Being sensitive to how you approach and interact with locals is crucial to photographing children while traveling.
It’s widely known that photographing locals is the most challenging part of travel photography. And while getting an adult to relax can be daunting, trying to capture their child in a memorable travel photograph can be the most difficult of all.
Here are a few pointers to help make it easier:
Befriend their guardians
Babies are the most challenging to photograph especially when safely in the arms of a parent or guardian. Situations like this demand you seek permission from their guardian either verbally or through body language.
While hunting for handmade jewelry in Catalina, I was instantly reeled into a stall by the dark mesmerizing eyes of this Nicaraguan baby with her mother. Approaching with a huge, nonthreatening grin, I started out with a few quick shots of her mother, and then finally asked for the baby shot I wanted with my camera raised in question.
If no common language is spoken between you and the guardian, body language and gestures go a long way in communicating that you don’t intend to harm them or violate their privacy. Once permission has been granted, you can get up close and personal for some great travel shots.
Here are two more examples of close-proximity baby shots while in the arms of their mothers.
Shift focus from one to many
Even the most rambunctious and spirited kids get intimidated when cornered by an adult. Shifting focus away from one child to many while “focusing” on your main subject can improve the atmosphere of your travel portrait.
Keep your distance
Observing kids in their own world usually gives you the most candid natural shots. By giving them adequate space, you will seem less threatening.
While strolling through narrow side streets in St. Georges, Bermuda, a young girl with flaming red hair carrying a red haired doll appeared around the corner. She was a fiery contrast to the mellow pastels of our surroundings. Intrigued, I wish I could have stopped her for a picture, but I knew better.
You should always keep distance when taking photographs of children who are alone. Do not linger around the child more than a minute. Children are usually taught not to talk to strangers so respect and enforce that lesson by refraining from small talk with isolated children.
Shoot at eye level.
Eye contact with a child takes you one step closer to connecting with them regardless of culture. Whenever I weed through photos where the subjects are children,the most engaging shots I found were ones when I was eye level with the child.
Kids are naturally intimidated by large overbearing shadows. Kneeling, sitting, or playing closer to their line of vision instantly relaxes them.
Kids are kids the world over and love to be entertained. From goofy displays to showing them their snapshots in your viewfinder, connecting with children results in some of the most memorable travel photographs. By spending time playing and laughing down at their level instead of towering over them, they remain themselves – kids!
Be sensitive to cultural norms
Sometimes you just can’t photograph children. In regions where trafficking and abuse are being fought on a national level, locals are particularly sensitive to strangers hanging around their children. In 2000, a Japanese tourist was killed by a mob in a Guatemalan market for photographing children.
While such cases are extremely rare, it requires you to learn about the local culture and its attitudes towards children and their interaction with strangers.