The Travel Corner: Photographing People

A Short Introduction

I am Wayne Kaulbach and I absolutely love to travel and to photograph the places and people I see:

I run Skylight Images (natural light portraiture) with my wife Michelle for the past 22 years and teach at Langara through the CS photography program. 

I also run Travel Photography Tours through Langara College and Finisterra Travel. 

Feature Album: A Glimpse Of India Won Best In Class 2017: Professional Photographers Of Canada

In this inaugural segment I want to talk about photographing people in a controlled environment (as opposed to candid/street). When I travel it’s the people that really resonate with me so how do we come home with stunning images of the people we see and meet?

One Tin Soldier: Bangkok, Thailand.

First off you have to teach yourself to ask this simple question: “May I photograph you?” Or, if there are language barriers, the universal smiling at them and your camera and shaking your head up and down should do the trick. It is much easier than you think and yes.... it does take practice to gain confidence. Remember: The worst thing that will happen is that they will say no but you will be very surprised at the majority of people who say YES.


“Why do you want to photograph me,” you may be asked? “Because you look fantastic and are very interesting.” “Because you have great eyes!” “Because I love the way you look.” Always stay positive and be mindful, kind and respectful.

Thar Desert, India

Okay.  We have permission... now what?  Carry spare change.  If your subject is a street performer they will want to be paid. 

Channeling Chaplin: Street Performer. Venice, Italy.

You are the director.  What background do you want?  What is the light doing?  What kind of expression do you want?  You probably only have a minute or 2 so make the most of your time.  

Or perhaps you are making a new life long friend!


Great subject/crappy background = crappy portrait.  If the background is busy shoot wide open -- lowest aperature # (so your focus plane is only on your subject) or move to your right or left to avoid distractions (text/bright areas) 

Child Of Africa: Won Best Portrait Of A Child: 2015 Professional Photographers Association Of British Columbia. Malawi, Africa.


I don’t know about you but happy/ cheesy smiles aren’t always the best.  Prompt your subject with: “No expression at all please.  I just want to see your eyes.”  or, “Pretend I’m not here and just look that way.”

I've started printing out my portraits if I am revisiting a location in the off chance that I run into the person again! 2 years after taking the original shot, I returned to this man’s very small stall in Udaipur and met an older man that didn’t speak English. I showed him the photograph and he said, Poppa! He then took me a block away to his father’s house. It was really a magical moment.


If your subject is in direct light turn them around so they are backlit and meter accordingly (directly on their face).  *Last 5 to 10 minutes of sunset direct lighting is fine.  

The Bollywood Rebel: Won Best Portrait Of A Man: 2016 Professional Photographers Association Of British Columbia. Agra, India.

Drop your camera from your eye and thank your subject.  Maybe ask for an email address so you can send them a copy.  **Keep your eyes open.  They have given you permission and now are relaxed... bring that camera back up for one last shot. 

Gear: On our Round The World Trip we bought our 1st mirrorless camera.  Fuji Pro-1 and my fav lens was the 35mm 1.4 R.  

On subsequent trips I have taken my Canon 5D Mark III relying heavily on my 24-70mm F 2.8 II and occasionally strapping on the 70-200 2.8 L. Tip: the smaller the gear the less obtrusive you are.  Put those long lenses away... they are intimidating and not travel/portrait friendly (unless you are shooting in the Serengeti:) 

Temple Keeper’s Daughter: Outside Agra, India.

Remember if someone says no... just smile and move on. It really is amazing what a simple smile can do and also keep in mind that you are a traveling ambassador for your country.


Good luck and safe travels!