I love looking through photo galleries; that’s often how I get my inspiration for my next trip and in such cases, I admit, I get carried away by images of people focused on doing whatever activity it might be that, in a single stolen instant, captures the essence of a whole country.
Photographing people is an excellent way of speaking through images of traditions, cultural customs, ideologies and much more.
When you take pictures of people on your trip, the first important thing to understand is how to appropriate an image: the subject may be aware of the camera and thus give his or her consent, in which case it is a portrait; or the shots may be instantaneous, taken of a subject unaware.
I admit it, I am a lover of stolen shots of the faces of people who, unaware of the camera, don’t lose the authenticity of either gestures nor facial expression.
When travelling, however, you must often be very careful about taking photos and of the circumstances, so that you don’t encroach upon the sensitivity of people who simply don’t like it. There are even places in which it is forbidden, or ill advised, to take pictures of people, due to their beliefs or customs. In a little town of Chiapas, in Mexico, for example, I wasn’t able to take photos of the villagers because they believe that the photographs steal their souls. Beware of taking such advice lightly; I have heard of photographers that were attacked for not having respected these few rules, which are, in any case, pure common sense.
In certain streets of the Medina of Marrakesh, or in Malindi, in Kenya, there are actual prohibition signs written in block letters that forbid you to take pictures of the workers. And these are just some examples. The watchword is: respect.
Another thing to bear in mind concerning the framing of a subject: I prefer to position the person on one side, not in the centre of the photo.
To take the picture, I almost always use a lens that lets me stay far enough away from the subject in order that she doesn’t feel too much like someone is watching her. I do it because, often, I end up stopping on the corner of a street, waiting a while, then choosing my subject carefully.
A good piece of advice, that I was given a while ago by a friend, allowed me to improve my focus on people despite scarce depth of field: you must always aim your camera at they eye of the subject closest to the camera.
For me, the context of a photo is really important, especially when I’m travelling and I want to capture entire scenes of people’s lives.
Markets, for example, are the ideal location for capturing instants of genuine daily life.
We now arrive at my last, but certainly not least, important piece of advice: the light.
Good lighting is essential for successful photography. Therefore, if you can find a uniformly well-lit environment, ideally with natural light, it makes your shot so much easier. Playing around with shadows also has its charm, above all in certain, rather dramatic situations, but it is definitely much more difficult to take a decent result home with you.
What’s the secret? Try, try and try again!
Stefania, born in Milan -a city with which I have a love/hate relationship. I write only what my heart sees, not absolute truths. I like to savour the true feelings of the places I visit. I set aside any comforts to experience people and places to the full. I love to dabble in taking photos with a propensity for street photography. I love to mix in with people and gather fragments of local culture.