Tips: How to Take Photos of People in Places
Woman With Cat
People reveal as much about a destination as its architecture and landscapes. Flip through this gallery for tips on taking the best people photos while traveling.
Here, a colorful Havana woman enjoys an enormous cigar. The smokes are one of Cuba’s defining symbols—“Havanas” are renowned worldwide and have special cache among many aficionados in America, where their import remains illegal.
Photo Tip: If you are making an outdoor portrait and don’t have the natural light you want, pose your subject in open shade, preferably in a setting that has something to do with the message you are trying to convey.
A girl wears several hats in the town of Humahuaca in northern Argentina, where people revere the traditions of their rugged ancestors.
Photo Tip: When shooting portraits, try different perspectives, says photographer Richard Nowitz. “But in general, get in close, shoot tight, and keep your backgrounds clean.”
Classic Car, Cuba
A proud owner poses with his classic car in Trinidad, Cuba. Fans of Detroit’s golden age find heaven on Cuban highways, where necessity and invention combine to keep vintage American models rolling decades after they came off the assembly line.
Photo Tip: Don’t be shy. If you approach people in the right way, they’ll usually be happy to have their picture made. Joke around with them. Tell them why you want to make the picture. Practice with people you know so that you are comfortable.
Mambukal Mudpack Festival
Held at the height of monsoon season, the Mambukal Mudpack Festival in Murcia, Negros Occidental, celebrates the harmony of man and nature and encourages environmentalism among young people. To get in the spirit, participants cover themselves with the rich soil known as Mambukal clay.
Photo Tip: Take advantage of overcast conditions. Although it is less dramatic than late or early sunlight, cloudy weather offers soft, even lighting, free of harsh shadows, which can be ideal for portraits, rendering even skin tones, and can enhance saturation.
The number of French farming villages has dwindled, a consequence of mechanization, increasing job opportunities in cities, and other factors. Many traditional villages continue to struggle, surviving solely because of tourism.
Photo Tip: Chat up the locals in small-town diners and cafés, and tell them you’re looking for a farm to photograph. An invitation may result more readily than you’d expect.
Bamboo Transport, Philippines
Laden with bamboo and workers, a converted World War II U.S. Army jeep carries its load out of the mountains near Tangub, on the island of Mindanao.
Photo Tip: You can use foreground elements to lead your viewers' eyes into the frame and to your subject. They can be almost anything from a leading line to objects that either literally or graphically reinforce the message of the image.
Monastery Window, Myanmar
An oval window frames a young monk at Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung monastery in Myanmar.
Photo Tip: Frames can be literal or subtle. Using frames adds depth to the image and helps focus attention on the main subject.
Henna Hands, India
The hands of a woman in Jaipur are covered with mehndi patterns painted with henna. Trendy in recent years, the lacework decorations are part of a 5,000-year-old tradition of creating designs to ward off evil or declare one’s happiness.
Photo Tip: For everyday pictures such as portraits and views, use shutter speeds of 1/60 of a second to 1/250 of a second.
Diwali Festival, India
Two women in Jaipur hold candles to celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Observed over five days throughout India, it marks, among other things, the start of the new business year and the victory of light over dark.
Photo Tip: Festivals, parades, and similar events offer an ideal chance to photograph people at their most colorful and at a time when everyone expects to be photographed.
Samburu Wedding, Kenya
In keeping with tradition, Samburu families arrange marriages for their daughters when they’re as young as ten. The entire community celebrates during several days of elaborate ceremonies designed to counteract superstitions and bring the new couple good luck.
Photo Tip: Your compositions should be strong and uncluttered, but also strive to have a depth of content in a single image.
Bicycle Rider and Dog
An old man merrily rides his bike with his buddy. The expressions on their faces make them very common, comfortable, and happy. The blue background on one corner makes the scene urban and his glasses and jacket give away the European feel.
Photo Tip: To stop a racing car, or someone riding a bicycle, start with a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second.
Food Truck, Hawaii
Locals grab lunch from a food truck in Kahakuloa Village on the rugged north shore of West Maui, Hawaii. Kahakuloa has been occupied by Hawaiian people since around 300 B.C. Its population hovers around a hundred, most of whom are direct descendants of the village's original inhabitants.
Photo Tip: Good travel photography is about the experience of a place—not just the landscape but people engaged with the landscape.
Amish Boys, Pennsylvania
Amish boys riding a wagon at the Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania, Annual Mud Sale. Mud sales have been a regular event here in Lancaster County since the mid-1960s. These auctions help local volunteer fire companies raise much needed funds. The late winter and early spring dates work out best for local farmers because they have more time available before the spring planting. Since many of the items are sold outside during potentially muddy spring conditions, the event is called a mud sale.
Photo Tip: When shooting group portraits use your imagination. Find a way to relate the group to an environment that expresses something about what kind of group they are. Do it literally, humorously, dramatically, or by complete contrast. Get ideas from them.
Beauty Pageant, Mongolia
A young woman in an elaborate traditional headdress participates in a beauty pageant in Darhan, one of Mongolia’s largest cities. Nearly half of all Mongolians live in cities; a third (about one million) live in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.
Photo Tip: Remember that you can use depth of field creatively by using a wide-open aperture to isolate your subject. Your subject will stand out sharply as the rest of the image surrounding it remains pleasantly blurred.
Skateboard Park, California
The curves and valleys of this skateboard park in Venice Beach, California, drew my attention. Despite the speed and daring of the skaters, it had a soothing effect.
Photo Tip: When you would like as much depth of field as possible, remember that the depth of field extends farther behind the point of focus than in front of it. If you focus one third into your subject, you will know that the depth of field will extend by equal amounts before and after the point of focus.
These kids are the local fishermen's sons, at a remote beach, south of Luanda, Angola. Though these families live with very few resources, their smiles are always there, special whenever a visitor comes to the beach.
Photo Tip: When shooting group portraits, make use of the environment. Instead of having everybody clump together for a group shot, look around for a setting that will allow for good spacing and posing of the group—and the added feature of showing their surroundings.
Circus Clown, South Carolina
Perolito the clown applies his makeup in his trailer about an hour and a half before performing under the big top during the Cole Bros. Circus on March 26, 2010, at the Ladson County Fairgrounds in Charleston, South Carolina. It takes Perolito, a third-generation clown, 30 minutes to apply his makeup.
Photo Tip: The “environmental portrait,” which shows a person in his or her surroundings, is a mainstay of travel photography and is frequently used in the pages of National Geographic Traveler magazine.
Young monks don sunglasses before dozens of butter lamps at Swayambhunath Stupa, a Buddhist temple in Kathmandu Valley. The gold-spired stupa is also known as the “Monkey Temple,” named for the population of rhesus monkeys that roam its grounds.
Photo Tip: Your subject doesn’t always have to be in the center of the frame and looking directly at the camera.
A man in western Mongolia wears a fur-trimmed hat as protection from the bitter cold of winter. Sprawled across mountains and plateaus, Mongolia has an average elevation of 5,180 feet (1,580 meters).
Photo Tip: Light coming through cloud cover is diffuse and useful for shooting portraits. So is the light in open shadows.
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