Raise your hand if you are an introvert!
That’s a trick command; real introverts don’t raise their hands. I’m with you, and while this post you’re reading is public facing, I most certainly am not while I write this. I am on a plane flying over the western USA. And I like my introversion.
It’s comfortable, isn’t it? Taking photos from the back of a crowd. Shooting from your hip so as not to be seen. Heck, I even shot landscapes for so long because it was just easier without people in my photos.
But the people we meet are a big part of travelling and it’s important not to avoid taking photos just because we’re weary about acting shy. You may even find that your experience is enriched by these nerve-wracking interactions.
It’s also been my experience that the photos I share which feature people get the most interaction. People bring colour and life to images like no other subject.
I’m still an introvert at heart when I travel, but I have found some tips so my photos don’t show it. I hope they can help you too.
This might be the hardest part because you likely won’t feel like smiling if you’re nervous. You’ll probably feel like screaming and running away or curling into a ball. When you are in a foreign situation, be it across town or across the globe, people can seem mean and unkind to the average introvert. When people are going about their daily routine, they usually don’t have a huge smile on their face and we often take that to mean they are sullen or upset.
Not true! So many people have a smile hiding just under the surface. Sure, some people are having a bad day because of circumstances out of your control, but on the whole, most people are closer to happy than they are to angry at any given moment. Use that!
When you smile, people smile back, more often than not. Start with a smile on your face and you’ll start to see the smile within others. Sounds a little corny, I know, but it has worked well for me. It’s hard to be in a bad mood when you smile and smiling gives you a more positive outlook on the world around you.
Shoot around your subject
Think of this as a warm up. Find subjects to shoot around your main subject.
This tactic serves two purposes; first it forces you to take in the environment of your subject. How do they fit in with where they are? What else is going on? What are you missing by being fixated on one person? Second, it will get the person used to the camera and show them that they are not being singled out.
You can also frame your photo so your subject is not in the centre and instead plays a part in the larger scene. Not only is this often a better rendition to give a sense of place; it helps you look around.
Start with kids
Kids are usually one of your safest bets as long as it is culturally okay to play with and photograph children where you are traveling. I prefer to interact with kids with the camera down at first so they can see my smile.
Sometimes when the camera comes up, kids will change their expressions, either acting far more serious or far more goofy. To counter this I interact with them in some other way and make the camera a secondary interest, often taking photos while not holding the camera to my eye. This takes some practice, but can result in more realistic images of laughter and play, which is what kids do best.
If you’re lucky, photos of the kids can lead to photos of the parents that are around. Not always, but once they see their kids having fun, it’s easier for the adults to loosen up and let you take photos of their kids.
When practical, you should ask permission before taking someone’s photo.
Yes, this runs the risk of spoiling the mood as the subject now knows they are being photographed and will often act “proper” instead of acting they way that caught your interest. But if you aren’t in a hurry, stick around and take some other photos and, if language isn’t too much of a barrier, chat with your subject. Sooner or later they will go back to being themselves as they grow comfortable with you being around.
Don’t take rejection personally
There is no silver bullet to getting over rejection. It still stings me even if I have 500 people say, “Sure, take my photo”. That one person who gives me a scowl and turns away – that’s the person I fear.
And for no good logical reason. I know how you feel at that moment. My only advice is to not let it get to you. Remember that that person has their own thing going on and you don’t know how their day, week or life has been going. If someone who doesn’t know you rejects you, it almost always has less to do with you than it does with them and their life. Don’t take it personally.
Ask them to do something
You’ll get good results if the interaction is a two-way street. You are asking for something from your subject (their photo), but what are you giving? I have decent luck when I buy something from a fruit vendor or a shoe repairman in Bhutan, as seen pictured here.
Take the time to interact on a human scale and consider their needs . Sometimes this can work backward for you, as it did with me. I needed my boots mended while in Bhutan and my guide took me to a local cobbler. After chatting with him, through my guide, it felt far more natural, fun and unobtrusive to ask for his portrait with my boots.
Think of the interaction and making a connection first and the photo second.
Sometimes when taking photos of others, there’s a little guilt that comes from feeling like I am always taking. That’s why I started an experiment you might want to try.
Before a trip to Nepal I purchased a portable printer. I always enjoy sharing people photos by showing my subjects their image on the back of my camera, but bringing a printer took this fun exchange one step further. Not only could I show them their image, I was able to print out a very small copy right there and then for them to keep.
The process of giving has helped me feel more inclined to ask for permission for photos and the smiles it puts on faces is priceless.
Bonus technique option
On my last couple of trips to Nepal and Bhutan I was trying to think of a way to overcome the customary response to a camera, even by the friendliest of strangers. In both countries the typical reaction to being asked for a photo is to look serious and proper in front of the lens. This meant pictures with no smiles from some genuinely fun people!
So I came up with a distraction technique once I was allowed to snap a photo.
The first couple of photos were headshots and the subjects were usually quite serious. Then I panned down to their shoes. This served two purposes: 1) I got a different view of the person and you can learn a lot by what someone wears on their feet and 2) I caught them off guard and the smile usually returned to their face.
First portrait shot in field:
At which point I quickly swung the camera up and took their photo again with the emotions I had seen just before asking for permission.
After taking a photo of his shoes:
I know it’s not easy. Believe me, I do. I struggle with capturing photos with people in them every time I travel. But it does get better with practice and perseverance. Just keep trying!
If you are an introvert and have some suggestions for the rest of us who can be a little shy when it comes to taking photos with people in them, please leave a comment below. Thank you.