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How To Photograph People During Your Travel

[Adventures In Travel Photography]  [How To Save Your Money On Travel Pictures]  [Care Of Your Photo Equipment During Your Travel]  [Composition Of Travel Pictures]  [How To Photograph People During Your Travel]  [Travel Pictures In Bad Weather]  [Close-Up Pictures In Your Travels]  [What To Do With Your Exosed Travel Films]  [Sound Accompaniment In Travel Pictures] 

People like to see other people. Your most important travel pictures will be those of people from another country with the background of their own country. These people may be at work, at play, at home, or praying. There are a few ways to get better pictures of people. Whatever you do, never take any pictures against a person's will. To do this may even be dangerous. It is best to ask permission. When you do not know the language, point the camera, make a gesture of asking, and show a friendly smile. The problem is that when you ask, then you will get a straight posed picture of little originality and little value. When you ask, be sure to ask the person or persons to do something so that they are not conscious of the camera. These will be more natural looking pictures.

Take this situation. You arrive early in the morning with your camera at the busy local market place. At first you will be an attraction. A small crowd of boys may admire you and your camera, and stand before your camera asking for pictures. The people around you will look with curiosity or some with suspicion at your actions. Good pictures at this time will not be possible.

So do nothing for the next fifteen or twenty minutes. Just put your camera on a tripod somewhere in the shade away from the busy traffic, so that you do not block anyone's way and do not disturb anybody. After some time the attention to your person will wane. If you are not acting, no one will be interested in watching you. You will be only a part of the market.

Now is the time to begin your photography work. Calculate the correct exposure then pre-set the speed and f-stop. Now prefocus the lens to about 10 feet. If you are using a small aperture of f8, fll, or f16, you will get a good depth of sharpness. Everything will be in focus from about 5 to 18 feet. Wait until an interesting person, group, or action happens in front of you. Without looking through your viewer just push the shutter and you will have pictures of people who never realized that they have been photographed. The noise of the market will cover the noise of your camera.

Without a tripod, you could pre-adjust the camera for the right distance, shutter speed, and lens opening, so that when something interesting happens you could just raise the camera to your eyes without focusing, and shoot! With most people you will probably have have one or two seconds, or sometimes even three seconds, before the person or persons realize that they are being photographed. When they look at you just smile and give a pleasant "Good Morning." The same is true with a movie camera. When you pre focus you may have a scene of three to five seconds of action before the people start to realize that they are being filmed. Film a little longer sometimes because the action of the people may be interesting. This can be done by hand holding the camera. A movie camera with an extra short lens (extra wide angle lens) has some advantage. First, it is easy to make the subject sharp because the depth of sharpness is very great. Secondly, a movie camera with such a lens (p,ex 6mm lens with 16mm camera) will show little camera movement even when the pictures are hand held. Also you will not need to look through the objective. You would just point the camera and film the scene.

Another method for the shy tourist, is to film with a telephoto lens. The place may be a low window in your hotel, a porch of the hotel, or a typical European street restaurant. But you should have an elevated place with a better view and better selection of the people and action. This could be the steps of a church or the steps of a city bank or any business which overlooks the street or place with people. You may hand hold the camera, but with a movie camera it would be better to use a tripod because otherwise the pictures will look "shakey". When using a 35mm camera a faster shutter speed is preferable, 1/250 of a second or faster. You may follow a group of people or a particular person, watching through your camera viewer, and when the picture is worthwhile taking just push the button. You must realize that a picture with a long (tele) lens has some disadvantages. The background is compressed and the people look very close together. With a 35 mm camera you will probably use a 135mm lens or a 250mm lens. Such lenses could definitely be better if used with a tripod .

You can always ask the people to do something for the photograph. Very often they will cooperate, and when not you do not lose anything. But you will be amazed how many people in different countries will be happy to cooperate with your instructions.

Generally you should not pay the people for pictures, although this is sometimes unavoidable. The tourists have spoiled the natives so much that in Egypt, Hong Kong, or some Caribbean Islands, it is practically impossible to have pictures of people, and especially children, without paying them. But if you pay for your model you should ask for action. With a model you may get cooperation. They will do anything that you ask, and you would be able to get very close pictures of faces. In some countries you may engage (for a fee) a small group to dance, sing, or play for you. In many countries like Japan, Hong Kong, or Taiwan you can get a model who for a moderate price who will walk with you and be in any picture composition (dressed in the regional or national dress).

