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How To: Take Better Travel Portaits (Part 3)

by September 2010 - last edited January 2013 by Moderator

In Part 3 of this guide to taking better travel portraits, we concentrate on candid and creative portraiture:

 

Candid Portraiture

Candid photography is a style of portraiture where the subject of your pictures is not aware, and hasn't given permission to be photographed. The logic behind candid photography is that you can get pictures where people look more relaxed and natural than they would if they were posing for the camera. In some senses this is true, but then you can also get natural looking pictures by approaching someone and then spending enough time with them to let them get used to your presence.

 

 

Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India. A candid shot at a busy and public festival.

Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India. A candid shot at a busy and public festival.

 

Having said that, candid photography is an important style of photography and there will be times when it will be the only way for you to get pictures. So when should you use the candid style? For me, probably the most important thing to remember about candid photography is that you should never use it to take pictures of people who you know don't want to be photographed – especially if this is for cultural reasons.

Times when candid photography is acceptable is if people are in a public place, especially if they are at a public event or festival when they have a reasonable expectation of being photographed; if someone is a relatively small element in the scene, or if there is a crowd of people; or if asking would be more intrusive – such as when someone is praying or meditating.

 

Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India. A candid portrait - at times like this, asking for permission can be more intrusive than not asking!

Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India. A candid portrait - at times like this, asking for permission can be more intrusive than not asking!

 

If you're thinking of publishing your pictures in any way – including on a website, or picture sharing site such as Flickr, then you should be aware of local laws. Some countries – notably France and Spain – have very restrictive privacy laws governing when you can and can't photograph people without their permission.

There are a number of different ways to shoot candid photographs. Some photographers like to work up close with a wideangle lens. This is more intimate, but you also have much more chance of getting 'sprung' by the person you're photographing. Other people shoot from a distance with a telephoto lens. This allows you to observe from afar but can appear somewhat voyeuristic. A good way to shoot candids is to compose your picture so that your subject is a a part of a wider scene and you don't have to directly point the camera at them.

 

Creative Portraiture

A portrait should be a picture of someone that shows something about them. This doesn't necessarily have to be a picture of their face. There are a number of ways that you can show something about people by thinking creatively.

 

 

Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India. A creative portrait - this old woman's hands say just about as much about her life as a picture of her face would do.

Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India. A creative portrait - this old woman's hands say just about as much about her life as a picture of her face would do.

 

Parts of people can also say a lot about them: the bare feet of a monk in South East Asia, or even someone's gnarled hands can often say just as much about the life of a person as showing what their face looks like. Likewise, a shadow or a silhouette can show a lot about someone, especially if they're engaged in some sort of characteristic activity.

 

Woman with drying sari, after religious bathing, Rishikesh, India. Sometimes even someone's shadow can convey a great deal about them.

Woman with drying sari, after religious bathing, Rishikesh, India. Sometimes even someone's shadow can convey a great deal about them.

 

Look for objects connected to people. These can be photographed up close, with the person out of focus in the background to establish a link with the object. Even someone's hand holding a significant object, such as a prayer wheel can form an effective creative portrait.

 

Priests, Lake Tana, Ethiopia. A creative portrait showing an Ethiopian cross, with a priest in the background.

Priests, Lake Tana, Ethiopia. A creative portrait showing an Ethiopian cross, with a priest in the background.

 

All photos by Steve Davey. Header image:Hilltribe Market - SaPa, Vietnam. A candid photo in a busy market shot with a telephoto lens, from a distance.

Steve runs a unique series of Photography Tours to some of the most exotic places in the world, and a range of London-based photography courses, including one on Travel and street portraits. More information at http://www.bettertravelphotography.com


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Alessandro March 2011
Exactly what I was thinking of before reading the post: to ask for permission before taking a photograph. But I appreciated also the part about when NOT to ask for permission (public places, disturbing more).

Thanks!

Alessandro

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Steve Davey