Travel photography tells a visual story of the places we visit, capturing the stunning landscapes, vibrant skylines, and the rich cultural experiences. But what about the people? The smiling faces, the local vendors, the intriguing strangers? Incorporating people in your travel photography can give depth and context to your images, making them more meaningful, dynamic, and rich with human spirit.

Why Include People in Your Travel Photography?

People bring life to photographs, they add emotional depth and an extra layer of storytelling that can’t be achieved solely through landscape and cityscape photography. Photos featuring individuals often connect more with the viewer, as they can relate to the human experiences captured.

Understanding Cultural Sensitivities

A key part of successful people-oriented travel photography is respecting cultures and understanding local customs. Before photographing individuals, familiarize yourself with the local norms and privacy laws. In some cultures, it is inappropriate or even unlawful to take someone’s picture without their consent.

How to Incorporate People in Travel Photography

Incorporating people doesn’t mean that every photo needs a person as the primary focus. Sometimes, the simplest way to incorporate people is in the context of their environment. For example, showing how they interact with the landscape or capture them engaging in their daily routines.

  • Candid Shots: Watch people go about their routines, wait for interesting interactions, expressions, or moments to occur, and then capture that. Candid shots are often more natural and realistic.
  • Portraits: Taking portraits of the locals can be a great way to showcase their personalities and emotions. Always ask for permission beforehand.
  • Composition: Use people as scale items to give a sense of size and grandeur to landscapes, landmarks, or structures in your images.

Incorporating the human element into your travel photography is indeed a thrilling challenge, rewarding you with more impactful and memorable photos. With understanding and respect at the heart of our capturing, every single photo we make will be more than just a capture; it will be a celebration of life through our lens.

Establishing Connections

Incorporating people into your travel photography starts with meaningful connections. Strike up a conversation, show genuine interest, and understand their way of life. This will not only respect their privacy but also give you the opportunity to capture authentic and vibrant representations of local life.

Capturing Candid Moments

True travel photography lies in capturing spontaneous and intimate moments, those unscripted events that narrate a compelling story. Watch from a distance and capture people in their natural setting, be it a bustling local market, an old man lost in thoughts, or children playing in the streets. These candid moments can add so much depth and warmth to your photographs.

Creating Visual Stories

Including people in your shots doesn’t mean they have to be the main subject; sometimes they can serve as a medium to highlight the broader context. A solitary figure can accentuate the vastness of a landscape, while a crowded street corner can convey the buzz of a city. Renowned photographers like Steve McCurry and Travel Photography Tips frequently utilize human elements to convey strong visual narratives.

Remember, the objective here is not to exoticize or objectify, but to humanize your travel photographs. It should result in a poetic and sensitive exploration of the diverse human experiences, values, and societies.

Respecting Local Laws and Customs

While it’s fascinating to capture people in their natural habitat, it’s vital to respect their privacy, cultures, and customs. Always ask for permission before photographing someone – it’s both an ethical and often a legal requirement. It’s your responsibility as a travel photographer to ensure your activity doesn’t intrude upon or offend the people you’re photographing.


Incorporating people in your travel photography can truly enhance your storytelling, adding a profound human touch to your photographs. It’s about capturing the essence of the place through the faces and activities of the people who live there. The colorful childhood in the streets of India, the wrinkled smile of an elderly Greek woman, or a cowboy riding in the American west can all make your travel portfolio much more diverse and engaging.

Before we part ways, I’d love to see some of your favorite captures of people from your travels, and hear any tips you’ve learned along the way. Make sure to share them in the comments below and to check out our Travel Photography Tips for more insights and inspiration. Safe travels and happy shooting!