Posted: 9/25/17 | September 25th, 2017

Amateur and professional photographers alike agree: getting locals to unwind for a good photograph is one of the hardest aspects of travel photography — but not entirely impossible.

Lola Akinmade Åkerström is an award-winning photographer whose work has appeared in publications all over the world. She loves capturing the people in her travels and connecting with them in the process. Here’s how she does it.

While traveling through a region where you see locals you’ve only saw in magazines (for example, monks in Southeast Asia or Zulu tribesmen in east Africa), there is a tendency to get thrilled while subconsciously putting up a “no-interaction” wall.

You tiptoe around them in a delicate fashion. Whether it is through eye contact or some other form of personal acknowledgment, you have to engage them. This transforms them into living, breathing beings.

While shopping in Cusco, I felt a little tug on my pants. initially frightened, I peered down only to find an old lady sitting on the floor, organizing flowers, and asking for money. It could have been easy to paint her into the Peruvian market scene, but I quickly squatted down and spent quite some time down on the floor with her.

When we make these local connections — no matter how subtle or fleeting — they transform the people we typically gloss over into see three-dimensional human beings. When we actively seek out these connections, you’ll not only learn much more about the destination you’re going to but you’ll be able to snap deeper, much more meaningful photos.

Here are a few essential suggestions to keep in mind when you’re wanting to photograph people while you travel.

1. Make an effort to Communicate

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She was fiery and infectious. I could never forget this old lady I met in the tiny remote village of Krang Yaw in Cambodia. I didn’t speak a single word of Khmer, yet we were able to converse through gestures. Oral communication can in some cases be overrated.

By breaking the ice and communicating with the people you want to photograph you’ll find your photos become much much more important souvenirs, reminders of the shared experiences we all have — no matter where we’re from.

Moreover, you can use this opportunity to learn things about the culture and destination. Don’t be scared to ask questions, even if there is a language barrier. These answers will open doors in both your photography as well as your travels in general. The much more you learn, the much more empowered you become as a traveler.

2. Observe Their daily Lives

Let them know their work isn’t unimportant and, if possible, momentarily partake in their work with them. Whether helping a porter take down the tent, or financing a hand to a baker, it communicates that you find their responsibilities equally important.

Breaking down barriers through action works hand-in-hand with communication; it’s a easy gesture you can use to build a relationship that will help you learn more, have a deeper travel experience, and get a better shot.

Once in Lima, I wandered into a gift shop. After chatting with the shopkeeper, she seemed perplexed as to why I would want to take her picture. letting her know that I found her much more interesting than the wares she was hawking quickly warmed her.

3. Cheesy grins Work

Smiling typically disarms people and breaks down their defensive walls. A smile and gentle nod always goes a long way and lets your subject know that you are very approachable.

Moreover, smiles are universal. They are something everyone does no matter where in the world they live. It’s a cross-cultural connector. Omfavn det.

When photographing children (something you need to be particularly careful with, especially if you are sharing those photos online), remember they love to be entertained. This always starts with a smile.

4. show Respect

Connecting with people ultimately boils down to respect. give them their space. know when to quit stalking them for the ideal shot. They will naturally open up to you of their own accord.

If they don’t, take that as your cue to say goodbye and relocation on. Not everyone wants to be photographed. Det er ok. As long as you keep an open mind and work to communicate with locals whenever you can, you’ll encounter plenty of other opportunities down the road.

These experiences have happened organically during my travels. When it concerns personalities, people are inherently different, so only by trial and error (and, frankly, embarrassment in some cases!) would you be able to hone the body language required to communicate through your lens.

Lola A. Åkerström is an award-winning writer, speaker, and photographer with national geographic Creative. She frequently contributes to high profile publications such as AFAR, the BBC, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, travel + Leisure, and national geographicRejsende. Lola er også redaktør for Slow Travel Stockholm, et online magasin dedikeret til at udforske Sveriges hovedstad i dybden. Hun bor i Stockholm og blogs på Geotravelers niche.

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