Photography / Tips / Travel / Turkey

Travel Tip: how to take selling portraits while traveling abroad

DSC_1140This man, as it turned out, is a tea house master and part time actor. 

Wanna hear a secret tip?

I asked the photographer I’m assisting in Turkey, “How can I improve my portraits of locals while traveling? And how can I do it ethically?” Here’s your easy answer.

Make eye contact.


This man nailed it. I asked, he looked, the camera clicked.

Just like a winning portrait can give insight into the soul through sharp in focus eyes, connecting with another person via direction eye contact signals your respect for the other person. And the question, “Is it okay?” can be asked by simply pointing to your camera.


When you don’t feel brazen, shoot from farther afield.

While traveling in Southeast Turkey, this tactic worked almost flawlessly, with only two exceptions. Both were women and each simply left her spot when I approached. The rest welcomed my presence (and incessant photo-snapping) with free tea and yogurt drinks, tours of their home, smiles, and appreciation. They wanted their picture taken. And the reaction I received from a small group of girls who were playing with toy guns, not dolls, on the terrace outside: they kissed me on the cheeks and screamed their acclaim, “we love you!”

DSC_1245This shot was difficult to get. The light was fading and these girls couldn’t stop moving.

My formula: connect, smile, shoot. Quickly, too. 

When taking portraits, I don’t want a cheesy smile, like the teeth-baring grin I sported for every family Christmas card portrait. This is travel photography; I want to see someone’s soul. This means, if you don’t capture the genuine emotion at first take, you may need to linger until the person is comfortable enough with you or until he/she has forgotten about your presence and that dangling camera. Then, take advantage; shoot.

DSC_0316I noticed that the light was just right (the golden hour) so I hovered around the fountain until an image that I wanted lined up. Having time to wait (in this case, only 3 minutes) is a definite perk of traveling solo. I’m on my time. 

If the other person you wish to photograph doesn’t nod his/her approval, move on. If you have time, swoop around and try to nail the shot from afar. Perhaps the latter isn’t as ethical as you want it to be, but it’s a truth many photographers abide by.

“All I can say is that when I release the shutter, in a fleeting burst of emotional energy, at that brief moment everything within the frame feels right. If it is a landscape, I have moved around until I have found the singular right spot, where intuitively I feel connected to the place.”

–Rodney Smith

DSC_0482And sometimes stepping back gives great value to the place, like this shot of the otherworldly landscape of Turkey’s Cappadocia. 

To learn, to discover, to connect to a soul and to a place, that’s what traveling is all about. Am I right?

Do you have any tips for taking portraits while traveling? I’d love to hear!

Also, if you don’t agree, please tell me in the comments. I am not an expert.



18 thoughts on “Travel Tip: how to take selling portraits while traveling abroad

  1. Great advice, thanks for sharing! This is something I need to get better at, but I never have enough confidence to ask. I’m always envious of other peoples portraits, if you get it right they’re the most special shots.

    • Exactly! It can feel intrusive when you aim a camera at a stranger in the street. It’s no coincidence that the words, “aim and shoot” are used for both guns and cameras. It can feel personal and targeted.

      Eye contact though, softens it all! Good luck! I surprised myself on this last trip to Southeast Turkey; you never know!

  2. Great advice – I always feel bad about taking other people’s portraits – I guess that mainly is because I don’t like to have my picture taken.. so I always feel like I am invading that person’s space and end up loosing countless good shots! Next time I travel I’ll try asking 🙂

    • Definitely! It’s all about the moment exchanged before taking it. I also usually try to show the digital image to the person after. It helps generate a friendly feeling. Everyone wants to see pictures of themselves, if they’re taken well!

  3. Hey Anna, I see you’re in Turkey helping a photographer. How did you come across that job? Will you be doing the same thing in Peru or teaching English again? I’ve decided to leave Spain for now and explore a new corner of the world, just have to sort through some different options first.

    • Hey Maddie, I am in Turkey. I did some soul searching and A LOT of online searching. 🙂 I’ll be working for EducationUSA in Peru. It’s part-time so I intend to freelance in my free time. Where are you heading?

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