I think the best part of travel photography happens when you include people in your destination photos. You can take fabulous street photos of strangers, at any time of day, with just a few things to keep in mind.
We’re going to talk about ways to evaluate your environment for travel photos and also discuss how to flatter your subjects. Read on and find out why adding some portraiture adds life and interest to your travel photos.
Portraits Add Life to Your Travel Photos
Travel portraits don’t have to be fancy in order to be effective. You’re capturing moments of life, whether they’re candid or posed. Quite simply, you’re adding the human element to your travel photos, and what better place to find people than out on the street?
So what do you look for while you’re out taking photos?
The best thing you can do with your photos is stir some emotion in your audience. Make them feel something. That covers the wide range of emotions from happiness to sadness.
The girl in this photo has a great smile while opening a bottle. It’s a simple photo and easily relatable to everyone. Smiles are infectious, and people can relate to someone taking a break while enjoying something refreshing.
People at Work
Most of us can relate to life at work. There’s always someone doing something to keep life moving in your travel destination. It could be a market worker stocking produce, a telephone repairman, or any number of jobs.
Showing people at work gives your audience an idea of life in the travel destination. It’s not all about beaches, mountains or fine resorts. People live there, work there and play there. Adding some street photos of people at work in your travel destination brings out a side of the culture that is part of your overall story.
You’re going to encounter people at work during your stay. Your waiter, people who work in your hotel, the folks who provide your transportation or tour operators are all potential subjects.
Some of the people you may encounter are street performers. Plenty of travel destinations have folks who take to the streets to perform or dress as characters for your photo. Just remember that they’re working for tips, so be sure you have something to contribute if you’re going to take their photo.
People at Play
Play is a part of life. It’s interesting to see how people play in different destinations. It could be some kids jumping off a dock into the water, tossing some hoops or kicking a ball around in a field.
It’s not just kids who play. You may come across a park with chess or domino matches. These folks give some serious attention to their play, which makes for an entirely different type of travel portrait.
People Walking by Interesting Backgrounds or Objects
There’s an old saying…
Find the stage and the actors will come.
This wall is one of a few paintings of Che in Havana. It’s an interesting background. All I had to do is wait for someone to walk by in order to capture a candid moment of life in the city.
Then sometimes life hits your with fortuitous circumstances.
This school girl was on her way home in the afternoon. I couldn’t have planned that her uniform and backpack would match the colors of the old car in the street.
Sometimes you just get lucky, but you have to be observant for these moments.
Smartphones Require Different Perspective Than DSLR/Mirrorless Cameras
Smart phones are convenient to carry and definitely something worth using on for your travel portraits. They’re also less intrusive if you want to take street photos of strangers. Some people may wonder about the person pointing a DSLR or Mirrorless camera in their direction, but almost everyone accepts an iPhone or Android phone as part of life.
The thing to bear in mind is that cameras on smart phones have a very wide angle lens and cause distortions in your subject a bit differently than you may expect with an interchangeable lens system.
Remember, whatever is closer to the lens will appear larger.
If you get on your knees to take a full length portrait, then the subject’s midsection will be larger than their head or feet. That may not be the look you’re trying to achieve.
We recommend that you emphasize the person’s face, so take the portrait from their eye level, or even slightly above, to provide a flattering result.
The nice thing about using a smartphone is that it’s easy to share you portrait with your subject. It’s a great way to make new friends. Lee does this all the time, particularly on her Marathon travel. She always finds someone who becomes a new friend.
Maybe because she gets a photo that they like.
How to Evaluate Your Location and Lighting
You can always take fabulous street photos of strangers. All you need to do is consider three things for these portraits.
Subject. Light. Background.
They’re sort of like the exposure triangle. You need to have each element, but you can alter them in nearly endless combinations. The thing to remember is that the element needs to be interesting and do its job.
The Subject is perhaps the least important element of a fabulous photo. I know that sounds odd, but hear me out.
We want to see your subjects, we really do. However, a similar person would probably work just as well in the same light and background as the first one you chose. That’s not to say all light and all backgrounds work for every subject. You have to match these elements together.
For example, some people look great in hard light, where others don’t have the skin for it. Your subject and your light need to complement each other.
If anything will ruin your photo, it’s going to be the background. Any background that competes for attention with your subject just isn’t a good background.
Try to find something rather clean, perhaps with a complementary color. Busy backgrounds and bright lights steal attention from your subject, so look around for something a bit plain.
Work with the direction of light. You can have sidelight or have your subject face the light. No reason you can’t get them to pose in the right place to have flattering light. It’s important to evaluate the light where you are, and move if it just isn’t working for you.
Should You Pose Your Subjects or Take Candid Photos?
I think you can get away with a mix of posed and candid photos.
In some cases, your subjects are engaged in an activity. You want to capture that action or attention they’re paying to whatever they’re doing. Candid street photos are pretty common. The purpose is to show life in action at your travel destination.
Yet, you’re going to meet interesting people. Why leave them out of your travel photos?
There’s always something interesting about people. It could be their fashion, facial features or perhaps their relationship with something.
Maybe they have a job and you get a portrait with the tools of their trade. A uniform tells you something about them.
If you want to take a portrait of someone, try to understand what made them interesting to you and then convey that to your audience. Maybe you’re attracted because the person had a sense of humor you liked.
How do you bring that out to show it in a photo?
That’s the challenge, because your viewer can’t hear the jokes or stories they told. You have to help them out. That could mean using facial expressions or perspective to tell their story.
Some people can just give you a look that tells you they have a wry or rascally with about them. Work to pull out those emotions and tell their story.
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