Notes on photographing people…
A friend once said this to me:
“I really enjoy looking at close-up photos of strangers. I think you do that so well in your work, Lola, but I think you almost always know the people you’re photographing or are working with their companies.”
The truth is over 90% of my photographs taken while traveling are often of complete strangers so I took her statement as a huge compliment.
I often say that getting a complete stranger to relax long enough to grant you momentary access into their world is one of the hardest parts of travel photography. Setting up a tripod with the best technical settings to shoot a stunning landscape is 20 times easier than walking up to a complete stranger and pointing a camera in their face.
How do you disrupt people going about their daily business and interact with them in such a way that they invite you into their world?
This can be nerve-wracking, especially for photographers who also happen to be introverts (*raises hand*). And so, many people tend to shy away from taking environmental portraits of people by sticking to street photography and candid “sneak” shots of people.
Why? Because these are just some of the reasons we convince ourselves why we don’t approach people.
“I don’t want to bother them.”
“I feel like I’m intruding into their world.”
“I don’t want to objectify them, so I’d rather take a well-crafted selfie of myself.”
But there are two main reasons why many of us are afraid of photographing strangers while traveling.
(1) Fear of rejection
Rejection sucks. It is one human emotion we can all collectively say we would like to get rid of (alongside hate). Rejection causes a momentary shift in power and pushes us into an emotional space where we question ourselves and the decision we made to warrant that rejection.
(2) Shame caused by rejection
Oftentimes, when we are rejected, there’s usually an audience. It’s done in public in front of other people, which in turn brings on the shame. We no longer feel confident and embarrassment rushes in.
Do you notice what these two reasons have in common?
The main reason why we’re afraid of photographing people during our travels is that we’re putting ourselves and our own emotions first instead of theirs.
The minute you ask someone to invite you into their personal space, the interaction no longer becomes about what you want, but rather, what they are willing to share and give you.
Photographing people during your travels means:
- Being vulnerable and humble – You can still be very self-confident yet vulnerable and humble.
- Putting your subject in charge – Yes, oftentimes you have to give up control and be willing to let them reject you.
“If you are humble and willing to learn off everyone that you meet when you travel, people will let you into their world by sharing their stories”
…Shane Dallas, The Travel Camel
To respect means “to have due regard for (someone’s feelings, wishes, or rights)”.
And oftentimes, many of us aren’t ready to fully respect their feelings even though we say we do, because we prematurely put ourselves and our own feelings before theirs.
Once we come to grips with the fact that the entire exchange isn’t about us and what we want, then we’ll start opening ourselves up to improving our travel portraits.
And rejection will lose its sting.