Travel photography: Portraits

Every couple of days, I get an email from the Digital Photography School that has links to photography tips. I often don’t completely agree with the tips, but what I do agree with is the overriding principal of mindful photography. While we might not always agree on how to accomplish something, we always agree that it starts with knowing what we want to accomplish,. Recently, in an article on Street Portraits, I read Before approaching a person to ask him or her if you can take a photo, have your settings spot on. When they say yes, lift your arms and snap snap snap, say thank you, and walk away. Easy.

I have learned to take a different approach. Years ago, I signed up for a class in Portrait Photography at  the Omega Institute. The course was cheap, but getting there was  – with airfare to New York and then driving to Rhinebeck  – too dear and I never got to the class. But the sub line, A portrait is an artifact of a relationship., has transformed my travel photography.

Ever since, I have slowed down. When I see an interesting local, rather than try to grab a shot or shoot as fast as possible, I stop to ask. I try to to banter back and forth a little bit, even if it is only with sign language. I establish a mini relationship. Counter intuitively, when I used to be as quick as possible, it was often an intrusion, I was obviously trying to steel a photo; by having a relationship, even if only for five minutes, I honor the person. This is especially true when traveling in countries where people normally don’t like their picture being taken.

I have gone from a fifty tries and three successes – using the term success very loosely –  to ten tries and ten successes. I know that the woman above is named Maria and she comes from Nebaj, Guatemala, that she was raised in an orphanage and her sister orphan is also named Maria. I know that they find humor in calling themselves sisters and both having the same name.

Here are several samples:


5 thoughts on “Travel photography: Portraits

  1. Steve: Beautiful work. Check out a blog called This guy has become quite famous reporting on street fashion or rather documenting it. What I find now is that he has morphed into this really amazing photographer. It is not so much the clothes now but the entire composition. His work though spontaneous is contextual and he seems to capture the personalit while he documents it. The compositions are simple yet if studied can really tell a lot.

    By the way…they say that the reason folk in far away places don’t like being photographed is that they believe/believed that the camera steals their soul!

  2. I have heard that stealing the soul business too, Eileen, but I have never run into it. One time, actually when I was photographing Maria’s sister, a German woman tried to stand next to me to also take her picture and Maria – the sister – said “No, no!” and turned away. Then she looked at me and said something like “Si, mi amigo” and I went back to shooting.

    Another time I was shooting a group of women, one of whom, had a veil that completely covered her head. I told the translator that I wouldn’t take her picture if she didn’t want me to and she told the translator that “Yes, she wanted her picture taken.” Maybe that is the secret – I let the portraitee have all the power. I am totally OK with not taking their picture.

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