4 Tips for Aspiring Travel Photographers

Field Notes from the Pushkar Camel Fair

From August to November 2014 I had spent four months as a recent U.S. college graduate, interning at a small design research firm in the second most populous country in the world. India.

The internship didn’t qualify me for a business visa due to the high salary requirements, but I couldn’t pass on this opportunity. Despite effectively being an undocumented migrant worker, on the streets I was treated like a royal born into a higher class. As expected, these conflicting internal and external views on my place in society heavily impacted my photography and cross-cultural relations during my time in this new environment.

The 1st barrier is realizing how distant you are.

Uncertain expressions should raise a red flag for how you are being percieved by and engaging with a community.

Reflecting on my first day of shooting the annual Pushkar Camel Fair, curled up in a small hotel room on the outskirts of town, I quickly noticed a theme throughout the photos I took. The portraits beautifully captured a dwindling community of bedouin herder’s viewing an outsider.

Before you can truly capture a foreign culture, you need to develop relationships with their community. Realistically you aren’t going to be instantly accepted into their community, nor are you an anthropologist planning on immersing yourself over a 3–5 month period.

…so here are some tips for taking steps in the right direction to overcome this immense barrier:

Dressing similarly to locals creates a common identifier which fosters comfort around each other in shared spaces.

1 . Wear What Locals Wear.

Incorporate local attire into your wardrobe in a tasteful manner (e.g., in Pushkar, a pashmina scarf around the neck or head is appreciated by locals).

Observe and follow local practices for how much skin is appropriate to show (e.g., in religious sites such as Pushkar, arms and legs should be respectfully covered).

The shared usage of a feature phone helps people feel comfortable engaging with different social classes.

2. Use Tech That Locals Use.

Hide whatever technology you have in public that the local population views as a luxury item, as frequently as possible.

Overtly use/flaunt technology that is common between the local population and yourself (e.g., in Pushkar, the Nokia 105 was owned by every other bedouin and myself).

Attempting to learn and speak someone’s language initially establishes your interest in and respect of their culture.

3. Learn The Basic Sayings.

Using a few basic phrases to communicate in people’s local language can make all the difference for influencing if someone will let you take their photo (e.g., hey, how are you, can I take your photo, etc.).

Knowing these basic phrases will save you time. Avoid dancing around simple questions with hand gestures, and use a guidebook or the internet to learn some verbal social etiquette.

Sharing photos can help align people with what you are trying to capture, and organically lead to collaboration.

4 . Share Images With Subjects.

Make an effort to let the people you photograph view how they look, and take time to better understand what you are trying to capture. Keep in mind how significant it is for some people to potentially get to see what they look like for the first time with technology.

Allow people that want to re-take their photo to adjust the way they present themselves. Being patient and keeping an open-mind will help you become aware of the story they are trying to share with you about themselves.

Conclusion.

Avoid capturing people’s response to your presence by blending into new environments. Develop relationships that draw you into communities, and provide you with the best chance of sharing glimpses of their world.


Thanks for reading. Comment with what photography content interests you or questions you may have.

For more of my work, check out my explore channel

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