Street Photography In Other Cultures

Taking pictures of people in other countries can be intimidating because people in other cultures may have different reactions towards being photographed. It can also be very extremely rewarding because of the exposure to different environments, customs, attires and languages. Many countries in Latin America are exceptional for street photography because of the rich colors on the streets and the wide variety of people one can encounter. It can also be very chaotic because of the overload of elements that can be captured in the frame. This creates a challenge for the street photographer, which can only lead to sharpening our skills in dealing with people and also train our eye to find great images.

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“I wish more people felt that photography was an adventure the same as life itself”.- Harry Callahan

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One thing I’ve encountered when taking pictures in Latin America is that many people expect to be paid if you take their picture. This is something that every street photographer will encounter from time to time so it is important to be prepared for this. As a rule I do not give people money to take their pictures. I usually gauge the situation and if I see that someone might want money then I just move along. On occasions I would buy something that a street vendor is offering if it would enhance the experience and would calm their fears that I am doing something suspicious. It is much better to be seen as a curious tourist than a journalist with dubious intentions.
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“New images surround us everywhere. They are invisible only because of sterile routine convention and fear.” - Lisette Model

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Most people are friendly and peaceful and sometimes they are just fearful. They may think that I’m taking pictures as a photojournalist with the intention of commercial gain or that I might be with the government spying on them. This is a valid fear and is our responsibility to alleviate those fears. In general, it helps to know the language or to bring along someone who is local and can help explain our intentions or diffuse any potentially dangerous situations. It goes without saying that a local person can also help us avoid really dangerous areas.

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“Life isn’t perfect, but then photography isn’t either.”- Peter Galassi

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Doing street photography in different parts of the world from what we are used to will definitely get us out of the comfort zone and being out of the comfort zone usually leads to better pictures. What are your experiences when shooting in a different country?

“I love the people I photograph. I mean, they’re my friends. I’ve never met most of them or I don’t know them at all, yet through my images I live with them. Bruce Gilden

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I hope you enjoyed the pictures. They were all taken during my last visit to Asuncion, Paraguay. Comments and feedback are appreciated. Thank you for visiting.

JJR

All images on this post are (C) Juan Jose Reyes. All Rights Reserved.

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9 thoughts on “Street Photography In Other Cultures

  1. Very timely post Juan. I’m currently shooting in the UK but here it is essentially the same as shooting in the US. I’d love to do some street in Latin America, someday.

  2. Sometimes I think one has to be a prick in order to get the shot. Or either be a dork, it works either way :P I think it’d be more interesting to hear about shooting photos of minorities in a foreign country. I’d be terrified in doing so here in my place if I do not ask for permission unless it’s a guaranteed candid capture.

  3. The vivid colors, cultures and characters of South and Central America give a photographer an unfair advantage. It’s almost impossible to snap an uninteresting photo.

    Safe travels, amigo.

  4. While I’m from Calcutta, I picked a camera while living in London a few years ago. Taking pictures out there was relaxing, plus it was easy to explain the thoughts and concepts behind my activity. The increased awareness helps. Back in Calcutta or for that matter most places in India, it is different. It is an assault on the senses. The sights, the smell, the sound – its a chaos. Too many frames jousting for space. And then there is the fact that the moment you pull out a camera (even a phone one) people stare. Some are happy, some indifferent and some aggressive. The past year has been a challenge, but a great learning experience. I hope to shoot in a different Asian country now. Or perhaps try the Himalayan states.

    • Thanks for the comment Sumit. I understand completely. I have never been to India but I can relate because some areas of Latin America are just as chaotic and busy. It is a challenge to get the right elements in the frame. I think it is a matter of practicing frequently, doing what I call visual pushups , almost daily. I also would like to visit the Himalayan states some day and If I ever go to India I’ll look you up and maybe you can give me some advice. Thanks for visiting my blog.
      Juan

  5. Raising a camera to your eye, especially a SLR/DSLR with a that easily recognised shape, gives the game away and invites confrontation immediately. Even using a Leica, as I have discovered. By accident, I’ve discovered a solution that, for me at least, provides a working solution: a Nikon F2 with a waist level finder.(WLF). The camera hangs on your lower chest by it’s strap. Raise the lid of the WLF and set shutter speed and lens aperture while turned away from the subject/scene. Experience of judging the metering helps here. Wind on to the next frame, then turn back towards the subject/scene and, looking past your intention, press the button while holding the camera. Then move away in a relaxed, nonchalant way. Give every impression of just admiring the scenery or looking round. I use Ilford XP2 or Kodak BW 400 CN Chromogenic film.
    At 400 iso it’s fast enough to allow me to use a shutter speed of 500. This counteracts any slight movement of the camera, bearing in mind that it’s not being held in a conventional way. Wanting to try this out for himself, a friend got a WLF for his Nikon F. I’m on the lookout for a WLF for a Nikon F3 to allow for autoexposure with my technique!

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