Taking Better Travel Portraits | guest post by tracy zhang

I am privileged (and inspired) to share my little beginner space with Tracy Zhang today. She is a Canadian travel photographer who teaches photography to bloggers. Tracy shares her tips and travel photographs on her blog and Twitter.

Today, she shares 5 Tips to Taking Better Travel Portraits. Don't worry, fellow beginners, her suggestions hold true for all sorts of portraits and everyday photography. Keep reading and be inspired.


Some of my fondest travel memories were made possible because of the people I was with or the people I’ve met while on the road. But photographing people is no easy feat, and photographing strangers in foreign countries is even harder.  In the last 3 years spent traveling, I’ve had some successes and a lot of failures around taking portraits in foreign countries. Here are a few tips that’ll help you to better travel portraits.

Relationship First, Photograph Second

The best portraits are made when the subject is comfortable and completely open to being photographed. Building rapport with your subject begins with treating them as a human and friend first, and a photographic subject second. Before approaching someone I don’t know for a photograph, I always put my camera away. I’ll try to talk to them, make a friendly gesture and show respect for their culture. If you make the other person comfortable with your presence first, they will be much more receptive to being photographed by you.

Ask for Permission

Although there is much debate around whether you should ask for permission when photographing a stranger, I have always been adamant in asking for permission before shooting. Even as a photographer, I would not feel comfortable with someone taking my picture without asking for my permission first.

 Get Close

There have been many times when I’m reviewing images on my laptop and thought the photo would have been better if I got a close-up. Capturing details in the eyes and face can be the difference between an ok photo and a great one. Don’t be afraid to get up close, you should have little problem with this especially if you’ve spent some time getting to know your subject and asked for their permission.

Capture Context

When photographing people, don’t forget to capture any context that can help the viewer understand the surrounding environment or culture. For this picture, I  began by snapping close-ups of the old man’s face with his sunglasses and cigar but soon realized that in order to tell the full story, I needed to pull back and include the sugar cane field, the cow, and the shed in the back. The surroundings make the image stronger and tie everything together.

Practice, Then Practice Some More

At the end of the day, there is no short cut to any type of craft. Practice photographing people you know as a start, then start taking pictures of people you don’t know in your home town before working up the courage to ask a foreigner abroad for their photograph. I won’t lie: I was very intimidated the first time I asked a stranger to take their picture, and I still get anxious every time I have to approach someone I don’t know for the same request. But overtime, I did get better at managing people’s different responses. Nothing beats repetition and you will get better at taking travel portraits over time.

Happy photographing!


For more from Tracy...
blog | just-in-time
twitter | @tracyzhangphoto