Photo by David Clapp
If you're planning on working up close so a person is the main focus of your photo you should always ask them if it's OK to take their photograph. This is even more important if you plan on snapping a couple of shots of children playing as it can anger parents if you just start taking photographs of their kids. If language is a barrier try smiling and pointing to your camera you should soon have a quick nod or shake of the head in response. When people play a minor part in your image asking permission to shoot, particularly if it's a large crowd, can be impossible as there's just too many people. The same goes for shots of shows you may go and watch while on your holiday. Of course if there are signs or information on your ticket which says you're not allowed to take photos then don't but otherwise you should, generally, be OK to shoot without asking. Just remember these people will have dressed up for the stage so for something more authentic, you need to get out onto the street.
Your job is to make your subject feel comfortable so always give them eye contact when you're talking to them, smile and don't forget your manners. Try to learn what hello, please and thank you are in the language of the country you're visiting and if your subject looks uncomfortable when you start taking photographs, it is usually just best to stop and move on to something else as some people will say yes just to be polite when really they'd prefer to hide from your lens. Using longer focal lengths will put more distance between you and them which means you can take a couple of photos without invading their personal space. Once you've got your shot(s) be polite and show your subject the results. Just be wary of some people who'll expect a tip for helping you out.
Understand Their Culture
Make sure you know what's acceptable and what isn't and respect the views/practices of the people you're visiting. Remember laws differ around the world too and there may be more restrictions on photography in the place you're visiting than in the UK so it's best to check before you start shooting.
Photo by David Clapp
If it's safe to do so, head out with one or two people instead of a large group as lots of people sticking a lens at you can be intimidating. If you're heading out on an organised trip, you can stay close to the group but don't crowd just one person. Instead, pick another subject then move back to the person who first caught your eye and politely ask if you can take a few photos after the rest of the group's moved on to something else.
What To Photograph
If the surroundings/background will give your shot context, as the above example does, use it. Make sure it's not overpowering though as attention still needs to fall on the person you picked for the portrait. If it's not really worth photographing or it's a little messy, use a wider aperture to throw it out of focus. Darker backgrounds will really help your shot 'pop', making your subject really stand out from the rest of the shot.
If you have a willing subject who tenses up and becomes a little too rigid when you put the camera to your eye take the shot anyway then quickly snap another when they think you've finished to capture a moment when they're more relaxed.
For more intimate shots, tighten your frame by either moving your position so you're working closer to your subject or use the longer focal lengths on your zoom lens to fill their frame with their face. The second method is often preferred as it means your subject stays relaxed as you're not invading their space. Just make sure you focus on the eyes and check everything is sharp before you hit the shutter button.
If your subject is selling, making or buying something try and take a few shots of them 'in action'. A candid approach is often the way to go for this which means you need to shoot lots and often. Setting your camera to continuous shooting mode will mean you can take a quick series of shots, increasing your chances of capturing an interesting expression/look. If you want to get closer to people but don't fancy aiming your lens at them try shooting from the hip. This approach can be a little hit and miss, but you can get the odd, surprisingly good result from trying it.
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