I love photographing people when I travel. I am also very sensitive to doing so, in great part because having grown up in a touristy Caribbean destination for a portion of my life, I know what it is like to have someone aim their camera at you as if you were an animal in the wild.
My friend and photographer Lola Akinmade often discusses the topic of ethics when photographing people in your travels, and I really do hope you will give her a read and take pause before pointing your camera at strangers when on the road.
All the being said, I love the opportunity to photograph someone when I travel. People can be so beautiful and a photo gives a human face to the overall environment and destination. But also, it’s the perfect ice breaker. A wonderful way to sort of just say hello, without it being too weird. What I have started to enjoy even more though, is the moment when I ask them to smile.
Because often times, when you ask someone if you can photograph them, they will pose – as if they are waiting to take some bad medicine. At the risk of missing my shot, I will pause from taking the photo, and warm them up to me a bit more. That moment, when I have said something to make them laugh, that moment when they can’t help but smile, is magical to me.
Granted, not all wonderful photos of people require a smile, or even direct eye contact and some really prefer not to. Some people would rather blend in with the scenery and not stand out with a smile. Ah, but when they smile…
I feel a warmth in my heart and a connection. Their faces shine and you see someone else entirely standing before you. Of all the pictures I take during my journeys, these types of photos are my absolute favorite and what makes me remember the destination the most.
The Flemings in Anguilla, owners of Corner Bar Pizza. He was standing on the other side of the counter when I asked him if he didn’t want to stand closer to her. She checked herself, fidgeting with her hair, reacting to the impromptu request to be photographed. He came closer to her, but not quite enough. “Aw! I want to see the love!” He got even closer and she started laughing.
Irad, owner of Hungry’s, a food truck in The Valley. I asked if I could photograph him, he posed and gave me a slight smile. “I’m sure with food this delicious you can serve me up a bigger smile than that!” He laughed and delivered.
A fisherman in Anguilla. He was finishing up a day of work. I walked up to him and said hello. I asked him about his catch, how long his day was, if the waters were kind. I asked him if I could photograph him, he agreed and paused for a quick shot, no smile. “The sun is shining in my face, so I can’t really see. There’s a handsome smile under that hat, right?” He laughed and there it was. “Enjoy our paradise,” he said, as we said our goodbyes.
I wanted to purchase coconut water. I saw him walking up along the beach, the sun gleaming off the trickles of sweat on his forehead. He bent down and took out his machete and got to work, very focused and serious. I kneeled down in front of him, digging my knees in the sand. “Can I photograph you?” “Sure.” No smile. “I have to believe that the coconut water would be so much sweeter if it came with a sweet smile.” He paused and laughed, his friends behind me laughing too. He kept laughing as he finished his work and gave me my prize ten folds.
Agave farmer. He was standing like this taking a break as our group walked along. I went up to him and said hello in Spanish. “Can I take your photo?” “Yes,” he replied a bit shyly. Looking through my lens I said, “I bet that behind all that macho is the most beautiful smile anyone has ever seen.” And there it was.The streets were crowded in the historic district as everyone gathered to celebrate El Dia de Los Muertos. I saw her as she turned in my direction. “Oh my goodness! You’re gorgeous!” I exclaimed, admiring her makeup. She gave me a big, bright smile, “Gracias,” she said. She held the smile all while allowing me to photograph her and wishing me well as I said goodbye.
I was waiting for the parade to start when I saw her, twirling in her beautiful dress, as sweet as any little girl can be. I approached her mom and after some small talk was given permission to speak to her daughter (in Spanish). “You look so pretty! Are you excited for the parade?” “Yes!” she exclaimed, and twirled around some more. “Can I take a picture of you?” She paused and posed, shyness taking over. “Oh…I love it. Can you show me your best smile?” It was perfection.
Having been given permission by the owner to tour her flower shop, I walked to the back as they prepared the arrangements to be sold for the festival. I talked to the mom about her work, when I noticed her little girl hiding behind her legs, staring at me with her big brown eyes. With her mom’s permission I asked (in Spanish), “Do you like all the flowers?” “Yes, I like helping my mommy pick them for her work.” “Which ones are your favorite?” She pointed to the pink carnations. “Can I take a picture of you?” She became shy and said yes, but when I pointed up the lens, her face beamed.
All photography is property of the publisher and may not be used without direct permission of GirlGoneTravel.com. Photos taken with my Sony NEX 5R