How To Take Great Travel Portraits

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Travel portraits can be evocative of the places you’ve been and the local people you have met, but it can seem daunting to a beginner. Armed with the hints and tips in this article and a bit of practice, hopefully you’ll soon be taking travel portraits like a pro. Festivals and celebrations are good places to take portraits because people there are usually expect to be photographed. Photo by A. Zuhri on Unsplash How to Find a Good Subject Traveling gives you a great opportunity to photograph festivals and celebrations, and the people and entertainers who are part of them often enjoy having their photo taken. That makes your job a bit easier, especially if you are anxious about approaching people, and you can capture the unique atmosphere of the celebrations. Other good places to find people for travel portraits are local markets and shops. If you are staying in a hotel, you can strike up a rapport with the staff there and they may be willing to pose for you – or know local people who would be happy to have their photo taken.

This often seems like a thorny problem to beginner photographers, but it really is better to ask for permission before you take someone’s photograph. Put yourself in their position – would you like someone to just walk up to you without a word and start taking photos of you? How would that make you feel? Asking permission doesn’t mean you have give a long explanation about why you want to take a person’s photo, especially if there is a language barrier! To get around this and make things quicker, asking permission could just be catching the person’s eye, smiling and pointing to your camera and then to them. All they would have to do is nod, shake their head or signal with gestures, and you would have your answer. “But what if they say ‘no’?” you may be wondering. Well, it’s not the end of the world if they do, and try not to take it personally. Not everyone likes having their photo taken, or they may be having a bad hair day – there are many reasons people will say no, but for every ‘no’, you will probably get four or five people who say ‘yes’.

Once you have had someone refuse permission to have their photo taken, it actually gets easier to ask other people instead of harder – it just takes practice. Once you have taken your images, show your subjects the results. You don’t have to show them your misfires or ‘bad’ images, but pick the best ones and let them have a look. If they like them, and have internet access, ask for their email address so you can send them a copy when you’ve edited the shots.

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Try not only to take close portraits, but also include some surroundings to show the context Natural vs. Posed Images There’s often a debate on which ones are better, and it really comes down to personal taste. Candid shots are natural ones of people who are unaware of you taking their photo, but it’s possible to ask permission and still get candid shots. To do this, find someone who’s doing something interesting, such as cooking street food or making something. Ask their permission, and if they agree, ask them to go back to what they were doing, while you take the shots. Purists will argue that the images won’t be as good if the subjects are aware of you photographing them, but it’s best to err on the side of caution if you are a beginner. If you want posed shots, you need to ask permission, and then try to get the person to pose.

Often it helps if they hold something interesting or an item that means something to them, as it helps to make the images a little less stiff and awkward, and can add interest to the image. If you are photographing street performers or those involved in a carnival, you can’t realistically stop them to ask permission, so in this situation simply take the photos and enjoy the show. If you photograph street performers, it’s only right to put a little money in their hat or tin in return. General Camera Settings When it comes to the gear, you can use any camera for travel portraits, even a smartphone. If you have a DSLR, that’s great, as it means you will have much more control over things like depth of field in your images, but it isn’t necessary for capturing great shots. The type of camera settings you need to use will depend on the lighting conditions where you are, and of course whether you are using manual, auto or one of the semi-auto modes like Aperture or Shutter Priority. If you are used to using fully auto mode, why not try moving to Aperture Priority mode instead? This mode will take care of the shutter speed and ISO for correct exposure, depending on what aperture you choose. Camera aperture For portraits with a nice blurry background and sharp subject, pick an aperture from f/2.8 to around f/6.4. The results you get will also depend on how close you are to your subject, and what lens you are using. Having a tripod will help a lot if you are using Aperture Priority in low lighting conditions, as the camera will probably drop the shutter speed below the level where you can hand-hold it without getting blurry images. If you are photographing someone indoors, try to position him or her next to a window that doesn’t get direct sunlight, but not with their back to the window as that would just give a silhouette.

Get them to stand sideways to the window so that light is falling over one side of their face and you stand directly in front of them. If you want to lighten the shadows on the unlit side of their face, use anything white or silver to reflect light back on to the subject’s face. A simple fold-up 5-in-1 circular reflector is inexpensive to buy, lightweight to carry, and is one of the most useful tools you can have for portrait photography. Post-Processing Once you get back from your trip, you should upload all your images to your computer and choose the best ones to edit in photo editing software. All photos will benefit from a bit of cropping and straightening, and color, contrast and exposure adjustments. If you don’t have an editing program, think about getting one, as your images will look so much better. If you’re not sure about purchasing editor, there are totally free editors GIMP or RawTherapee that have all the basic features. Some editors, like Luminar and Lightroom have one-click presets that you can add to your images to give them a different “look”, and you can add the same presets to all the images from that series to give them a continuous style. Editing programs often have presets made especially to suit portraits, which is a great starting point for beginners.

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