What’s missing in our travel photography?

What’s missing in our travel photography? Quite a lot, really, but one of the worst of our faults would be a ridiculously small number of travel photos with people in them. We have great images of landscapes, historic sites, and architecture, but where are the people?

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Steamboat Springs, Colorado, 2012: On trips with family, we end up relying on taking photos of them. Notice how adding a person to the photo tells the story of the record-breaking snowfall?

Whistler, BC, Canada 2011: Who would have guessed just how large this tree was without the human scale?

Whistler, BC, Canada 2011: Who would have guessed just how large this tree was without the human scale?

Halloween, Arlington, Virginia, 2008: We’re happy for those festive occasions – like Halloween and parades - when folks have gone to great lengths to dress in costume and are happy to have their effort rewarded with a photo taken.

Halloween, Arlington, Virginia, 2008: We’re happy for those festive occasions – like Halloween and parades – when folks have gone to great lengths to dress in costume and are happy to have their effort rewarded with a photo taken.

Iceland, 2011: An easy way to capture someone’s image is to wait for them to become distracted – when a photographer is the least of their concerns.

Iceland, 2011: An easy way to capture someone’s image is to wait for them to become distracted – when a photographer is the least of their concerns.

Istanbul, Turkey, 2009: At a tourist site, most people are fine with being photographed as “background” in the crowd.

Istanbul, Turkey, 2009: At a tourist site, most people are fine with being photographed as “background” in the crowd.

Tokyo, Japan, 2013: At some tourist sites, photographing staff who take part in the displays is expected. Lucky break for us!

Tokyo, Japan, 2013: At some tourist sites, photographing staff who take part in the exhibit is expected. Lucky break for us!

Photographing people is truly an art form, especially when done with respect to their privacy. We’ve struggled with how to do this. Some people clearly don’t want their photo taken or (we fear) will demand money (which we’re not willing to pay).

Yangshuo, China, 2013: Others have surprised us and indicated they’d be honored to have their photo taken – like this man in the Yangshuo market.

Yangshuo, China, 2013: Others have surprised us and indicated they’d be honored to have their photo taken – like this man in the Yangshuo market.

On our upcoming trip to South America, we’ll make a concerted effort to photograph more people.  We haven’t figured out exactly how that will happen. Let’s just say that for now, we know our weakness, and our goal is to improve.

 

March 2016

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
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15 Responses to What’s missing in our travel photography?

  1. We’re always trying to get more pictures of people in our travel images, especially because it adds that important human interest factor as to the local dress and customs. We’re surprised though, that many times when we ask people are flattered to have their photos taken. We always show them the pictures afterward and it can be fun to interact and exchange a smile! Anita

  2. Surfdog says:

    Weee – if you sneak a picture you might as well just take one. Smile and shoot. Start somewhere where everybody takes pictures and go from there. In most places in the world nobody care if you take pictures of people or children. They do not have all the stupid laws and a lot of people are super happy if you take their picture. If you shoot digital go and show them. There are a few special occasions when you should not take pictures – some rituals or ceremonies in some hill tribe places or there you should not take pictures at all since you might steal the soul. If you travel to places like that – do your research before.
    If you want to be extra nice – bring a little printer or have some print out the next day and go back to the street where you took pictures of the people that sold stuff there or worked in the place. Give them the pictures – you might make a new friend and certainly make someone happy!!

  3. icelandpenny says:

    I also have few photos with people in them, and for the issue you raise: how to respect privacy, not treat people like animals in the zoo. Sometimes I’ve asked, if children I either take the photo from behind so the face is not seen or ask the parent, if a public performer (e.g. busker or mime) I’ll drop something in their collecting bucket afterwards. But it is a real issue, and mostly I just don’t take it on. I like the ones you have here though!

  4. People are tough to photograph (though the photographer who captured the walker across the log got it right – yikes what a walk that must have been!) People do give photographs more interest and scale. Good luck with this new direction – I’ll be eager to learn from you.

  5. vellissima says:

    I often use a decoy method, especially if I am traveling with someone else. The key, if you are using a small digital camera, is to have it set to the largest image possible. Take a picture of a friend, or something else in the frame, and then edit and crop to get the image of the person. I am fairly sure the subjects will not be seeing the photo, but maybe that is just justification. I don’t like having my photo taken, but if I don’t know, I don’t care. I will never see it, and I am just an anonymous subject. I think people are essential in photos. I also frequently take shots of people from behind, or without faces (hands, feet, etc. can be good subjects).

  6. I hate having my photo taken and I am very careful about not taking people photos without permission. Therefore, I, too, don’t have a lot of people photos, but I’m OK with that. I despise the sneak approach.

  7. One of the best pieces of photography advice I have read was to include people to give a sense of perspective in a scene. I try to do that when I remember.

  8. Merrill says:

    Agreed this is awkward for me too. I once asked and was rebuked so I have a hard time with asking. I take my photos with an iPad mini so it’s obvious that I’m taking photos. Often I tend to go for the distracted subjects and be as discreet as possible.

  9. I was told at a National Geographic photography class to give them an American momento, they suggested local postcards. I used this idea on our trip to Turkey. I took a small stack of California postcards. They also said to just point to your camera. I did this recently in Morocco. The NG photographers also showed us some photos where they held the camera at chest level and simply snapped or used the snap and peek, snap and peek method. This works best if you are seated at a table.

  10. Nina says:

    Very true, though actually we like to see people in the picture, but yes, it’s hard to get a face into a travel photography….
    N.

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