6 Tips For Taking Better Travel Portraits

Traveling can be an amazing opportunity to take beautiful photos. The picturesque landscapes, exotic food and, of course, the people. But photographing people can be tricky. With so many different elements coming into play, how do you get the most authentic and appealing portrait without forcing your subject to sit for a photoshoot? Here are our tips for taking better travel portraits:


*For the sake of example, I haven’t edited any of the photos below.


Lead Into It

Taking a portrait is all about making your subject feel comfortable. I’ve taken awkward portraits of some really interesting looking people and that awkwardness translates to the viewer. If time and situation permit, sit down and have a conversation with something before asking to take their photo. In my experience, Latin Americans tend not to smile in photos. Having a joke at the ready is always helpful to lighten the mood.



{ what a difference a smile makes! }


 Be Quick

Unless this person has agreed to sit down with you for an allotted amount of time, you really want to get in and get out. In my experience there is a brief opportunity for a really authentic moment before the subject gets uncomfortable. If someone has agreed to have their photo taken, be gracious and take a couple of quick snaps.  Bonus tip: Have your settings ready before you approach someone. No one wants to sit there while you fiddle with your shutter speed.



This simple factor is absolutely key. The background of your photo can make or break an amazing portrait. Even the best portraits can be ruined if you have something distracting in the background. These days photoshop can be handy for removing or altering parts of the image, but unless you’re an editing wiz this can be a bit tricky. Save time in post-processing and take a few seconds to think about your background before snapping. Perhaps your subject is in a location that will add interest or give context to your photo like a market or inside their own home? Sometimes an interesting background can turn an average portrait into something special. Other times, an overly busy background can be distracting. We tend to go for simpler backgrounds, such as the side of a church, and time the shot when no one is walking behind.


{taken with my fixed 50mm lens at 1.4 }


Shallow Depth of Field

Unless your subject happens to have an interesting attribute, say a hardcore scar or National Geographic eyes, a portrait can be a bit boring. I’ve taken photos of people who were interesting to me because I got to speak with them first hand. But then I’ve shown the photo to friends back home and they just see another person. One sure-fire way to add some visual interest to a portrait is to try to get a shallow depth of field (when the subject is in sharp focus with a blurry background.) If you’re using an SLR you can achieve this by opening up your aperture, ie. lowering your “f stop” number. If you’re using a point & shoot, portrait mode usually does this for you.  If you really want to get fancy, consider investing in a fixed lens that lets you get down to 1.8, 1.4 or even 1.2.


{ example of harsh lighting }



Lighting is key for photography. Actually lighting is key for looking good in general ( I think most women would agree with this). Harsh lighting can lead to shadows and awkward squinting. A nice even lighting will reduce unwanted contrast. Try to aim for morning and evening shoots as opposed to in the middle of the afternoon. If you have to go midday, aim to shoot in the shade.


Don’t Give Up

The most important thing is to not get discouraged. Some people who have the most interesting faces will not want their photo taken. Sometimes you’ll get an amazing opportunity and you’ll find out later the shot is just a bit blurry. Don’t give up and don’t be afraid to ask to take someone’s photo. Your next great portrait is waiting just around the corner.


Published by

Christine Williams

Animal lover, wannabe artist and peanut butter fiend with a serious allergy to a 9 to 5. On the other hand: undyingly messy, chronic blanket hog and so bad with directions I can get lost going to the corner store. Wanna know more

12 thoughts on “6 Tips For Taking Better Travel Portraits”

  1. Great tips Christine! I’m always looking for ways to improve my travel photography. I just took my first travel portrait of a man in China Town and it turned out ok, but not great. Focusing on a few of these suggestions will help in the future. Thanks!

    1. Glad to hear these are helpful! The biggest thing with photography is just take as many photos as possible. I still take dozens, even hundreds of photos before I get one I really like. I’d love to see your China Town portrait! So many interesting faces there.

  2. Great tips! I’m always so awkward about taking photo portraits and never want to approach anyone though.. Guess I have to be a bit more courageous! haha

    1. Hey at the of the day all they can say is ‘no’ and then you walk away and never see them again. That’s what we always try to remember whenever we get nervous. Glad you enjoyed the tips.

  3. Great tips and great pictures. I like to keep the background simple too when taking close up pictures.

  4. Wonderful pictures and some good tips. I find some of the best portraits are of people who aren’t posing but you’ve given some great tips for pictures of people when they are posing. I found people in Asia don’t smile either!

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