7 Tips on Photographing People Abroad

I will start with a disclaimer – I am not a professional photographer, but I am a photographer by the fact I create stories through my photographs. One of my first purchases bought with my first paycheck was an entry-level Pentax K1000. I preferred to use Kodachrome slides because they were less expensive to develop than film. In those days, we had very limited number of photos, either 12, 24, or 36. I couldn’t have been happier when digital cameras arrived and revolutionized photography as we knew it.

I love macro photography, capturing the beauty of nature, and the spirit and personalities of people! I enjoy people watching and starting a conversation with anyone and everyone! Over the years of travel, and running my facebook page “People, Places, and Faces of Ottawa“, I’ve learned ways that help me make the connection with local people, and most often they welcome and accept my request to photograph them.

Artist in Tigre Argentina unique way to use a counter Beader from India

1 – I will start with a “DO NOT” – – Please, be respectful of people around you. Don’t assume that you can go up to them and start taking photos without asking permission. I have forgotten this a few times, especially in times of chaos or populous events, but I’ve communicated and apologized, and asked if I could keep the photos. Someone in Vietnam walked up beside me as I was about to photograph a woman cooking lunch on a camping stove. I had been speaking with her for at least 5 minutes about different subjects, and I had asked permission to take her photo. This other person, however, had not. I politely asked him to ask permission and he responded: “Don’t have to, she’s in public, so no need to ask”. I also let them know where I might share the images – facebook, blog, instagram etc.

I also let those I photograph know where I might share the images – facebook, blog, instagram etc.

Vendor in Vietnam2. Take some time to get to know your subject. I typically will ask how they are, what are they creating, crafting, cooking, selling… anything to start a conversation. I have learned so many amazing things by asking questions.

3 – It’s a challenge to ask permission to take someone’s photo when there is a true language gap. I’ve tucked a list of translated terms in my camera bag, to help me in such cases. I also feel that you can easily mime the actions you want to take. I don’t like to play charades but I do my best when needed.

4 – I always take the time to let me subject(s) see the photos. I try to let them know that they may choose to delete the photos. Sometimes, people will ask me to retake the photos, and I always do so.

5 – I always thank you, in whatever way is possible – words, handshake, sometimes a hug, a bow. A smile goes a very long way as a sign of gratitude. I often buy a little something from them, if possible, or give a small amount when the subject has been friendly and helpful. I often carry little items that come from my country and share with others.

harvesting basic sprouts6 – If you are curious about something they are making, doing, playing, building etc, take some of your photos while they are doing their activities. It valorizes their actions and allows the subject to showcase their talent. Even if you are more interested in taking a closer photo of their features, make the first few photos about their skills. I find this always breaks the ice because they are proud to show you what they do. I so enjoy macro photograph, therefore, I often focus on the hands of the subject.

7 – Be ready to hear “no”, see some heads shake side to side, to see a hand up as a sign of cease and desist. Honor the decision the people take, thank them and leave.

The big BONUS tip is one that I recommend to anyone traveling to a foreign country. Research the rules and regulations related to taking photographs in the country. I had my 35mm film confiscated in a cemetery in Spain because it was against the law to take photographs in such a location. In China, taking photographs of military personnel is highly punishable by law. Take the time to know your rights as a photographer, and the laws.

There are so many other tips and ideas out there, care to share some ? I’m always open to new ideas!

apptraveler

Retired exec consultant who traveled for more than 4 decades, both corporate and leisure. I appreciate my travel experience and want to share tips, photos and stories with readers! I live in Ottawa Canada and have traveled to 31 countries.

28 thoughts on “7 Tips on Photographing People Abroad

  • September 5, 2017 at 8:51 pm
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    Wow! I didn’t know or consider most of this! Thanks for a great post. Very educational!

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    • September 6, 2017 at 2:02 am
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      Thanks for your comments Cathy – I’m happy some of the tips were useful.

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  • September 6, 2017 at 4:12 pm
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    This is great information that I will pass along to my daughter. She will be studying abroad this upcoming semester. It is important to respect other people and their culture.

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    • September 7, 2017 at 5:39 pm
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      Hi Ramona, Thanks for your comments. How exciting, traveling and studying abroad – I’ve gone to many many countries, in various capacities, so if she has any questions about a specific location or country, please feel free to send her my way. I’d be glad to share my experiences or answer any questions.

