I had a comment on a recent post regarding this photo of a woman feeding the birds in Green Park, London. She said that she loved to watch people feeding birds in parks and watching the reactions of children. My response was “It’s for moments like this that I try to keep my camera in my hand as much as possible even when just walking through a park or down the street. These are the photos that add more memories and more interest to the travel photos than just buildings or famous sites which I take in abundance, of course, and I realized I had a good topic for a blog post.
I take lots of photos of lots of things when I travel. I like to take photos of the famous things I see like the Eiffel Tower or the canals of Amsterdam or the Colosseum in Rome. I take photos of nice buildings or beautiful landscapes. I also like to take photos of close up details like doors and windows, carved moldings and details on statues, the overall and the in detail views. My trips are full of memories of architecture, gardens, landscapes, sometimes people.
But the thing is, people do add so much to a photo. It can really help tell the story. Most photographers that give you tips on how to take great travel photos advise you to take photos of local people and ask first, of course, offering to give them a copy if you can. I have done it but rarely. I have to admit, I’m a bit shy to ask to take a photo of a person in a shop or a market stall or other similar situations. When I have photos of people in my travel pictures, they’re generally taken from a distance, an angle or from the back, with the zoom lens rather than as a portrait face-on. I don’t take too many photos of children where their faces are identifiable because I know parents aren’t comfortable with that.
Travel photos of buildings and statues or landscape vistas, etc, are only half the story. The random photos of something in a market stall, or a shop window display, a funny sign, an odd looking vehicle, the night lights, or of someone feeding the birds in a park, people flogging merchandise to tourists on a bus, those are all travel memories, too. Performers, someone demonstrating a craft, a guide, people in parades, all of those expect their photo to be taken and I do. I do try to take photos with people in them, even if just anonymous crowds on the street. I’d love to take portraits of a colourful market stall owner, or a friendly restaurante server, but I never seem to have the nerve to ask them outright. Thus, the clandestine shot from 20 or 30 feet away which isn’t always as good, even cropped in closer.
The other thing I do is try to keep my camera, a point and shoot style, in my hand or in an outside pocket as much as possible when we’re out walking around. Moments like the bird feeder shot come up quickly as you stroll by. P&S cameras can take a pretty good photo quickly rather than having to stop and fuss with the exposure and focus and lose the moment. If at an event with action like sports or a fast moving street performer I will sometimes put my camera on the setting that will take multiple shots in a row. You might get a lot of motion blurry ones but it can also get a shot of something that you might otherwise miss. And having a bit of motion blur in the photo can add to it, not take away from it. Don’t discard it just because of that.
Here is a gallery of some of my people shots. Some are street performers or craft demonstrators and thus were aware of the camera. Some were candids. The one of the lady serving tea outside the church in Lostwithiel could have been so much better had a asked her if I could take her photo. She would have been looking at the camera and, one would hope, smile, surrounded by her tea cups and silver urn and cakes. Maybe next time.