The Friendly Photographer


It pays to be the friendly photographer when you want good shots of people, especially when you don’t know them or don’t speak their language.  Here’s a process that is often effective as you approach people.


First, hold up your camera and smile.  Let them know you want to take a picture before you take it.  Ask permission, both verbally and with hand gestures.  If the answer is yes (or at least not no) then take a picture and show it to them.  If they approve, you can now consider other angles and backgrounds to take an even better picture.  When they see that you are trying to take a better picture, they will often help out with their own suggestions or changes.  Take each suggestion to heart and keep taking pictures.  You can always discard what you don’t like later.


But what if they don’t want their picture taken?  First of all, don’t take it.  Then look around for someone that will let you take his or her picture.  Kids are a good choice.  When you take their picture, show it to them and repeat the process described above.  Show the pictures to the person you wanted to photograph to start with.  Everyone likes to see pictures of their kids.  Sometimes this warms them up enough to want to be included in the shot and you can work your way to shots of them by themselves.


But what if they still don’t want their picture taken?  Again, don’t take it.  Instead, figure out how to make them laugh or smile (if appropriate, of course).  If you can get them to laugh, you have a much better chance of taking their picture.  Don’t be afraid to be silly or make fun of yourself.  Make faces at the kids.  Swap hats with someone.  Do tricks if you know any.  Help them with their chores.  Let them take a picture of you. You get the idea.  When the crowd gets warmed up, you’ll have more photo opportunities than you can shake a stick at and they will be more engaging photos too.


If they still don’t want their picture taken, there’s probably a good reason so don’t take it.  Some cultures believe that you capture their soul if you take their picture.  Others are simply afraid of bad spirits.  You're not going to change their beliefs so respect them and move on.


There’s another step to being the friendly photographer though.  When you take pictures of people, you may be asked for a copy of the picture.  If you can do it, you should.  The easy way is to ask for an email address.  More and more people have them or know someone that has one.  If you can email them a picture or two, it won’t cost you anything and the recipient learns to like photographers.  If they don’t have email you may still want to send them printed pictures, especially if the photo shoot took awhile.  Try to get a mailing address or send them to your guide, if you have one, and ask him or her to deliver the pictures the next time they are in the area.  Most guides will do this because they want cooperative subjects for the next group they bring.  Either way, follow through with your promises so they learn to trust photographers.


What if they ask for money?  This is a tricky one because it depends on several factors.  If your photo shoot takes a lot of their time, or you want a model release, it is only fair to compensate them, but try things other than money to discourage future begging.  Photos, as mentioned above, are a good choice.  Offer to buy them food or drink.  Pens and pencils are good choices too.  Offer to buy something from them.   If they insist on cash you must decide if you really need their picture.  If the answer is yes, have your guide pay them.  He or she will pay an appropriate fee and will discourage people from asking for unreasonable amounts.


Being a friendly photographer pays off in two ways.  First, it improves your chances of getting good people shots.  Second, it helps other photographers who will follow in your footsteps.  It’s just smart travel photography.


May your travel and your photography both be rewarding!


                                                            Roger Nelson