The people, scenery, and historical sites to be visited during this expedition are wonderfully photogenic. A camera is a must, and we encourage all participants to choose their five best photographs for submission to Mentors International following the expedition.
The clients and villagers are not necessarily superstitious about having their picture taken, but they are quite cautious when surrounded by shutterbug tourists. You will find that women, in particular, will turn away if they know you are going to take a picture of either them or their beloved children. A telephoto lens is helpful in obtaining candid photos of people without making them feel uncomfortable.
As a courtesy, if you are taking photos closer in, first ask permission or use expressive hand gestures making your intentions clear. Please respect refusals. Be aware of the sacredness of the ceremonies you may witness; act accordingly when using a flash or maneuvering for shots. Be sensitive to taking pictures of people in prayer. It’s also impolite to photograph people bathing in streams or rivers.
Always ask first before photographing the interiors of mosques, churches, or temples. If you wish to take pictures of government buildings, museums, monuments, etc., a modest fee is often charged for a still camera and a higher one for a movie or video camera. Some government buildings may not be photographed. Please ask first!
Some native groups, particularly children in growing tourist areas, have learned to ask for a tip for posing. The government discourages handouts. Away from areas of mass tourism it may not be necessary to pay for the privilege of taking photographs. Yet the best portraits may be obtained if some degree of rapport has been established between you and the person being photographed. A friendly gesture, such as a smile or handshake, is a good idea to establish trust beforehand.
With its landscapes, colorful markets, architectural and historical sites, and above all its friendly people, each expedition offers a photogenic environment with thousands of subjects popping up constantly. In order to enhance the photographic experience and ensure the quality of your shots, some advance preparation is advisable.
When to Shoot
The intense sunlight and haze that occurs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. causes color to flatten and wash out. Sometimes you can increase the vibrancy of your daytime pictures by deliberately under exposing by a half f-stop (particularly with transparency film). Polarizing filters also help reduce haze. The very best light for rich, warm color photos under the tropical sun is usually between 0700 and 1000. Try to rise with the clients and villagers in the early hours for clear air and crisper light.
Remember also that scenery usually photographs better if backlit by the sun. Shadows are harsh and strong in the tropics, causing high contrast. Tropical sunsets will have the most exotic colors if the exposure reading is taken of the sky overhead, without the bright sun, and then shoot straight into the sunset. A powerful flash is often the only means by which to capture the nighttime activities (although the use of a flash is terribly distracting).
To properly compose a picture, photographers often use the “rule of thirds”. The “rule of thirds” implies that the focal point of your subject matter (a person’s eyes, a village home, an animal, etc.) may be placed at the intersection of lines dividing the frame into thirds as shown below:
When you are taking a close-up portrait of a person’s face, the eyes should typically fall on the upper horizontal line and the face should fill most of the frame. If you are framing a group of people, make sure you do not cut people off at their joints (ankles, knees, wrists or elbows). It is better to cut off well above the joint rather than just below it.
Many people make the mistake of taking pictures from too far away. Think about why you are taking the shot and make sure that you can focus in enough to tell your story. Faces are better up close; project work is often better represented by showing one or two people working up close than a whole group from far away; a house has more character when you can see the texture of the wood or adobe walls in the photo.
Don’t be afraid to take a lot of photos of one subject. Professionals often only get one or two good shots out of an entire roll or memory card.
The 5 Golden Shots
The following photo shots are ideal and should be captured as often as possible:
- villager-expeditioner interaction (working together, etc.)
- clients and villagers interacting with expeditioners
- Mentors International staff in their roles as mentors, facilitators, educators, etc.
- key learning moments (story moments)
- clients and villagers participating in the projects
*Remember to SHARE THE STORY with others – so think of some great captions for each photo!