laos Child portraitTaking someone’s photograph is personal.  Unfortunately, many photographers these days have a ‘get it and get out’ mentality that creates hostility among locals and tourists.

We have all seen the oblivious man who shoves the camera in a monk’s face or the woman who clicks away during a solemn religious ceremony.

These people infuriate me almost as much as they infuriate their subjects because they are hurting potential relationships.

“If locals feel like they are consistently being disrespected and objectified, they will shut down foreigner interactions entirely.”

That is why I try to nurture my relationship with my subject before and after a photo shoot.  It makes me feel good about my art and it helps me get the best photos.  

Building a relationship in photography

There are three very simple ways to make your time with the camera and those you are photographing more meaningful:  

  1. Learn how to say “beautiful” in the local language.  This simple word can mean a lot to the locals and can immediately make them feel less shy in front of the camera.  They will be more willing to pose, look you in the eye and share more details of their lives.
  2. Show the subjects the picture after it’s taken.  Children especially love this, and will often want to continue the photo shoot because they love to see themselves on camera.  It makes them feel included and they get to see what you are actually doing.
  3. Do something nice for them after the photo shoot.  This can be as simple as giving them a sticker from your home country or buying them a snack.  Now you have made a friend that will give the picture much more meaning.   

It is easy to just snap a photo and turn the other way, but it is much more rewarding to cultivate a relationship with the subject.  Here are some photos of subjects where I developed that relationship. 

Myanmar old woman portrait


Myanmar farm woman portrait

Laos train driver portrait

Myanmar children portrait

laos Child portrait

Thailand woman portrait


Myanmar farm woman with baby portrait

Myanmar children portrait

Cambodia Children portrait

Myanmar old monk portrait.

Part 3 of this series can now be found here!  

 Faces of Asia Part 3: Similarities 

If you haven’t checked out part 1, you can find it here:

 Faces of Asia Part 1: The Story Behind the Portrait

What is the coolest moment you have had with a local while traveling?