Whether you are a landscape, street, or portrait photographer, there are ways we navigate differently abroad as opposed to within our own hometown. Here are some tips to ensure not only that you come home with photos you are happy with, but also that you get to take home a bit of the culture with you as well.
Living in Japan, I've been thrust into a very rich culture unlike my own. While this was an extremely exciting process, it is also one that can be somewhat daunting, as you want to make sure you are being cautious and respectful of foreign customs and people in general while still catering to your creative needs.
It never hurts to do some research before planning to travel abroad. We'd be surprised by how much countries differ with things from having their picture taken to simply maneuvering the country. Having now lived in Japan for a year and a half, I've gotten rather accustom to the difference in culture, but also to what we share in common. There is a love for picture-taking and capturing the moment here that in my opinion is unrivaled. Keeping that in the back of my mind, it is easier to navigate around with a camera without feeling like it will ruin the experience for everyone else. There are places, however (usually shrines and temples), where it is okay to take photos of the exterior, but better to leave the photo-taking at the door so that others have the opportunity to enjoy a location as it was intended.
We usually get one shot at making a lasting impression that comes across generally warm and inviting. You're creating a link of trust with a complete stranger in that instance. Letting them know that there was something about them that made you want to capture them or coming in with a brief introduction and a warm smile or offering to assist them in gathering a photo if you see them struggling to get the perfect selfie — these acts can create a link of communication that feels authentic. The same can be said for landscapes in being able to go in and capture your photos as intended without worry of those around you.
Working in Crowded Spaces
You might have seen locations that you are overwhelmingly excited to capture only to get there and realize the crowds make it near impossible to get the perfect shot. Something I've had to practice many times is preparing for what might be the only break in a crowd for me to get the right shot. Sometimes it can be all about the angles: Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and the Tori Gates required me capturing a picture at the right angle to make it feel and seem like I had been there alone the whole time when in truth I was one of many perusing the area in an attempt to take it all in. Sometimes shooting from a lower angle while point your camera upward or off to the side of a structure or road that curves off in the distance can create this illusion of being alone.
I'm a believer that it is important to bring what you think is necessary for yourself. I also, however, caution that camera gear that is a hindrance to other onlookers or makes staff raise an eyebrow can lead to you being dismissed or asked if you have a permit of sorts, which is a whole other headache in itself. Usually an on-camera flash or speedlight and camera are enough to peruse without bringing attention to yourself. I've also found using my zoom lens extremely helpful, as it allows me to work within the confines of a crowded situation and crop out unnecessary elements as well as remain a safe distance from wild animals that may inhabit those areas.
Put Your Camera Down
Photography is a beautiful hobby and profession, but sometimes we get so wrapped up in gathering the perfect shot that we forget to take in the moment. A good rule of thumb is to make sure time is spent enjoying the actual country or new place you're visiting as well. So you can take home not just beautiful photos, but also great memories.