8 Portrait Photography Tips for Beginners Who Travel

“8 Portrait Photography Tips for Beginners Who Travel” is part of my Photography Tips series on PhotoTraces. You can find the rest of the tutorials here: Photography Tips.

8 Portrait Photography Tips for Beginners Who Travel

At some point, after picking up the camera, many photographers try their hand at portrait photography.

Travel photography provides wonderful opportunities for portraits. Including portraits as part of your travel photography means a complete document of your travels. The people who live in the areas your travels take you are vital to understanding the culture and flavor. With a few helpful portrait photography tips it is possible to take fantastic, impactful portraits while traveling.

Portrait Photography Tips

This article will cover tips to make your portrait photography fit your travels. Addressing topics about attitude, settings, and even gear will give you the confidence necessary to make portraits a part of your travel photography.

1. Be Courteous and Respectful

Whenever you travel, you are a guest. Since you are a guest, you should always be respectful of the culture and people you engage with. Ask permission. When photographing festivals or religious services always find out if photography is acceptable. When photography is not allowed, respect the fact. Don’t sneak photographs. In some areas of the world, you might find your actions are not only rude but illegal. It will avoid awkward situations if you avoid the appearance of rudeness or disrespect. Which will help with the next tip.

Consider taking along a small digital printer. Being able to give your subject a small print of the photo you take is an excellent show of appreciation.

2. Engage with Your Subject

One very important portrait photography tip is to make a connection with your subject. It is very difficult to capture real emotion without some kind of connection. This needs to be between the photographer and the subject. A smile, a welcoming look, any kind of emotional spark, can make all the difference.

If you photograph a vendor or performer, buy something or donate a little money. It will make the subject open to being photographed. The result will be a good, strong image.

Photographing festivals or other cultural displays can be wonderful. Take part if possible. Show your appreciation for another culture or tradition to keep you from being an outsider. Open up opportunities as you make real relationships with your subjects.

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3. Focus on the Eyes

In portrait photography focusing on the eyes is very important. The eyes are the most expressive feature of the human face. Look at some of your favorite portrait photographs, do the eyes provide emotion? If you have found a connection with your subject, it will show in the eyes. If your subject is uncomfortable or suspicious of you, this will also show in their eyes. Refer to the tips on being courteous and engaging your subject.

Portrait Photography Tips -

When composing and focusing your travel portrait make sure the eyes are in focus. A portrait in which the eyes are not in focus will always seem to be missing something. It will be much harder for the viewer to connect with the image, the out of focus eyes will be a distraction.

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Many modern cameras have face detection or eye detection. This can help with sharply focusing the eyes. Take special care when shooting at wider apertures with shallow depth-of-field like 2.8 or wider.

4. Capture Personality

Everyone you make a portrait of has a personality. Your goal as a photographer is to make it visible to a viewer who has never met them. Luckily, most people anywhere in the world will play to the camera. If you have followed some of the previous tips about engaging the subject this should be easy.

A good way to make this tip work when you travel is to find people doing things they enjoy or at work. Street vendors, performers, and especially children will often be excellent subjects. Remember, people who want to be photographed will always give more to the camera.

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5. Use Distance to Your Advantage

The distance you are from your portrait subject can have a deep impact. You can take a wider view and include more of your portrait subject’s background or take a closer view to increasing a feeling of intimacy.

The wider view can help to tell a story about your subject. It can include where they work or live, or children at play. Providing the viewer with an idea of how your subject lives can be a powerful storytelling technique.

Moving in for a more intimate view can reveal more about your subject’s personality. Focusing on facial features can be a good way to make the view feel a personal connection with the subject.

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6. Know the Light

When taking travel portraits the quality of light can change a lot. You might be outside in bright sunlight, in the hub of a large city, or inside a home or temple.

You will probably only have the available light to make your portrait. In bright outdoor conditions, this will be simple. In indoor conditions shooting at a higher ISO and wider aperture will help you make the portrait. There are times that shooting at higher ISO can be used to increase a sense of atmosphere in a portrait.

Portrait Photography Tips -

7. Use Depth-of-field

Having a good knowledge of depth-of-field will strengthen your portrait photography. Knowing when to use depth-of-field can be another powerful storytelling tip. A shallow depth-of-field will separate your subject from the background

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8. Choose the Right Gear

Depending on your style of photography, choose the right gear. In general, a medium telephoto is good for travel portraiture. Within the range of 16 – 55mm is a good choice. Being able to go from a fairly wide angle to a more “normal” field of view will cover a wide range of subjects.

Shooting with prime lenses can be a great option for travel portraits, Prime lenses introduce less distortion to facial features and often have “faster” apertures like f2 to f1.4.

A lens with a wider aperture, at least f 2.8 would be very useful in all types of lighting conditions. Another option would be to choose a lens or camera that has image stabilization. For low-light photography, these options will make it easier to take the photographs you want.


Travel photography can be taken to an entirely new level when combined with portrait photography. Keeping in mind these portrait photography tips can make your travel photography really stand out. Remember to keep things open and engaging, use your surroundings to your advantage, and don’t be afraid to be part of the action.

It may seem like a lot to remember but the basics are pretty easy to remember; engage with your subject, focus on the eyes, capture the personality of your subject. These are all tips that can be learned with practice. In time you will develop your own style and these tips will become second nature.

The images you make will be great memories of your travels to have in the future.

by Desmond Manny
Desmond Manny is a Pacific Northwest based photographer with over ten years of photographic experience in the areas of fine art, portraiture, street photography and more. Desmond’s work is viewable at many places on the internet; desmondmannyphotography.com for professional work and services, and prints are available for purchase at desmondmanny.com and desmond-manny.pixels.com.