Getting great travel portraits is an acquired skill, one that I’m still refining after more than 40 years as a commercial photographer. I’m happy to say that I’ve made more progress with it in the last 10 years than in the previous three decades. Much of the improvement has come from the ability to review photos on the LCD while I’m shooting, allowing me to refine the image during the session.
In the old days I gave my exposed rolls to a courier at a foreign airport in exchange for another brick of film. I got my critiques over the phone from a cigar smoking photo editor in San Francisco.
“Get closer! Concentrate on dramatic lighting. I want more angles!” Of course he already had the Kodachromes on his light table and a reshoot was out of the question. I never saw the final images unless someone back home bought the magazine for me. It’s difficult to refine your style under those conditions.
Today, getting great location portraits is easier than it was 30 years ago because you get multiple chances to finalize your image. That newfound power is best used when it counts most, while you’re shooting. Your digital camera will do the heavy lifting when it comes to exposure calculations, allowing you to concentrate on other skills like setting up the subject and composing the image− actions in front of the lens, not inside of the camera.
Briefly stated, the introduction of yourself to your subject is more important than your camera settings. The gruffly delivered advice I got from my first editor still rings true: “Kid, get their confidence and then get their picture.”