Photographing people is an art and there are very important rules and etiquette to follow in order to truly capture the most dynamic image. Personality and perseverance are important attributes to have as you venture in to foreign turf.
First and foremost, a smile is the international sign of non-confrontational behavior. Being able to approach people is the most important aspect in being able to photograph them. A smile can be that very simple gesture that is the ice breaker.
Secondly, don't be afraid to be bold. Not asking means not getting the opportunity. Human nature is such that you can sense in a relative short period of time whether an opportunity exists or not.
Third, learning and understanding cultural differences is very important especially with foreign travel. Prior to traveling abroad spend time and research where you are going. Once you have arrived, engage in conversations with the tour guides and other people you meet along the way. Having a genuine interest in their surroundings can often times lead to greater opportunities to photograph.
Once you have been able to bridge the cultural gap and/or their fear of having their picture taken through engaging them and conversations, you will then be able to get their cooperation. Once engaged they will more likely be inclined to allow you to manage the shot including changing their location, position or pose as well as shifting the background and lighting to enhance your shot.
No is no and you need to respect that from someone not wanting to cooperate. It doesn't mean that you can’t otherwise accomplish your shot. Walk away, reposition yourself and be discreet in taking the photo. However, respect in this regard is still key.
From my traveling experience, here are a few examples of how I was able to get the shot I wanted.
In 2013 I was in India attending the largest gathering of human mass in the world- Kumbh Mela. 30 plus million people come to the Ganges River as part of a religious festival. There was significant photographic opportunities but what I wanted to capture was the true essence of the people and the culture. Here are a few images from the festival. First the overwhelming crowd shots; next a more intimate gathering of certain tribal leaders and lastly the opportunity to be invited into their personal space for a photograph. The opportunity was a result of my expressed interest in them and curiosity as to their time of worship.
In Africa, during the celebration of South Sudan becoming an independent nation, the opportunity presented itself once again through engaging discussions and curiosity to be directly on the ground during the event. Here the key was to be respectful of their space and the ceremony. It required the ability to be nimble and fast.
Lastly, in Morocco earlier this year, I was able to capture the image of this woman with her more traditional garb. Through conversation, I engaged her to allow me to photograph her directly. In this situation, I promised to send the image to her which I did. Other individuals there were less willing to have their pictures taken. I was able to regroup from a different angle and capture the image and with it, the culture.
The Olympus Micro 4/3rd’s system also has a distinct advantage. The equipment is small and unassuming. Often times because of the size people are less intimidated and more willing to go along with the shot.
So pack your bags, do your research and remember that a smile may be all it takes to open a door.