Tips for Photographing Children During Your Travels
Lola Akinmade Åkerström is an award-winning writer, photographer, and blogger based in Stockholm, Sweden. Her work regularly appears in many major travel publications around the world and her photography is represented by National Geographic – www.lolaakinmade.com. Lola is a founding member of the PTBA and we are thrilled that she agreed to share some of her valuable tips with us.
I firmly believe photographing people is the most difficult part of travel photography. Getting an adult, often a complete stranger, who may not share a common language with you to relax, can be quite daunting.
Talk less of trying to capture their child in a memorable travel photograph. However, here are a few tips to guide you when photographing children during your travels.
Befriend their guardians
Babies are the most challenging to photograph especially when safely in the arms of a parent or guardian. Situations like this demand you seek permission from their guardian either verbally or through body language. While hunting for handmade jewelry in Catalina, I was instantly reeled into a stall by mesmerizing dark eyes of a little Nicaraguan baby. She also happened to be with her mother. Approaching with a huge nonthreatening grin, I started out with a few quick shots of her mother, and then finally asked for the baby shot I wanted with my camera raised in question.
If no common language is spoken between you and the guardian, body language and gestures go a long way in communicating that you don’t intend to harm them or violate their privacy. Once permission has been granted, you can get up close and personal for some great travel shots.
Shift focus from one to many
Even the most rambunctious and spirited of kids gets intimidated when cornered by an adult. On a trip back home to Nigeria, I was ecstatic to reunite with one of my favorite neighborhood kids, Ali. Although he knew me well, my constant attention made him uncomfortable. By including his friends in the shot, while still focusing on him, I was able to get a more relaxed Ali in subsequent pictures.
Shifting focus away from one child to many while “focusing” on your main subject can improve the atmosphere of your travel portrait.
Keep your distance
Observing kids in their own world usually gives you the most candid, natural shots. By giving them adequate space, you will seem less threatening and your intentions wouldn’t be misconstrued as sinister. While strolling through narrow side streets in St. Georges, Bermuda, a young girl with flaming red hair carrying a red haired doll appeared around the corner. She was a fiery contrast to the mellow pastels of our surroundings.
Intrigued, I wish I could have stopped her for a picture, but I knew better. You should always keep distance when taking photographs of children who are alone. Do not linger around the child more than a minute. Children are usually taught not to talk to strangers so respect and enforce that lesson by refraining from small talk with isolated children.
Shoot at eye level
Eye to eye contact with a child takes you one step closer to connecting with them regardless of culture. While working with an NGO in Nigeria, I must have taken a couple dozen portraits of children. Weeding through, the most engaging shots I found were ones when I was directly eye level with the child. Kids are naturally intimidated by large overbearing shadows. Kneeling, sitting, or playing closer to their line of vision instantly relaxes them.
Kids are kids the world over and love to be entertained. From goofy displays to showing them their snapshots in your viewfinder, you can instantly connect with children which results in more memorable travel photographs. With a confident disposition and wisdom in her eyes well beyond her mere seven years, I knew I’d met someone I’ll never soon forget when I met Amina in the village of Awoyaya on the Lekki Peninsula in Lagos, Nigeria. She wasn’t easily impressed. By spending time playing and laughing down at her level instead of towering over her, she gradually morphed back into a child and rewarded me with the most beautiful, scrunched-up-nose smile.
Be sensitive to cultural norms
Sometimes you just can’t photograph children. In regions where sex trafficking and child abuse are being fought on a national level, locals are particular sensitive to strangers hanging around their children. In 2000, a Japanese tourist was killed by a mob in a Guatemalan market for photographing children. While such cases are extremely rare, it requires you to learn about the local culture and its attitudes towards children and their interaction with strangers.
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The views in this post represent those of the author and not necessarily those of the PTBA or its Board of Directors.