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  • September 6, 2017 at 6:51 pm
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    I think the last tip is really so very important. When you are traveling in foreign countries and don’t know the rules and laws of the culture, it really is important to ask so that you don’t have your camera confiscated or even just to avoid offending the people who live there.

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    • September 7, 2017 at 5:38 pm
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      Thanks Jessica for your comments. I agree that knowing ahead of time will ensure no one gets brought into the police headquarters – this happened a few times especially when it came to photographing military locations or even staff. I never had to go to any official office, but I am super careful now anyhow!

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  • September 6, 2017 at 11:29 pm
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    These are great tips. It’s especially important to respect someone’s wishes regarding having their photo taken. And that’s interesting about the rules in the different country’s. I don’t know if I would have thought of that at first.

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    • September 7, 2017 at 5:35 pm
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      Hi Stephanie, Ahh, the rules about photos in different countries. I have to admit it didn’t dawn on me that this could be an issue until I got my film confiscated right there and then in Spain – that was an eye opener! Thanks for your comments.

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  • September 6, 2017 at 11:56 pm
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    I find getting to know your subject goes a long way. It adds a depth to the photograph. And yes, people get a kick out of seeing their photos on camera!

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    • September 7, 2017 at 5:34 pm
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      Hi Joline, thanks for your comments. I found, especially when the subject doesn’t speak your language, showing the photos I took of them goes a long way!

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  • September 7, 2017 at 3:44 am
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    Wow I had no idea about most of this! Love macro photography as well

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    • September 7, 2017 at 5:33 pm
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      Hi Mike, I love love love macro photography! Glad my content is something new! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  • September 7, 2017 at 4:45 am
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    I think it would be weird if people randomly just started taking pictures without asking. Thank you for sharing these tips!

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    • September 7, 2017 at 5:32 pm
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      Hi Cecelia – you would be surprised at how many people do not hesitate to cram the phone or camera right in front of someone without asking, or thanking the subject. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  • September 7, 2017 at 10:48 am
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    I am not a photographer but I do like to click pictures whenever I go somewhere. And these sure look like good tips to follow next time

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    • September 7, 2017 at 2:30 pm
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      Thanks for your comments – I’ve learned from the many photos I’ve taken of people, therefore, sharing was important to me!

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  • September 7, 2017 at 12:33 pm
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    It’s really important to ask for permission, especially when a specific person is the subject or the focus in the picture that you’re taking. These are very good tips. It’s really going to help travelers be more responsible with their photos.

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    • September 7, 2017 at 2:29 pm
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      Thanks Carol for your comments. I’m glad they resonated with you!

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  • September 8, 2017 at 4:45 am
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    Very important things to consider when traveling. It is mindful and absolutely respectful to treat others this way when photographing. Thanks for the helpful suggestions!

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    • September 8, 2017 at 1:21 pm
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      Hi Debbie, I’m glad my suggestions were helpful. Thanks for your comments!

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  • September 8, 2017 at 11:16 am
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    Such true points! Taking pictures of people abroad certainly has to be done with caution.

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    • September 8, 2017 at 1:20 pm
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      Hi Kim, Thanks for your comments. Indeed, caution and awareness is prime when we are traveling and taking photos of people abroad, especially military.

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  • September 8, 2017 at 2:07 pm
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    I didn’t think about all of the rules and regulations that there could be in foreign countries. When I was in China I didn’t seem to have any problems but then again it was mostly of landmarks and not of people. And if people were in the photo they were mostly friends. But these are good tips when photographing others in foreign countries. Going to need to brush up on my vocabulary.

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    • September 8, 2017 at 4:07 pm
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      David, thanks for your comments. I honestly didn’t think about rules and regulations until I was first told of the ones in Spain. As well, on one travel tour in China, the tour guide stressed that if we were caught taking pictures of anyone wearing a military uniform, the tour would not be of help when we would be taken to the local authorities. Let me tell you, people were very careful and aware!

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  • September 8, 2017 at 2:44 pm
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    These are some really important points to keep in mind always. Loved reading your post. Thanks for sharing!

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    • September 8, 2017 at 4:05 pm
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      Hi Sonali, thanks for your comments – I am pleased that you liked the post.

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  • September 9, 2017 at 4:23 am
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    I need to up my game on photography for sure. Great post, loved reading it.

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    • September 9, 2017 at 12:35 pm
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      Thanks for your comments! Glad you enjoyed reading the post.

      Reply

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