Improve Your Travel Photography: Portrait and People
If you want to do travel photography right, you have to photograph people. Only shooting buildings and landscapes will get boring and it's the people that make a country and hence the photos of that country interesting and compelling.
When I'm traveling I try to mix all types of photography to create a complete image of the country but it's shooting people and portrait photography that brings everything to another level. Whether it's asking someone if you can take their portrait photo or just shooting people doing their thing in the streets, it's the most rewarding type of photography for me.
Photographing people in the streets
This is probably the best way to start because when you travel you'll walk a lot and you'll pass by dozens of interesting scenes of people doing their thing and in a way you're entering the field of street photography here. Watching daily life in the streets is the most interesting part of traveling and it teaches you a lot about a country. I could sit somewhere for hours and just watch the people...
When shooting people in the streets there are no rules. It's all about spotting interesting scenes and acting fast enough to capture them. But it's not about being super fast all the time. Sometimes you'll see an interesting background or beautiful light and you should wait for a while until a person walks by to make the scene even more interesting.
Settings for street photography
Again, there are no rules. Use the settings you feel comfortable with and start from there. Usually I use the centre focus point and Av priority when I'm walking in the streets but I know some people like to use manual focusing and/or Tv priority.
The real challenge usually is timing the shot and spotting interesting people, light and scenes. A bit of luck helps too, by the way! Some more examples...
Travel portrait photography
Yes, you can use a long zoom lens and take a photo of a person's face from far away but let's be honest, that's not a portrait photo. If you want to make an interesting portrait of a person when you're traveling you should ask that person. There should be a connection between photographer and subject and the only way to do that is by talking to people.
It's difficult to just walk up to people and ask to take their picture, especially when there's a language barrier. That's why it can be easier to start with people you already talked to and are familiar with. The tour guide, the person behind the reception desk of your guesthouse or the bar tender from the bar where you go for a drink.
Once you're comfortable with that, you can just walk up to people in the streets and ask if you can take their photo. You'll be surprised how many people actually don't mind to have their photo taken.
Settings for portrait photography
There's only one thing that I check on my camera: f/2.8 or wider. That's it. Seems simple, right? Well, it takes a lot more to shoot a good portrait. If you like my photos then check out my e-Book in which I explain how I work and what the important aspects are for my style of portrait photography.
Include people in your landmark and architecture shots
Be creative when you include people in your travel photography. Something I like to do is adding tourists in my photos of landmarks and other tourist attractions. Most photographers try to make a picture without people but a lot of times it's just impossible and also not realistic. I’ve explained it here too in an article I wrote for Digital Photography School.
Adding people in your shot will often create a sense of space and it can make a building or landmark look more impressive. Tourists also make a good subject themselves. Just observe a bus of Chinese tourists for a while... you'll see what I mean.
Joris Hermans is a portrait, documentary and travel photographer based in Belgium. Since 2009 he has been combining personal and freelance work and won several awards, among them a Nikon Press Photo Award in 2017. In 2018 he set off on a journey around the world with his girlfriend documenting everything on The World Ahead Of Us...