Sometimes you may pay for pictures of animals. For instance, pictures of lamas in the Andes. Otherwise, by taking the picture it is believed that you may take the soul of the animal with you. Once when in Morocco I wanted to take a picture of a boy on a donkey. He said, "Of the donkey yes, but of me no". Sometimes this may be different. You can take pictures of children but not of the animals with them.

Never try to pay the children of the people for a picture that you have not asked for. You may offend somebody by offering money. This sometimes could lead to a misunderstanding, especially with women. Be especially careful of this in Arabic countries.

In some countries you may have less trouble when they know you are an American. In others it is better not to tell of your nationality.

Pictures of people will be the most important and most worthwhile collection of your travel pictures. Devote a good percentage of your time and film on people pictures, and you will be highly rewarded.


There was a time when the best pictures required full sunshine. Today, the most admired pictures are made either early of late in the day, and very often during the night. Among the award winning pictures, you see a lot of sunsets and pictures taken in unusual weather conditions.

Today, with modern high speed film and fast lenses, it is easy to take pictures without a flash during the morning or evening hours of your travels.

The best time to take "Night Pictures" is 10-15 minutes after sunset. Street lights and advertisements lights are glowing, but the sky is still dark blue with enough light for a decent exposure needed to get a lot of detail and unusual color tones. Later in the night, many cities like Las Vegas, have a multitude of street lights which will give a perfect exposure and good pictures even with a hand held camera and shutter speed of 1150 of a second. The same is with movie film. Even with Kodachrome 25 it is possible to film, and Ektachrome EF will get a good exposure even in darker places. Many European and South American cities have enough light for good exposure. In addition, most famous monuments and buildings have additional flood light illumination. With a movie camera you may use a smaller f-stop and thus get better depth of field by using a slower camera speed. (8 in place of 18 or 24 frames per second) This technique lends itself best to unmovable or slowly moving objects. Remember, when you project the film at 18 or 24 frames per second, the action will be speeded up.

There are special super 8mm movie cameras where the extra large shutter opening gives the film more exposure. Such cameras are the best for night pictures.

In most cities there are neon advertisements with many colors and much movement. This can always be exposed very easily. Exotic signs in Arabic or in Chinese language are always interesting.

There is a question of whether daylight type film or tungsten type film is best for pictures of night lighting. Tungsten film will render objects illuminated by flood lights, a more natural color. But usually daylight film renders the objects a more pleasing color, even slightly yellowish or reddish cast. This is a question of personal taste. Experiment with both types and see which one you like. Vrey often you will have to use an electronic flash. With a little care to the exposure, you may get a good picture of a person (or persons) with the highlight of the city in the background. But remember that the flash is only effective for objects, approximately 2-20 feet from the camera. If the object is further away the flash is useless. Trying to take a picture of Niagra Falls at night with flash is just a waste of film.

Street pictures at night are best just after a rain when the wet street pavement will reflect the lights. Then there are pictures of display windows. Pictures in theaters can often be made without a flash. In some places a flash will not be allowed.

Especially effective are the pictures of fireworks. It is very simple. Just put the camera on a tripod. Use daylight or tungsten film (according to your taste but daylight film will give better color saturation) With Kodachrome 25 open the lens to F-5.6, focus the lens to infinity, and adjust the tripod to point the camera toward the main area of bursts. After catching a few of the fireworks just close the lens. Depending on the distance between you and the bursts, a 50mm or 100mm will give the best coverage. You may make superimpose pictures of the fireworks from far away and then closer. With a little experience you may hold your hand in front of an open camera lens and expose the film only during the fireworks you like.

A movie camera will be more of a problem. But by using Ectachrome EF (ASA 160) for night pictures, and using a slower speed (for example, 8 frames per second) you will get faster action and still have a good color exposure. You could also cheat by using a high speed black and white film and later color the film to the desired fantasy.

What about pictures in moonlight? Most night pictures seen on television are taken during the day using daylight film and underexposed by two f-stops or more. Sometimes a blue filter is used. The best days for night pictures are made when the sun gives long afternoon shadows (pretending there are moon shadows). How to make exposures with only moonlight? With high speed Ektachrome and a large lens opening, the exposure will be only a few seconds with full moonlight. With a movie camera you have more problems. It is possible to expose each film frame for a few seconds to any moving object, but the moon will later move extremely fast across the screen when projected at 24 frames per second.

Some cities offer excellent possibilities for good night pictures. Some of these possibilities are in Paris, the canals in Amsterdam, the mosques in Istanbul, Rome or Hong Kong. So do not put your camera to sleep during the night, but continue to photograph for some of the most original pictures.


