Photographing people is one of the highlights of any trip, and can be a fantastic way to meet and talk to locals, as well as coming away with fantastically evocative pictures. Many travellers struggle with photographing people though, and end up ‘stealing’ shots without permission or simply not bothering. This is a shame, as with a few tips and a little encouragement almost anyone can come away with great portraits – even in places that don’t lend themselves to portraits.
For example, for cultural reasons many people in Morocco aren’t keen on being photographed. More specifically though, they really object to people photographing them without permission. Although the people of Morocco are fabulously welcoming and friendly, they are also quite traditional. Over the past few decades tourism has taken off in the country, and they have been flooded by countless camera-toting tourists; many of whom think that they have some absolute right to stick a camera in someone’s face and take a picture without asking. The result is often friction.
There are a number of things that you can do though to have a better experience and come away with great portraits.
Being generally friendly
It is all but impossible to take engaged photographs of people if you are in a bad mood! Try to get into the habit of smiling at people and acknowledging them as you walk around in the world. People will often respond positively to that, and photographic opportunities will often spill from this.
If you would like to take a picture, then walk up to them, smile and pay them a compliment. If they have a great face then tell them so – even if you have to do it with sign language. Take an interest in them, smile at them and then ask if you can take a picture. People all over the world are generally friendly and will respond well – even if they refuse! If someone declines a picture, then be graceful and friendly. Firstly, it is their right to refuse to be photographed; secondly, other people will no doubt be watching and their response to you will be governed by your response to other people.
Planning in advance
Work out what you are going to do in advance, and then prepare your camera. What you need to be able to do is to work fast, so that the time that you spend with a camera up to your eye is greatly reduced. Often people who are willing to be photographed will object if the process takes too long! Decide on your style of picture in advance: are you going for a close-up head shot, a half or full-length portrait or an environmental portrait. Then prepare your camera, and only when you are completely ready should you approach your subject.
Don’t steal shots
If you know that you are in a country where people are likely to object to being photographed, then respect this, and don’t try to take pictures without permission. Even if the subject of your picture doesn’t notice, someone else will – especially in the crowded souks of Marrakech. If you ask someone then they might refuse, but that is better than taking a picture without asking and getting into a fight!
Employ a local guide
A local guide can really help in certain places. They will be able to talk to locals in their own language, and will often have a set route where they know people and whether they are photographer-friendly. Crucially if you are in a place where people are not keen on photography, then you will get a lot less hassle if you are with a local guide. Make sure that once the guide has secured an introduction for you, that you take over the conversation, otherwise you run the risk of getting a lot of pictures of your subject looking at someone else!
Morocco is getting to be an easier place to take pictures though. With the advent of smartphones, many locals will now own a camera for the first time in their lives! Although people will still object to being photographed without permission, a local guide has remarked to me that she has noticed local people photographing each other more and more; and with this, they are beginning to understand the joy of photography and the motives of the photographer.
Feeling inspired to test out your new photography knowledge? Check out our small group adventures in Morocco!
Steve Davey is running a series of travel workshops at the new Intrepid Travel offices in Brixton, London: Telling Stories with Composition on 29 June 2017 and Shooting Travel Portraits on 6 July 2017. Register your place today!
Steve is also leading a travel photography tour to Morocco in September, with all land arrangements supplied by Intrepid Travel and accompanied by an Intrepid guide throughout. For more information, head to his website.