Travel Photography Subjects: Socializing

Travel Photography Subjects: Socializing


Socializing in Nepal This post is number six of twenty one subjects that will help you focus when on your next journey and you wish to bring back a well rounded story of where you were.  If you’re just going on vacation and only want pictures of yourself by the pool sipping boat drinks, then you can probably skip this one.  These posts are not intent on telling you everything you need to do, step by step, to capture perfect, cookie-cutter pictures while traveling.  Instead, they are intent on pointing out some vital elements to capture when on the road and ask thought provoking questions you may want to ask yourself.  My hope is they help guide you to find your own means to better expressing what your travels have meant to you and present that in the best light possible.

How people socialize from region to region often seems something of a shock to the unsuspecting traveler, even in their own home country.  City to city, the changes are less obvious.  Block to block, they can be barely perceptible.  But they are there.  Humans are a social species and any time two or more of us get together there are behaviors and patterns, ways of communicating, ways of conveying thoughts and feelings about what’s important to each.

In broad terms, from a photographic standpoint when traveling, I take socializing to be any interactions that aren’t strictly business (even though business transactions often involve various types of socializing).  And typically the types of interactions where people are trying to learning something from each other, unlike sports and other competitions.  It’s the way cabbies waiting for a fare will stand around and chat.  It’s the way police talk with vagrants in a park before moving them along.  And kids at a movie theater yelling to friends or playing video games.

To really get a feel for socializing when traveling, it’s best to spend a day with no camera.  Walk around and maybe see some of the tourist areas, but also spend time seated in a park away from the popular sites (we’ll have a post later that talks about hitting those ‘must see’ sites, but for now, leave them be).  Go to a local cafe and just people watch.  For some of us, this is one of the thrills of travel but for some, it’s a stretch to just sit and watch.  But it’s important.  Without a camera to grab, you’re more forced to witness, to see how others interact.

Do people mainly keep to themselves or is there a lot of interaction?  Do young people talk to old people and do they do it different than when they talk to those in their own age group?  Where do people tend to gather?  Can you spot old friends and how they interact?  And discern that from new acquaintances?  Is there much physical contact during a conversation or are people more reserved?  Loud or hushed?  Smiles or serious?

Spending a day observing before grabbing your camera will answer these questions and more.  If you can’t spend a whole day, maybe just an hour will do.  It’ll give you a better idea of who the strangers are around you.  Spending this day without a camera may also have another benefit. I’ve found people are often more likely to chat with you if you don’t have a camera.  You may then learn more about how locals socialize with tourists.  You may also make a friend who can lead you to other insights about the area you are visiting.  And they’ll probably be ok with you taking their picture the next time you meet.

You say you aren’t traveling and have no photo to share in the comments section below? I say take a look at how those around you in your home town socialize and try photographing that first.  Practice at home will sharpen your skill when you’re faced with a foreign country and culture.  And by all means, please share any shots you have of what socializing means to you in the comment section.


Previous articles in the Travel Photography Subjects series include Water, Old People, Young People, Religion and Sports.  Be sure to subscribe to this site to receive the other 15 subjects as they are posted!

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • David July 28, 2010 10:11 am

    When i was at Jerusalem last year there was a bunch of socializing going on but I found these two to show the two different types I found

  • Phil Marion July 24, 2010 07:56 am

    afternoon fun in Chinatown, Toronto
    [eimg link='' title='afternoon fun - Chinatown, Toronto' url='']

  • Cindy Kilpatrick July 20, 2010 03:07 am

    I don't much like shopping at the best of times and so the market at Ocho Rios, Jamaica was all about people watching for me. I watched this game for quite a while, impressed by the handmade board, stunned at the speed of play and totally bewildered as to the game itself.
    [eimg link='' title='Game' url='']

  • Nadav July 17, 2010 08:14 pm

    An orthodox rally in Jerusalem

    [eimg url='' title='37326_462288483915_768273915_6255150_3147778_n.jpg']

  • Scott July 17, 2010 04:48 pm

    Cafe life in Europe, where everyone socializes:

    Choir practice in the Munot fortress:

  • christoph July 16, 2010 04:40 pm

    This picture was taken during our recent trip to Italy. People are spending a lot of time at coffee shops deep in discussion.[eimg url='' title='_DSC2488.jpg']

  • Natalie July 16, 2010 03:34 pm

    I love this article! Here are a couple of things I've taken in Thailand.

    The MPs at the Palace:

    I also took a few photos while in Spain and Morocco. I'm not sure how great they are, but it's the closest I could get to showing what I saw (I guess that's the point, huh?). It was wacky, fun and exotic at times. But it was wonderful.

    Berber Woman Conducting Business

    Moroccan Man in the Hercules Cave

    This little guy was under a car

  • Miles July 16, 2010 09:35 am

    Thailand is awash in beauty, its people included. I took this right after we arrived at Ko Phi Phi.