The picture taking during your travels will not stop during the night, even when it is cold or rainy outside. Inside pictures, in theaters and other areas of entertainment, can be very interest ing. The first principle can be very interesting. The first principle is "Do not ask permission." With todays small 35mm or Instamatic cameras, or small super 8 cameras, if you are sitting deep in the audience, it would probably take a long time before somebody would notice you, and object. In the meantime you may have taken some good pictures. You will find out that in most places of the world, like South America, Iran, Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, the Pacific Islands, and Australia, that there will be no objection to picture taking. The same is in Eastern and Southern Europe. In Western Europe in the large theaters of Paris or London, signs indicate that picture taking is forbidden. The same sign can be seen in many places in New York, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.

The basic problem is to make your picture always, in such a way that you do not obstruct the view or disturb other people. This means no electronic strobes and no tripods. If you would like to use a flash, portable light, or a tripod, you had better ask for permission!

Today with modern lenses and highly sensitive film, as high speed Ektachrome (ASA 160), you are able to take many pictures with the regular stage or stadium lights. The secret is that the light will lose its power with distance, so get close to the subject. Very often you may forget that the light has to travel not only from the light to the subject, but has to be reflected from the subject to your camera. The closer you are to your subject the more light you will get. Very often you may not be seated in front of the stage. You could try to come early or make reservations or give the doorman a small "donation". In some theaters and stages you can ever stay on the side of the stage, very close to the action. As long as you do not obstruct anybody's view or disturb anybody you may take your pictures. You may shoot often with ASA 160 film with f2-f8 with 1/100 or 1/60 of a second. You may use a movie camera with similar film with an opening of the lens from f2 to f8. You should use f2 with darker scenes with red or blue light, and f8 with bright white light. You will be amazed when using a light meter or using a camera with automatic exposure how much the light intensity will change from dark red to bright white light.

But there are still situations, especially in nightclubs, where the light is very poor but the action makes it worth taking pictures. Using a flashlight, or portable light for movies, even with permission from the manager will bring strong objections from the spectators. Try to get a seat in front of the orchestra or get another person not connected with you or your table to hold your lamp. For example-the waiter, manager, or one of the non-performing actors. Once on one of the tropical islands, the light for my filming was held by the local chief of police and nobody objected. In another situation in a Hilton nightclub, the main waiter held my movie light.

You are not mainly interested in the general stage pictures, but rather in the performers and their faces. A regular light meter will be of little help and often will give you a false reading. It will say that there is not enough light for a picture because the reading will be of all the stage, when actually only the actors are illuminated. You need a spot meter with a small angle reading with only 3 or even 1 degree. (A regular light meter has a 30 degree or degree angle of acceptance.) A spot meter reading, you may get the exact exposure of the actor's face, and this is the kind of information you will like to know.

What about composition of stage pictures? Nobody will be happy with just flat simple stage pictures, or with filming from the same place with the same lens. Changing the lenses or using a zoom lens will help. Sometimes include the heads of some spectators in the foreground for picture framing. Then, if only it is possible, change your seat or walk to a different position to get different views of the performers.

A slow shutter speed is not much of a problem, because the action will often come to a brief stop in the middle of will often come to a brief stop in the middle of movement. But when using a longer focal length lens or a movie camera, you would like to have a more steady camera. Where standing is not allowed, you can usually find a good support for your elbow on the sides of your chair or on the back of the chair in front of you, or sometimes even on the edge of the stage.

Sometimes taking the picture of a performance is not possible because of the lighting or other restrictions. Very often you may be able to arrange for yourself (or your group) to have a special small performance of the stage actors the next day in your hotel garden, or some other interesting background in the city. It would cost extra, but often the cost is worth it when you consider the perfect pictures or movies you will have. Do not be afraid to ask the group; it costs nothing to ask. Once in Thailand I could not get good pictures of the dancing girls. For a few dollars the same girls performed an extra time for my movies in the tropical hotel garden. In many places you may hire a model with the regional or national costume to walk with you (or your group) for the pictures. Very often such a model will know the best places and the best backgrounds for your photos. When you consider the time you save and the ease of getting good compositions, the cost of a model's rent will be small. And in many oriental countries this cost is very small.

Taking the picture is only half of the art. When showing your films or color slides of a performance you will need the perfect music; and there is no better music than the original recording during the performance. So carry a small cassette tape recorder (weight 2 1/2 pounds) and if your hands are busy ask your wife or a friend to do the recording. Very often you will be able to bring the perfect original tunes of the performance to your pictures.

Taking pictures on stage during the night is not difficult, but they need a little more care and some preparation. Remember that as in daytime pictures, the variety of the picture, composition, and view (low from the floor and then high from the balcony) will make more interesting pictures.