Be respectful is the first tip. If you’ve spotted someone that you want to feature in a portrait photo, then his or her permission is necessary. When shooting strangers during your travel, you want to keep in mind the Golden Rule and act in their country, as you would expect them to act in yours.
If the person you want to shoot is on a crowded street, for example, then don’t make yourself crazy by trying to ask the permission of all those minor subjects.
A variation on this tip is that permission is not usually required if you are photographing a show, performance, presentation, etc. It’s best to check first, however, because some content may be copyrighted and protected from being reproduced photographically.
A professional or commercial photographer often needs a signed permission or release from models or extras. Again, that’s an impossible task when you’re taking portrait photos during your travels. You don’t require anything so formal, but you should at least catch the eye of the person you’d like to photograph with a friendly gesture, or show your camera, which is understood in most places as a signal that you want to take his or her picture.
Be aware that some people may acknowledge your friendliness with their own, but that doesn’t mean they want their picture taken. With some experience, you’ll recognize them. Wave again; and then find a truly willing subject.
Seasoned travelers and travel photographers know that they’ll have many more photo opportunities if they spend some time becoming familiar with the country and culture before they visit. Locals will quickly recognize that you know how to dress and act appropriately, which will make them more agreeable to your portrait photos.
It could also be inappropriate, demeaning and/or disrespectful to offer to pay individuals, as a means of receiving their permission. Many cultures and people will frown on this behavior.
Yes, you want a great photo, but make this a special learning and human moment by genuinely interacting with the person you want to photograph. In other words, don’t treat them like subject matter, but as another human. Make sure you smile and look them in the eyes. Invite them to lunch, if appropriate. Exchange email addresses, so you can send them copies of your portrait photos.
Be very careful about taking portrait photos of children you don’t know. You shouldn’t shoot their pictures without the express permission of their parents. Doing so, especially in another country, could be misunderstood and cause trouble.
Experienced travel photographers also know that they will discover and take much better portrait photos when they roam their destinations alone or in the smallest groups possible. (Always think safety first before your solo photo expedition and make sure to tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return.) A large group, snapping a bunch of cameras, is more likely to make the locals wary and less interested in posing for your portrait photos.
- Portrait Photographer's Handbook
- 500 Poses for Photographing Women
- 500 Poses for Photographing Men
- Posing for Portrait Photography: A Head-to-Toe Guide for Digital Photographers
- Doug Box's Guide to Posing for Portrait Photographers
- Master Lighting Guide for Portrait Photographers
- Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It: Learn Step by Step How to Go from Empty Studio to Finished Image
One of the important aspects of portrait photography must occur before you even point your camera: asking permission. Now, the importance of receiving permission from those you want to photograph is less of an issue the better you know them. It’s unlikely you’ll need the approval of family members or even friends before you start shooting. You should at least tell neighbors, co-workers, people you meet at events, etc. that you have your camera with you and you may take candid and/or portrait photos of them. Obviously, if you want to pose people for a “formal” portrait or schedule a photo session, then they must agree to sit for you first.
Obtaining people’s permission to take their pictures is particularly important when you are traveling, both domestically and internationally. The following tips will help you find a balance between capturing the portrait photos you’d like and respecting other’s privacy and cultures.
Photo copyright PhotographyTalk member Susanna Patras
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