 3rd world countries, but I suggest you be a little more cautious in Western countries.  Please ensure you ask their parents permission first.

Get away from the tourist hubs

Getting off the beaten track is where I’ve found my best opportunities to take great travel portraits.

Visit a small local villages outside the busy tourist hubs.  You will meet people who are more natural and often curious about you and what you’re doing in their village.  You will also have more opportunities to interact and practice your language skills and take more authentic photographs.

Inspired by these Travel Portrait Tips?  Pin this for later.

These tips will take a little getting used to but trust me, you will soon master the art of taking travel portraits.

Don’t push your camera in people’s faces, be courteous and always respectful.  Smile.  Engage with people and I guarantee your experience will be so much more memorable and present even better photography opportunities.

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Have you found these tips to put more personality into your travel portraits helpful?  Are there others you find useful?  I’d love you to share your thoughts in the comments below.