How to Take Photos of Strangers When Traveling

Approaching strangers whether in your own community or from a foreign culture is one of the more difficult skills even veteran photographers often struggle with.  

For some, getting comfortable with taking photos of strangers can involve facing their fear and anxiety or learning more about how different cultures feel about being photographed. This is something I struggle with specifically here at home. I personally don't like to be photographed and I let that sometimes influence my approach with others out on the streets. When I travel, however, the often lack of verbal communication and desire I have to learn about other cultures has helped me be more comfortable in asking to take a photo or even taking a photo and then approaching individuals. Taking the extra time to have a conversation or use my camera as a tool to open doors to better possibilities has really helped to improve how I handle these situations.

At the end of the day, the best way to improve both your feelings about it and your images as a whole is to just force yourself to get out there and try. To help you get started, photographer Pierre Lambert has some tips and tricks he has used over the years to help become more comfortable while interacting in foreign cultures as well as ways to improve those interactions to make better images. Lots of photographers tackle these difficulties in different ways, and I think learning from as many photographers as possible helps you find your own path to success. 

Do you struggle with approaching strangers? Do you find it more difficult in your own culture or when immersed in others? Let us know in the comments what has helped you get over these issues. 

Michael DeStefano's picture

Michael DeStefano is a commercial/editorial photographer focusing on Outdoor Lifestyle and Adventure. Based in Boston, MA he combines his passion for outdoor sports like climbing and surfing into his work. When not traveling or outdoors he is often found geeking out over new tech gadgets.

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As an Asian Photographer, one of these days I am going to write a book giving Photographic advice to Europeans how to approach strangers in Paris, London and Rome. Only fair we return the compliment.

Simple really, ask politely with a smile and accept a "no" with a smile. I have met people who will jump right in front of the camera without ever being asked, which is always great fun, and I always ask the parents before approaching their children.

RE photographing children - not such an issue in China.

Bigger issue in China is "rich foreigners" taking photos in tourist hot spots. You normally only get one shot of a vendor or performer before they ask for money :-) Another reason not to use a big white lens...

Thank you for this info. Cheers

Not sure why the initial comment...but personally I believe that being courteous is a common sense thing. It isn't rocket science. Nobody wants or expects to be photographed unexpectedly. It's as simple as saying: Hello, how are you, would you mind if I took your picture? Thank you so much. Here, that's my tutorial based on experience. :) :)

Not sure why u are directing these tutorials in my direction. ???????????'s just a comment, response to your post. Nothing personal :)

No worries, we are good.