As anyone who loves to travel can agree, traveling opens your mind, heart and soul to amazing experiences with people and places. Just something about being away from your comfort zone brings about the feeling of excitement and adventure. As a travel photographer, I have been very lucky to travel to some amazing places – both domestically and internationally.

I have trekked in the mountains, hiked in the rain, camped on the beach and gotten lost in a new city many many times. But each experience has been one for the books and taught me a few valuable life lessons. I treasure all these experiences but the ones that hold a special meaning in my heart are the ones where I have meet some amazing local people, shared tea, a warm blanket, had leaches pulled out by a local (don’t want to do that ever again!!) and been privileged to share their unique stories.
Karthika Gupta Travel Portraits Shepard in the Himalayas
I truly believe that people are the key to a place and a country. I often get asked, how do you photograph people when you travel?

It is definitely one element of travel photography that is not the most easy. While I don’t have any special tricks to share, there are a few basic rules that I follow to make sure the experience is positive not just for me, but more importantly, to the person who is in front of the camera.

#1 Have a conversation with the people you meet

Karthika Gupta People Portraits Travel Photorgapher

The simple act of walking up to someone and striking a conversation makes for an enriching travel experience.

One of the worst things I have seen tourists do is to use a really long zoom lens to take photos of people without even so much as a word, a nod or even a smile. It is all business – click, click and walk away!. If you are guilty of doing this, please stop! Although, you might get a shot of their face, you’re not going to get any engagement. The most striking thing about a good portrait is when you get genuine engagement from the subject. You can see the happiness and joy in their eyes and in their smile. You want the viewer of the picture to feel like they are there with that person, engaging with them and experiencing that moment with you.

Karthika Gupta Travel Photorgaphy People Portraits Rural India
Of course, this means that in order to get that picture, you’ll need to engage with them. Make small talk. Ask how they are doing. Learn some basic words in the local language (if you are away from home). That is one of the easiest ways to break the ice. If you make mistakes or mis-pronounce things, people will smile and automatically lend a hand. Sometimes a direct approach also works great. Tell them you are a photographer and would like to take a photo of them because you find them, the scene, the environment or the action interesting and fascinating. Some of my favourite portraits were taken when I spent more time with a person or family getting to know them and then taking their photograph.

#2 Engage a local guide

Karthika Gupta Travel Photorgapher India

A local guide really helped me navigate the crowds at the Taj Mahal and additionally helped me get some photos of me since I was traveling alone.

Having a local person with you can be an incredibly useful way to capture people in their natural environment. A local guide will help break the ice in most situations and also give you inside knowledge to the culture, people, and situations.

You can also engage with local groups that travel together and have a local guide be a part of that experience. I typically like to travel independently because I find that a more rewarding experience. But I found that when I’ve travel with a guide, it much easier to absorb local culture, understand local customs and make connections with local people.

#3 Know your gear and have it ready

Karthika Gupta Travel Photographer India

This one is one of the basics of photography, no matter what your genre. You should know the workings of your camera inside and out. When you are traveling and have strangers pose for you, that is not the time to start trying out different settings and fidgeting with your gear. People begin to loose patience and often get leery of you and your abilities. They are more likely to simply walk away, rather than waste their time with a stranger who does not know how to operate his/her camera. So have your settings ready to shoot even before you make the ask.

#4 Capture the story not just the subject

Karthika Gupta Travel Photorgapher Street Photography India

Portraits capture the essence of a person but environmental portraits capture the essence of the story. You need to have both to make sure you are conveying what you are seeing, experiencing and feeling. Street photography is a great way to capture the story as it unfolds in front of you. So go wide, capture the scene, document the people, photograph the details and collectively you have a fantastic story to showcase.

#5 Document the culture along with the people

Karthika Gupta Travel Photographer Japan culture

One of the best ways to photograph a culture is to capture people during festivals, fairs and celebrations. People are more relaxed, happy and generally more open to being photographed doing what they love. There are bound to be many people photographing each other in such situations so getting permission tends to be easier.  favourite places to capture people is during festivals and celebrations. People are more relaxed in these moments.

#6 Be Respectful

Karthika Gupta Travel Photographer Rural India People Portraits-1

Almost everyone around the world knows what a camera is, and what it can do. Even if you don’t know the language, simple hand gestures and pointing to the camera, can take you far in terms of communicating what is it that you are seeking. Be respectful of the people, location and the culture. Learn as much as possible about customs and traditions before you get to your location so that you are prepared especially if there are any photography restrictions.

#7 Give back if possible

Sometimes all you can give back in exchange for a photo is a smile, but often it is possible to give more. And money is not always the only option to giving back. You can offer to send them a print or even share a digital image. So many times people want to see the images and will happily share their phone numbers via apps like WhatsApp. Follow through and send them the image and you make a friend for life!

If you are photographing street vendors or entertainers, it is customary and expected to pay them some money. These people make a living from people enjoying their art and performance. So it is only fair to pay something for the opportunity to photograph them.

Photographing people can enrich your travel photos to such a large extent. These images provide a tangible, human connection to the places and experiences you have during your travels.  So the next time you make a trip to an exotic location or even to a neighboring state, try these strategies for some amazing people travel portraits.

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authentic people portraits during your travels

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