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Travel Photography

August 22, 2012

Travel Photography | Talking to Strangers

Most of us remember our parents telling us to not talk to strangers when we were younger.  And I still support that for younger children when they aren’t with their parents or another trusted adult.  However, AS adults, talking to strangers can be fascinating.  You never know who you’ll meet or what kind of friendship will begin.  But, for this introvert, talking to strangers is sometimes the last thing I want to do.  It’s just so much easier to stick my nose in a book or to engage in social media on my phone.  But, as I’ve heard from so many people and I try to practice myself, if we’re always engaged in social media, we’re going to miss out on life that’s actually happening around us.

For my 30th birthday, my amazing grandparents sent me on the trip of a lifetime.  For 7 days, a group of photographers set out on the small town of Arles in the south of France, armed with nothing but our cameras and a daily assignment from our National Geographic photographer who was leading this expedition.  Catherine Karnow has been such a huge part in my photography and that trip to France completely changed the way I shoot… and I’m SO grateful (she’s also got a new workshop to Italy!).  Traveling to Provence in the fall of 2009 not only helped me to learn and understand my camera better, but helped me to see and understand photography in a different light.  And, it helped that Catherine was fluent in French and is much more of an extrovert than I’ll ever be!  But, I was able to push myself on this trip and I’m SO thankful for that.  Some of these images would never have happened had she not told us that it’s ok to talk to strangers and engage them in conversation. The main thing we learned was that most people don’t mind having their picture taken! In fact, they’re usually honored if you ask them!  And if you ask for their photo, you can also ask them to turn this way or that to get a striking image instead of just a so-so image that you were trying to snag without them seeing you :-)

These first few images were completely because of Catherine, I just happened to be with her when we ran into these people.
This beautiful girl was a waitress at a small Moroccan restaurant, which we ate dinner at later that evening (and I’d completely forgotten about until just now!).

This whole scenario with this guy was incredible. He was just out for a stroll after getting off of work… with his little French dog, a glass of wine and his cigarette.
The ONLY thing that would make these images more French is if a plate of cheese were next to him :-)

And this one?  Oh my goodness.  It might be one of my favorite images ever.  This lady was AMAZING!  She loved her little cheese shop and gave us a little tour and even some samples.
She was so kind and genuine… and her coworker in the background?  I’m not sure if he knew he was in the picture but the way he’s standing and crossing his arms makes this perfection.

I knew it would come one day, but I hated that it came so soon.  The workshop ended and we were on our own again.  I was headed to Paris that afternoon and was planning to spend the day wandering the city… for the first time, I’d be all by myself.  It wasn’t because of being an introvert that I was looking forward to it, but because I wouldn’t be with a group and I could just wander as I pleased.  There’s a sense of freedom that comes with knowing a foreign city and being able to speak the language (at least enough to get by!).  I don’t say that with pride, but with awe and gratefulness!  Because of the opportunities God has allowed me, I’ve been to Paris a dozen times or so and if you look at the map of a city as much as I’ve looked at Paris and wandered the streets enough, it starts to become very familiar.  And wow… I just love it.  But, y’all know that already :-)

Before my train left Arles that afternoon, a group of us went to lunch for one last meal together.  As we walked from our hotel down the alley/street, we walked by this little vespa next to what looked like the back door of a restaurant.  Someone said something about, “Oh, that would be a good picture” but whether we were all tired of pulling our cameras to our faces or we were just that hungry, no one took a picture.  But I couldn’t shake it.  We got our table at the restaurant and I told them I’d be right back.  I walked the few doors back down to this place and poked my head in the door… and my heart was RACING!  I was so nervous!  The vespa was really cool, but the picture needed something else.  I tried asking the chefs (in French) if one of them would mind standing in the doorway for a picture.  But, my vocabulary was lacking and they weren’t understanding, so I switched to English.  Except that they spoke no English!  SOMEHOW, I got it across what I was trying to ask them for and they understood.  I don’t think I gave this guy ANY direction at all other than to stand there.  He was the one that put his hand on the door frame and looked to the side.  And it’s one of my proudest moments ever… that took a lot out of me!  It’s hard talking to people sometimes… especially when there’s any kind of language barrier.  But I love this image because it means I let go of my comfort, I took a chance, and I practiced what I had learned :-)

So, as I headed to Paris with all of this new found boldness, I gave myself an assignment… I wanted to find out how I could see Paris differently.  I had all of the traditional tourist photos of Paris, but I wanted to talk to some people and get images that I never would have thought to get before.  And it’s amazing that I made it through the day because I woke up that morning with a cold and all I wanted to do was to crawl back into bed.  But I pulled myself up, took some Sudafed and got on the metro… and fell asleep.  Ha!  Luckily it was somewhere around rush hour, so I wasn’t asleep for long.  And I think once I got going (and had a pain au chocolat in hand), adrenaline kicked in and I was good to go.  My boldness showed up a few times during the day and I was so excited (and worn out) by the time I got back to my hotel!  I’d done it.  I’d wandered the city, talked to some people, got some images that I NEVER would have even thought to get otherwise and went to sleep with a smile on my face.

This was at my favorite little crêperie on the corner of the street just below Sacré Coeur.
Action shots are not always easy to get, especially if you’re trying to be sneaky.  It’s ok to not be sneaky!!
Just ask and talk to the person (I completely get that this is sometimes easier said than done!).

And this little clock shop?  I’d walked by it several times over various trips but finally went in.  The guy barely looked at me and just waved as I asked if I could take a picture.

This was on a mission trip to Eleuthera, Bahamas and I LOVED this girl’s hair.  And the shop where she was working was exactly what you think you’d find on a small island.
She was incredibly wonderful and let me take several pictures.  But, this one is my favorite.

And the post office around the corner?  LOVED it.  This beautiful lady was taken aback that I wanted a photo of her, but without her in it, it’s just a cute little post office.
She brings LIFE to the image!

This photo was after a weekend workshop with National Geographic (also with Catherine!).  My boldness had increased again so as I sat in Cafe Trieste, I noticed this lady,
sitting in front of this amazing wall, with the light hitting her just right. She was a little shocked that I wanted to take her picture, but I basically just wanted her to keep doing what
she was doing.  And I wouldn’t have been able to get this image, this close, without looking like some sneaky paparazzi!
I also got her email address so I could send her the image when I got home (something I need to be better at remembering to do!).

Ben and I went to New York City for Christmas a couple of years ago and since it was FREEZING, we popped into this little cafe for some hot chocolate.
Turns out, the guy that sat at the end of the bar and engaged US in conversation was the owner.  And if I remember correctly, had a love of photography himself. :-)

I am by no means a professional when it comes to travel photography.  But, I love it.  And the few tips that I’ve gathered along the way have made the images I’ve come home with full of stories instead of just images of buildings and landscapes.  People bring life and each of these images brings a smile to my face as I remember each conversation (or attempted conversation!).  Hopefully this has helped at least one person and I’d love to hear your stories after your next trip!

  1. Elisha says:

    Love this post Sabrina…Traveling was what gave me a love for taking pictures in the first place. How better to document your exploration of His creation and remember each sweet moment? Mmmm so good.

  2. […] love these two below.  Remember that post about talking to strangers?  I engaged this guy who was selling his (delicious) bread so I could take a few pictures of it […]

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