A series of Travel Photography Tips that will help you improve your photography for free. This is numero uno!

One of the things you learn over the years as a photographer, is that how-to guides, magazine articles and manufacturers advertising don’t always tell you everything you need to know about photography. Don’t get me wrong. These are often excellent sources of information and you will learn a huge amount by reading them, but a camera manufacturer is not going to tell you that you don’t need the latest camera (or that their competitors also work well). Similarly, many magazines are primarily dependent on advertising, so promoting the latest camera models is going to be a large part of their content. My intention is that this will be a series of unbiased articles to learn help you learn travel photography.

Tip 1. Talk to people

Travel photography tips. Always try to establish a relationship with your subject. A mayna mother and dauther sell hand made bead necklaces and bracelets near the catholic cathedral, La Antigua, Guatemala. Colin Munro Photography
A Mayna mother and dauther sell hand made bead necklaces and bracelets in La Antigua, Guatemala. I chatted to this lady for about 10 minutes (impressive as my Spanish is almost non-existent!) before taking this photograph. Many vendors tout in the nearby square, but this lady was more shy, and stayed back in the shadows. Her daughter was super shy, but her mum wanted her in the picture as well, so after a little persuading she joined her. Ethnic Mayans make up around 50% of Guatemala’s population. I left with some great photos and a couple of rather nice bracelets.

I work quite a lot in the travel industry, so I often guide tour groups and see a great many more groups as I go. I have to say quite clearly, one of my pet hates is seeing tourists, or photographers, taking photographs of local people without asking, or even communicating with them at all. To me it is the ultimate in dehumanising and objectifying people, and it is hugely disrespectful. When we travel within different cultures it is, in my view, essential that we show respect and try to engage whenever possible. This is a win-win scenario, because most times people will be pleased by this, and your experience will be enriched. You will learn more, you may see more and you will probably end up with much better photographs.

Photographs are not simply…

Here’s a picture of a foreign lady I took when I was in Nicaragua. She looked kinda interesting so I snapped a picture‘.

They mean so much more if you can make a connection. Photography is often described as painting with light; and it adds so much more if you can paint a story, make an emotional connection.

This is Maria; she travels to the square every afternoon to sell woven hats to tourists. The hats are made by her mother and aunt; each one takes about two hours to make..’.

You can see, the first is disconnected, remote; the second is personal, it contains a small vignette of someone’s life. A life probably very different from your own. Of course the second costs more. It takes time, and a degree of courage to talk to a stranger. Who knows, they may reject you, they may try to scam you, they may refuse to let you take their picture, then what? Maybe you’re left silently cursing that you hadn’t simply taken the snap without asking, but in a World with millions more pictures then there are people on this planet, what would be the value of that disconnected snap? A few years ago, travelling in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Colombia, I walked around our camp in the evening. As I walked towards a clearing with a viewpoint I came upon a kogi couple. Kogis are one of the four ethnic tribes surviving in the mountains of Colombia. They are small, mostly around five foot, incredibly handsome people with long jet black and chiselled aristocratic features. They are almost always dressed entirely in white, in simple cotton and wool tunics. I had seen quite a few kogi while we had been walking, they had been polite but distant. This couple had a classic pose; the woman sitting on a rock, gazing in silence out across the foothills way below us as the sun edged towards the horizon, the man standing by her side, a rifle casually slung across his shoulder. I walked towards them, smiled and, gesturing to communicate, asked if I could take a photograph. The man shook his head, so I smiled, waved and walked away. Of course I could have taken the photograph before they saw me, then apologised, but I would always have known that was how I got the photograph.

Travel Photography Tips.  A local fisherman throws his cast net to catch small fish at low tide. Phuket, Thailand. Colin Munro Photography
Tariq, a local fisherman casts his net at low tide. He is trying to catch small fish that gather in the shallows. Some fishermen will use these as bait for larger fish, but Tariq’s catch will help feed his family. There is an art to throwing a weighted cast net. Tariq makes it look easy, but that’s the skill of the fisherman. Tariq was initially a little nervous, and probably rather suspicious, of this farang (foreigner) wading out a couple of hundred metres to talk to him, but after he realised I was genuinely interested in learning how he fished, he took great pleasure in showing me his catch and explaining, though signs and gestures, how he cooked them.

So this is not a recipe for 100% success. It will not work every time. But when it does work the photographs will be far more valuable. One of the problems with this approach is the tendency of people to pose for the camera. Rather than asking then not to, which sometimes offends and sometimes results in stiff looking ‘natural’ poses, I find the best way is go along with it, take the posed shots, and keep talking. Often they will relax and forget about the camera, allowing you to take the images you want.

Buy the damn souvenirs!

Travel Photography Tips. An old lady laughs as she weaves pandanus leaves. Suau Island, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea. Colin Munro Photography
An old lady laughs as she weaves pandanus leaves when we share a joke, Suau Island, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea.

I know many photographers are reluctant to pay for photographs. They sometimes feel it contributes towards ‘commodifying things’ or somehow ‘ripping off’ tourists. I have a different take on this. very often the thing we want to take back most from an exotic trip are those special images. Those unique images of local engaged in their normal activities, so different from those back home. And that is why we pay thousands of dollars (euros, pounds, renminbi) to airlines, coach companies, hotels and tour guides, to get us there; and yet we resent parting with cash to the most essential, and often poorest, link in that chain, the photographic subject. I have a different take. They have something I want, therefore I am happy to trade. While I don’t actively encourage directly parting with cash for photographs – simply because in some places it can be ill-judged and have you surrounded by children or youths wanting their photograph taken – I do always aim to trade where possible. So where that person is selling souvenirs I will buy the hat, the leather bracelet, maybe the T shirt; we’ve all got family or friends we can offload them on if we don’t personally have space in our lives for it. For one thing, by buying one of their products you have already broken the ice, you’ve established a relationship – albeit brief – with that person. Crucially, you are not a tourist looking down on the attractions (for their perspective) you are now on an equal level. If you ask for a photograph at this point they are far more likely to be receptive, and you’ve contributed to the local economy, right at grassroots level where your dollar, peso or baht will have the biggest impact.

One to One Photography Tuition

I’ve been running one to one photography tuition for quite a few years now. Currently I’m running online one to one tuition Worldwide. Many people find it is the easiest and the faster way for them to learn photography skills. Instruction starts from your current level of understanding. It progresses at the optimal speed for you to learn, and it’s flexible. Sessions can be arranged when you are free. By targeting exactly what you want to learn, and teaching at the correct pace for you, it can also be the most cost effective way to learn. Online photography tuition gives you freedom to learn from your own home, anywhere in the World.

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