Travel Photography Tip #3: Include the Human Element
For most people, one of the first signs getting ‘serious’ about travel photography is a desire to take people-free pictures of an Iconic Location. This is often a good thing – unless you are trying to make a point about the number of brightly-clad travellers wandering around, they generally aren’t adding anything to the message you do want to convey.
However, unless your travel consists solely of unaccompanied trips to uninhabited wildernesses, sooner or later you are going to have to include your fellow travellers (or locals) in your pictures – and this isn’t a bad thing! While it can be extremely annoying to have random person wandering into your carefully-framed shot, there are times when it’s worth considering including people in your pictures.
This is the case if you are trying to show scale in a picture – nothing conveys a sense of scale like a person. We all know the (rough) size of a person, and can instinctively get a feeling for the size of a scene when there is a person in the picture. But more than that, including a person gives the viewer something to latch on to, a point of view for them to adopt. It directly engages the imagination, and invites the viewer to imagine themselves in the scene – there’s a reason travel ads always include people, after all.
Of course, there is a knack to picking the right person to feature in your photograph. You may not always have a choice, but here are a few things to keep in mind when including people in your pictures:
Local or Traveller? A local can add a sense of authenticity, while a traveller gives an even stronger sense of identification for the viewer.
Colourful or Drab? What the person is wearing can really make or break the scene – bright colours draw the eye (red is great for this),but they can also clash with the rest of the scene. Look for something distinctive, but harmonious.
Generic Person or Specific Individual? When including people in pictures, consider whether or not you are looking to include them specifically, or if you just want a Generic Person. Specific people may be appealing for reasons unique to the individual- their appearance, or their connection to the location, for instance. If you do want to include this specific individual, make sure your picture shows what made them important to you. Generic People are often there to fill one of the roles above, and may serve their roles best when their identify is unknown – shot from behind with faces obscured, or even silhouetted.
So the next time you are trying to photograph an Iconic Location overrun with people, don’t despair – selective inclusion of people can lead to more engaging and involving travel pictures for your audience.