Photographing people in foreign cultures

When we were in Perugia Italy, an old woman on the street corner caught my eye. Out came the camera,

Lady With Flowers, Perguia, Italy, Published in Brochure & other places. Bob Grytten Image
Lady With Flowers, Perugia, Italy, Published in Brochure & other places. Bob Grytten Image

and I took my first grab shot. I then approached. “Buon giorno, Senora,” I greeted her.  “Buon giorno,” she replied. Still having the camera in my hand, I asked. “Poso Photographie?” (May I take your picture?) “Si,” she replied.

Up came the camera to my eye, and just as I was releasing the shutter, she glances straight into the lens. “Oh DARN,” I thought to myself. I was hoping for a more candid shot. I took one more image and thanked her “Grazie, Senora” “Prego,” she replied, and I was off.

When in a foreign country, the first thing I learn is how to get permission in the language of that country. The words to use and how to pronounce them. Courtesy comes first, and I have yet to be refused. About this picture, it’s one of my all time favorites.  We were traveling with the University of South Florida for a summer program at the  Universita Italiana Per Stranieri, Perugia.

Boy With Pizza, Saorge, FR Bob Grytten image
Boy With Pizza, Saorge, FR
Bob Grytten image

On another trip we were at the mountain town Saorge, Fr and I was watching this little boy, following his daddy, the postman, around while he delivered the mail.

up one street and down the other. I  managed to get some nice alley shots with them providing the special element for the image. Later, as I turned the corner, here was this little boy again – munching on his Pizza, I had my chance. The complimentary colors couldn’t have been stronger.

When traveling, I try to blend into the crowd as much as possible and my camera is usually in a nondescript backpack. I don’t like to advertise that I have expensive equipment.

My outfit of choice is a Nikon d90 with the 18-200 mm lens. That gives me a full range of focal lengths. I do not carry a tripod as they are too bulky and I find I seldom use them. I may have a small table top tripod for evening shots that I can set up anywhere. Incidentally, in some countries and cities, a tripod announces that your are a pro, and you may be asked for your permit .

I do carry that backpack with me; however, always. When in the small village of Cogne,

Cognia, Gran Paradiso, Italy Bob Grytten Image
Cogne, Gran Paradiso, Italy Bob Grytten Image

Italy, to photograph the Alpine Ibex in Valle d’Aosta, we treated ourselves to a nice meal at the hotel restaurant. As we had just discovered Grappa on this trip, I asked the waiter what kinds of Grappa we should have to finish off our meal. When he returned, I asked and he made a great model. I couldn’t resist this shot.


Using the light from the window, although indoors, was all I needed. I particularly noticed the position of his hands. While this was made with slide film, today’s digital platform offers much more latitude, which is helpful for difficult lighting conditions.

Using the rules of composition, notice how the rule of thirds is employed. His head and tray occupy the intersecting line points.

More tips and images are to be found at Lens Lugger World web site. Comments are appreciated…

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