We’ve all been that person – moments lived through the lens instead of living in the moment.  It’s even easier with the amazing quality of camera phones, and being able to share them immediately online for that short burst of exhilaration when up pops a ‘wow!’ five minutes within posting.

And this is great; I totally indulge in this too!  But when you’re in an unfamiliar setting in a different culture have you ever felt a little…uneasy whipping out your camera or phone?  I know I have.  Living in London I have no problem with lining up my lens any time – everyone around is doing it so why shouldn’t I?

Go abroad though, and you feel like you’re playing a completely different ball game.  All I want to do when I’m travelling is to blend in, and experience life in Spain/Malaysia/China/Tunisia (delete as applicable) as much as it is possible to do without standing out as a foreigner.  But when you do see a local wrapped up in an enormous fur coat sitting on a pile of snow and smoking a grubby cigarette, your first reaction (well mine anyway) is to want to capture it because the scene is so different from what your normal is, and you want to remember it forever.  But getting your camera out sometimes might be the last thing you want to do, or even feel safe doing when away sometimes.  It does take a lot of self-restraint and internal debate, but sometimes I think it really is great to keep technology in your bag, and take a little memory picture to store away and cherish. Snap!

I’d like to share with you a few tricks I use when I travel in order to capture people and scenes in the least obtrusive and potentially offensive way.


1. Transport is your friend!

Cars, bikes, ferries, scooters…. all ways to get from A to B, but also great opportunities to get an action shot without disturbing the action.  I took this photo of a family at their roadside restaurant whilst in the back of a taxi in Myanmar:


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I wanted to get real shots of real people, but felt uncomfortable walking around with a camera at the ready – being a back-seat observer was a great compromise and gets you shots you wouldn’t manage to get otherwise.  For me the most important things to remember are the every day ways of living that exist in foreign countries, and no one will notice you capturing this from the back seat of a car.  Just remember to turn your shutter speed up very high – you don’t want too much blur!


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This shot was taken on the back of a scooter in Myanmar driving up through the paddy fields.  A little precarious (and you have to trust your driver!) but a perfect way of getting that snap-second shot of people living their lives.  Also a great way of capturing your own view of the journey.

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2. Shooting from the hip

Another little trick I used whilst I was in Kazakhstan earlier this year was to hold my camera at my hip: twist the camera strap around your wrist to make sure it’s steady, and with the camera rested at hip height, have your finger on the button set to take a photo at any moment. I’ve had great success with this method, some of my best stock photos have come from this technique. This method works because people first look at your face and then the rest of you – so whilst they’re initially noticing your face you are free to capture what you want.  It’s an interesting method mostly because you never really know what you’re going to get and how the picture you would otherwise have lined up carefully turns out.  Do not fret too much over wonky angles or cut off edges – this only adds to the uniqueness of the method, and helps you remember things in a different way.

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I was very happy to capture this Kazakh lady waiting for her bus with such serenity.


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And this shot was not exactly supposed to be just a pair of black boots, but actually turned out to be one of my favourites as it reminds me of city life in Kazakhstan – hands-in-pocket cold standing around in the snow.



3. Observational photography

The preferred photography method for many – observational and unobtrusive.  Simply taken whilst you’re a casual observer at the perimeter of something happening.







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4. If all else fails…

It’s ok to ask!  Of course this is entirely a judgment call depending on how comfortable you feel and how comfortable you think the other person will be, but the good old fashioned method of a polite photograph request will at best get you the photo you want, and at worst a simple no.  Ask with a smile, and offer to show your subject the photo after.  Of course don’t forget to say a big thank you once your photo is taken.


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Good luck and happy photographing!


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://pbs.twimg.com/profile_images/378800000452037377/f93e066311f7799b382b53ada4637de5.jpeg[/author_image] [author_info]To see more of Maxine’s photography and read her blog head on over to www.maxinebulloch.com and follow her on Twitter at @maxinebulloch[/author_info] [/author]