    [eimg link='' title='Ko Phi Phi' url='']

  • Jim July 16, 2010 08:31 am

    I thought this article gave some great advice for everyday use as well as travel.

  • Jim July 16, 2010 08:22 am

    [eimg link='' title='The Town Crier' url='']

    The Town Crier seemed to know everyone as I watched him make his rounds in Provincetown, MA, USA>

  • meg July 16, 2010 04:23 am

    at the local farmer's market:

  • rubberslipper July 16, 2010 04:22 am

    I travel for a living and one of my favorite things to do aside from shopping is to people watch. It just fascinates me to see different people having different kinds of energy about them and one game i play with my friends is to watch a conversation happening between people and try to make up what they're saying, it's a lot of fun.
    And sometimes just by observing locals communicate and relate to each other gives me a sense of their culture.
    I took this photo with my point and shoot digital camera when i travelled to Shanghai.
    [eimg url='' title='photo.php?pid=1991827&l=f2c99ddb59&id=675391936']

  • Bill July 16, 2010 01:35 am

    The camera often opens the door...

  • Red July 15, 2010 10:52 am

    Taken in Ho Chi Minh

    [eimg link='' title='Saigon Street Life' url='']

  • Phil Marion July 15, 2010 01:54 am

    da boyz chillin on the steps of the Ganges River ghats
    [eimg link='' title='da boyz - ghats of Varanasi' url='']

    kids socializing in the remote Haraz mountains of Yemen
    [eimg link='' title='child's play- remote Haraz mountains of Yemen' url='']

    lounging around the local bakery - Vinales, Cuba
    [eimg link='' title='lounging outside the town bakery -Vinales, Cuba' url='']

    in Mexico City friends and family will rent a boat for the afternoon and enjoy music and a meal on the canals of Xochimilco
    [eimg link='' title='canals of Xochimilco, Mexico City' url='']

    a day at the Red Sea beach (fully clothed) is popular for friends and family in Aqaba, Jordan

    [eimg link='' title='a day at the beach - Aqaba, Jordan' url='']

  • Domagoj July 13, 2010 07:10 pm

    I went to Singapore and stumbled upon this square in China Town. A lot of people were playing ancient Chinese games, some playing and some watching and commenting. A real sense of community could be felt there.

    [eimg link='' title='China town' url='']

  • Irene July 13, 2010 08:17 am

    There were several threads on the site about this issue, including this one:

    Having seen and been inspired by the Henri Cartier Bresson exhibit at MOMA, I've gotten more comfortable about taking candid street photos. I've also done the smile, point to the camera, "is it OK if I take your picture" pantomime, but people then tend to strike a pose, and you lose that natural candid moment.

    With all the digital cameras out there, including surveillance cameras in stores and on the streets, I'm sure we've also had our photos taken without our prior approval. If you are in a public place, you cannot expect privacy. However, I would not take a photo that would violate someone's religious beliefs, so it's always best to check with a guide or guidebook.

    I guess the bottom line is, if you are in a public place, but you feel uncomfortable taking the candid photo, don't do it.

  • Daniel July 13, 2010 07:25 am

    I'm always concerned about taking pictures of other ppl without permission. I took a picture of a homeless man once and had an in depth conversation about how it was polite of me to ask before hand and that most ppl don't... How do you get a truly candid picture without asking after you take the picture? Does anyone else have any moral issue with this?

  • Irene July 13, 2010 02:58 am

    and one on Columbus Ave in NYC. Hopefully giving a tourist directions...not issuing a ticket!

  • Irene July 13, 2010 02:51 am

    This looked like such a serious discussion between these two young girls in Vietnam

  • Karen Stuebing July 12, 2010 10:33 pm

    I did a whole photo essay on a restaurant located on a decaying small town main street. A store owner there calls it "the Darwinian Holding Cell." :)

    It is actually a really cool fifties style restaurant with working artifacts. I am trying to get it on the state and national historic registry.

    And I love the folks who hang out. They are a little intimidating to strangers though and do discourage people from stopping. So it's a unique kind of socialization of an overlooked minority of residents.

    This is a different link than my Daily Shoot blog.

    Jimmie's Restaurant.

  • mikko July 12, 2010 10:20 pm

    I caught these siblings on the beach looking at the ocean and their parents surfing. Ericeira, Portugal.

  • Clare B July 12, 2010 05:11 pm

    Here are two from a holiday in Sardinia in 2008. One is a little under-exposed but I think they tell a story about who socialises with who (and where) in this part of the world.

    the men -
    the women -

  • Tyler July 12, 2010 11:40 am

    I have two. One is of a New York style encounter while in the American West and the other is a relaxing afternoon outside a local library.

  • Jason Collin Photography July 12, 2010 10:56 am

    I titled this photo taken in Tokyo, Japan "VERY old school assassins"