Travel photography 101: How to take a stranger’s portrait

travel photography

The Vanajeros take travel photography to the next level. Photo courtesy Lynn-Klimenko

"We aim to find a way to break down the cultural barriers that often lie between locals and tourists by offering something in return for stranger's willingness to invite us to experience their culture," explains Aidan Lynn-Klimenko, a professional photographer who, along with three friends, will be embarking on a road trip through Mexico and South America to take portraits of the people there—and give them right back.

They're calling themselves the Vanajeros, a play on the Spanish world for "traveler", and this June they'll be piling into a 1985 VW Wolfsburg Vanagon Westfalia armed with a few amenities and a color printer, which they'll use to make copies of the photographs; after they take a photo of someone, they'll be printing a copy for their subject to keep. Yet for anyone who's attempted to take a candid portrait of someone while traveling, it's a mission that's easier said than done; barriers between language, culture, and tradition often get in the way of a meaningful connection. Here, Lynn-Klimenko shares his tips for successfully taking a stranger's photograph and making the experience a good one for all parties involved.

The more comfortable you are, the less uncomfortable they will be. When approaching a stranger, it's up to you to come across as friendly and nonthreatening.

Learn how to ask permission in the native language.
Even if you don't speak the language, showing an attempt is respectful. Plus, it's generally a good icebreaker.

travel photography

When trying out travel photography, learn to ask a stranger in their native language for permission to take their picture. Photo courtesy the Vanajeros

Picture the photograph in your mind before approaching the subject.
Consider light and composition. In most cases, the window of time you have, and a stranger's willingness, is short.

Ask them something about their life.
This helps to take their attention away from you photographing them and gives them a chance to be themselves.

Thank them.
After all, a portrait isn't taken, it's given. Be aware that your subject is giving you more than just their attention, and if they turn you down, that's OK. It'll happen a lot!

travel photography

The Vanajeros leave this June to drive through Mexico and South America on a travel-photography mission like none other. Photo courtesy the Vanajeros

Follow the Vanajeros’ journey at and help them win a $10,000 grant to fund their trip by giving them a vote at

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