ne of the most rewarding—and intimidating—types of photography is street photography. When traveling, taking photos of people native to the country or city can enrich not only your photo collection, but also your understanding and appreciation of a destination.
At photography school in Costa Rica, students have the chance to visit towns and interact with the locals. Here are a few tips to overcome any anxiety that comes with photographing strangers so you can get some authentic, frame-worthy travel photos.
Do your research. When traveling, it’s important to know local customs and know ahead of time the native attitudes towards photography. Some African tribes believe that photographs are capable of stealing the soul. In other areas of the world it is illegal to take photographs inside a church, and can even be punished with jail time. Always have respect for the people and culture that you are in, and do your research first.
Choose your subjects wisely. When photographing people, it’s important to exercise caution when choosing your subjects. If the subject seems like they would become easily irate or might have mental instability, it’s best to put the camera away, even if you think it would make a great shot. Safety first.
Be confident. For a lot of people the interaction with strangers and the awkwardness that comes along with it keeps them from getting really good shots. It’s natural to be a little nervous when approaching a stranger, but if you push through it you can be rewarded big time.
Introduce yourself. To get the most engaging photos of strangers, you need to get close, and it’s hard to do this without the subject knowing your intentions. Once you’ve picked out your subject, try introducing yourself. Tell them your name and that you’re practicing street photography and if it would be okay if you took their picture. Most people won’t mind, and in fact will be flattered. Getting consent before you hit the shutter will pay off with warmer, more engaging photos. The only drawback some photographers find is that prior consent can ruin the authentic feel of a photograph and instead make it feel staged. If you find this happening, try photographing people who are stationary (not walking on the street—in those cases, you often need to be quick and take their photos in the span of just a few seconds) and involved in an activity. Look for fisherman, street vendors or musicians. Once they say that taking their photograph is okay, wait a few minutes until they forget that you are there, and compose your photo then. You can even offer to send the photograph to the subject by giving them your email address (you might want to set up a specific email address for this purpose). This gesture will often set the subject at ease and help you capture a better photo.
If you’re traveling to a country where English is not spoken, try brushing up on the local language and learning a few key phrases so you interact, even if it’s on a basic level. (Travelers to Costa Rica might want to take some Spanish classes.)
Want to learn more? Check out our Costa Rica Photography Workshops and read our article on How to Take Better Vacation Photographs with a Costa Rica Photography Workshop. For daily updates, don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
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