<p class="MsoNormal"><i>Catherine Karnow is a San Francisco-based photographer whose work has appeared in </i>National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler<i>, and other publications. She has been teaching photography workshops since 1995.</i></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Photographing people in a foreign country presents a specific set of challenges, among them increased anxiety, language barriers, and unfamiliar customs. But when you’re abroad, as at home, it’s most important that you gain the trust of your subjects. This is what will allow you to photograph people as they are in their shops, their favorite cafés, and even their homes. Always emit a positive vibe and approach your subjects not as a camera but as a person—let your smiling face be the first thing they see. And ask permission to shoot when you feel it’s appropriate.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Before I travel to a foreign country, I always learn a handful of complimentary words like "beautiful" and "wonderful." Even if they’ve agreed to be photographed, many people are uncomfortable in front of a camera and uncertain of what they should be doing, so it’s essential to be encouraging by repeating positive words. While in France, I came across a farmer and his wife heading home for lunch in their classic Citröen. They were confused about why I wanted to photograph them, so I explained that it was because they were a handsome couple and the car was wonderful. Simply conveying that I saw something beautiful in photographing them was reason enough, and they gave me time to make this gentle portrait.</p>

Learn a Few Complimentary Words

Catherine Karnow is a San Francisco-based photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, and other publications. She has been teaching photography workshops since 1995.

Photographing people in a foreign country presents a specific set of challenges, among them increased anxiety, language barriers, and unfamiliar customs. But when you’re abroad, as at home, it’s most important that you gain the trust of your subjects. This is what will allow you to photograph people as they are in their shops, their favorite cafés, and even their homes. Always emit a positive vibe and approach your subjects not as a camera but as a person—let your smiling face be the first thing they see. And ask permission to shoot when you feel it’s appropriate.

Before I travel to a foreign country, I always learn a handful of complimentary words like "beautiful" and "wonderful." Even if they’ve agreed to be photographed, many people are uncomfortable in front of a camera and uncertain of what they should be doing, so it’s essential to be encouraging by repeating positive words. While in France, I came across a farmer and his wife heading home for lunch in their classic Citröen. They were confused about why I wanted to photograph them, so I explained that it was because they were a handsome couple and the car was wonderful. Simply conveying that I saw something beautiful in photographing them was reason enough, and they gave me time to make this gentle portrait.

Photograph by Catherine Karnow

Photographing People When You Travel

A new travel gallery gives you tips from a National Geographic photographer on how to shoot portraits while traveling in a foreign country.

Read This Next

Haitians reflect on the past while confronting the future

Chunk of an ancient supercontinent discovered under New Zealand

These mystery stories solve crimes and spark travel

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet