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A Smile Works Both Ways


Learn some tips on how to snap those pics of the wonderful people you meet along the way – sometimes it just takes a smile.

Guest Post by Ralph Velasco, travel photographer


Initially, approaching people in order to take their photograph can be a difficult thing to do.  For the most part, I felt the same way, and often looked for photo opportunities that would allow me take advantage of a long lens, so that I could shoot my subjects from across the street without their knowing.

Not only did I do this because it can be a bit intimidating when someone knows that you want their photograph (will they get angry, will they want money, other?), but mainly I’d do this because I like to capture candid moments that are unrehearsed.  When someone knows you’re going to take their picture it just doesn’t seem to be quite the same.

However, since I went to Cuba (for the first time in the spring of 2010 and just recently again in April 2011), and then to Egypt (where I had heard it was difficult to capture images of the people, especially the women), I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone again and again to approach people with the idea of getting their picture.

smile works both ways ralph velasco

This is a new quote I just heard of today:

Very well said.

No matter in what place, and irrespective of language, it’s simply amazing how far a sincere smile, a raise of your camera, and a quizzical look will go towards making a person feel comfortable, unthreatened and more often than not, a willing subject for you.

Case in point is this gentleman whom I shot in Trinidad, Cuba.  He was peacefully eating his lunch and enjoying the shade on a hot and humid day.  I walked by and immediately noticed the wonderful solid colors of the building, door and stoop that framed him.  I took my own advice, and…smiled at him, raised my camera and quizzically looked for approval.  He gave me a big smile in return and I got the shot.  He didn’t ask for anything, he didn’t get angry…he just gave me a toothy grin and a wonderful photo opportunity, and memory, of a great afternoon out shooting.

Force yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and then be prepared to grab life, and some great photo opportunities, as a result.

About the Author

Ralph Velasco is an award-winning travel photography instructor and international tour guide who has photographed in more than forty countries on six continents. He’s just released his first app for iPhone and iPod touch called My Shot Lists for Travel and is the author of “Ralph Velasco On Travel Photography: 101 Tips for Developing Your Photographic Eye & More.” Ralph has led cultural photo tours to Egypt, Eastern Europe and throughout the United States. For the past two years he was awarded “Open Photographer of the Year” by the Professional Photographers of Orange County and he belongs to the exclusive Circumnavigators Club, a group of travelers whose charter requires that its members have traveled around the world, in a single journey, having crossed every one of earth’s meridians.  You can subscribe to his blog at