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Fully Focused: Photographing in foreign countries requires a little luck and a lot of trust

Columnist Lauren Bacho discusses ways to make strangers abroad comfortable with you photographing them.


As a photographer, I’m always working. Whether I’m using my iPhone or my full-frame camera body, I’m always looking to make a picture. This past summer, I studied documentary photography in Edinburgh, Scotland, and faced many challenges photographing in a foreign country. One of the biggest challenges for me is getting people to trust you.

Don't get me wrong, the Scots are extremely friendly and very willing to talk to Americans, but a lot of them don't believe their story is worth photographing, let alone worth a picture story. What worked for me was telling the Scots that I wanted to show people back in America what life in Edinburgh is like. What I also discovered was that the Scottish value students and were much more willing to let you into their lives since you were learning.

Granted, my photojournalism experience abroad is limited to Scotland, but I have traveled to many other places across the world. As I've developed as a photographer, I've learned that the key to photographing in a foreign country is admitting to subjects that you're not from there. People appreciate your interest in their culture and the differences between their country and the United States. Don't let your natural big-headedness as an American ruin your chances to learn about something different.

I realize not everyone is going to travel to another country just to photograph and make picture stories. If you're exploring the idea of photography, I encourage you to improve your skills when taking singles — stand alone images. The president/CEO of the PhotoEnrichment Programs, Inc., Ralph Velasco, told me in an email, "Travel photography is about being ready at all times and capturing the moment, a moment that won't be there if one is bogged down with lots of gear and fumbling around for settings."

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That is a really important skill for shooting singles because half of the time it's about luck — being in the right place at the right time. Whether it's your phone or camera, you want to always have something on you to make pictures with, just in case you stumble upon something great.

Something to keep in mind when photographing abroad is the cultural norms regarding privacy. In America, we can photograph anyone at any time in a public area without verbal consent. In other countries, there might be an unspoken rule about photographing strangers. I suggest taking the picture first and then approaching your subject explaining why you took the picture, and I usually show the subject the photo if I made something interesting to further prove that I'm not a creepy stalker. People usually get excited when you tell them you made a fantastic photo of them with some beautiful light and become extremely willing to let you continue photographing them or to give you their name.

Photojournalism is all about trust, getting your subject to trust you. Regardless of the country you're in, you want to strive for trust. Once you do that you’ll be able to photograph anywhere in the world.

Lauren Bacho is a sophomore studying photojournalism and a photo editor for The Post. Do you have more tips for photographing abroad? Tweet her @Visual_Bacho or email her at

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