Posted by & filed under Travel Photography.

Annie Leibovitz, the famous portrait photographer for Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone said, “A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people.” I couldn’t agree more.

One of my greatest joys while traveling is capturing the people. Wrinkled and wizened faces, the smooth face of a laughing child or the scrunched-up, concentration-filled face of someone going about their work. People love seeing people. Which is why people love portraits. Readers love putting a face to a story, so capturing engaging natural portraits is like gold.

Indian man relaxing smoking his hooka at Mehrangarh Fort in Jodphur, India ©Bel Woodhouse

But you need to do it the right way.

By being respectful so it is a heart-warming experience for everyone involved. If you don’t, if you just take someone’s picture they can feel like you stole something. You did. You stole a little piece of them without permission.

I’m sure you wouldn’t like it if you turned around and someone was pointing a big camera at you happily snapping away, so it’s important to show others the same consideration.

During my travels in over 30 countries people have happily said yes to having their photo taken. Here’s why:

Firstly, I use an unthreatening approach.

bel woodhouse
Bel Woodhouse

I usually make eye contact with the person and smile broadly. If they seem shy or unsure then I’ll give them a little wave so they know I’m friendly and would like their attention. Then I approach smiling. Most people are curious at this point, not scared of the tall white lady with a camera. Plus, now they know I want to talk to them, not the person behind them.

Second, I ask permission.

I don’t speak over 30 languages to ask in every country, so this is done by gestures and a kind of sign language. It’s very basic. Point at your camera and then at them and nod your head as if to ask, “Is it OK to take your picture?” By doing this and taking a few seconds to ask their permission they are often flattered and more willing for a photo to be taken. 

Lastly, I offer a respectful little reward.

Putting my hands together in front like a namaste or prayer sign I usually smile warmly and say thank you. It’s just my personal preference but I also like to offer a little money.

Not a lot but I’ll give you an example: in Guatemala it was five quetzal and in India 50 rupee. Both of these are less than 70 cents. It’s not about how much money you offer, it is the respect you show them. People appreciate you taking the time to show them that their time is worth something, even if it’s less than a dollar.

And it is that simple.

Three simple little things that will land you golden photos. But it also has perks. You end up finding heaps of other cool things.

I’ve been shown rich bazaars, taken on free mini walking tours of different cities, been given “the best of” advice for must-see places tourists don’t know about and shown hidden gems locals like to keep to themselves.

All because I was a respectful traveler not a rude tourist.

Of course, I’m not saying “follow the man down the dark alley.” You have to be safe and use your common sense. But connecting with locals respectfully enriches your travel experience and that destination. 

Oh, and just one last point. Don’t be shy. Most people are just as curious about you as you are about them.

Just remember, when you take a photo of someone you are freezing that moment in time forever. Most of my fondest memories and stories are from connecting with people so they open up. This in turn leads to them opening up their world to you and enriching your experience.

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