In recent years many photographers discovered the exciting field of street and travel portraits. Street and travel portraits are associated with the genre of portrait photography and not street photography, as one might expect. For that reason, the rules for street and travel portraits are more connected to general portrait photography. As opposed to street photography, the people are aware that they are being photographed and have given their consent for the portrait. The ambition is to work out the character and the expression of the person. Street photography, on the other hand, always focuses on images at a decisive or poignant moment. Both genres combine the possibility to create a study of a particular milieu or environment. For this particular purpose the surrounding should be a major part of the composition of a street or travel portrait.
In order to create expressive and fascinating street portraits it is always helpful to know a few basic best practices. However, it is less about the composition which always depends on the creativity of the photographer. It is more about common tips and tricks to achieve natural and authentic portraits.
Search for interesting faces
The first step to get successful street and travel portraits is always the search for expressive and interesting faces. But also the selection of introverted or reserved persons can lead to extraordinary and authentic portraits. Another important step is to obtain the consent for the portrait. This strongly depends on the cultural milieu. Often a smile and showing the camera is enough. However, sometimes it is required to explicitly ask for the permission and briefly explain why you want to photograph the particular person.
Travel photography is sometimes a topic of controversy. On the one hand there is a growing interest in travel and street photography. However, images of people from poor developing countries are from time to time being discredited. Sometimes people even use the term "voyeurism" in this context. There is also a debate whether families of western industrialized countries would like being photographed in their own front yards by African or Asian people.
Typically, travel photography is a mixture of landscape photography, cultural photography, street photography and travel portraits. The group of tourists who capture cultural events or famous buildings mostly via the smartphone while shooting countless photos will certainly not count to the group of ambitious travel photographers. Travel photographers are usually more amateurs than professionals. The professionals in this field are often specialized as landscape photographers, wildlife photographers or photojournalists. Of course it might be a good idea that travel photographers sell their images via Getty Images or comparable online stock platforms. But nevertheless travel photographers who live exclusively from their photographic work are rather more the exception.
Street photography and travel portraits
The most sensitive areas of travel photography are street photography and travel portraits, especially when children are involved. But the question mentioned at the beginning, who likes to be photographed in his own front yard, is actually not correct. The better question would be why do travel photographers prefer to take pictures of people in foreign developing countries rather than in cities or villages of their own industrialized countries. There are basically two reasons for this. In many densely populated countries, such as India, Bangladesh, or in countries of South-East Asia, privacy is perceived completely differently compared to highly developed countries. In addition, it is much easier to photograph people in developing countries because the “right in one’s own image” has almost no relevance. In these countries, it is quite normal when locals publish “selfies” with tourists on Facebook without permission. Of course there are also more conservative countries, especially in Africa, who deal with travel portraits less openly. But this has either religious reasons (Arabic states) or they are afraid that the tourists might make a lot of money with the pictures of local children by selling them to glossy magazines.
It's summer, time for travelling and also peak season for nature and travel photography. Digital cameras are still getting better and better and easier to use. However, sometimes it is quite disappointing that a picture such as a historic city alley either is partly underexposed with huge dark shadow areas, or the roofs and the sky are extremely overexposed. Although it is possible to review the image immediately in the display on the camera, the problem can often only be addressed at home in the post-processing workflow, and then it might be too late to fix the image in order to get a beautiful photograph.
Many travel and landscape photography pictures have very high contrast. "Dynamic range" is the term for the range of light intensity from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights and it is measured in "exposure values" (EV), also commonly called "stops". Our eyes are able to adapt to see high contrast scenes but the dynamic range of the sensor of a digital camera is limited. Unfortunately the dynamic range of monitors, photographic paper or print is even more limited. A dynamic range of an image of about 8 to 9 EV is usually no problem. Experienced photographers can handle dynamic ranges of 10 to 11 EV quite well with exact exposure settings and with the help of calibrated monitors. But what about high contrast scenes with a dynamic range of 14 EV and higher? In particular landscape photography offers a wide range of high contrast scenes: idyllic sunsets by the seaside, backlit photography or scenes in high mountain regions.
An important rule in photography is to avoid high contrast in the first place. Many professional landscape photographers shoot only early in the morning or between late afternoon and evening because the light is much softer. Long shadows can be avoided when the sun is at the back of the photographer. Foreground subjects in backlit photography should be placed in front of a dark background because the high contrast can only be recognized as a small light fringe around the foreground subject. Long shadows might be wonderful for creative photography, but the final picture should offer enough details in dark shadow areas as well. The dynamic range of a scene can be simply reviewed with the help of the brightness histogram on the rear screen of the camera or manually calculated with contrast measurement. If the dynamic range of a scene or subject exceeds 10 or 11 EV the photographer should probably try out one of the following approaches.