Cultural photography is an excellent way to catch the essence of local life and people. By showing people’s varied lifestyles, photographers can impart the cultural values and traditions that guide their life. It is a good way to peek into the world’s raw, unfiltered cultural variations. This representation gives a subtle message of inclusivity and co-existence.
That is one of the many reasons cultural photography is extremely important.
However, contrary to popular belief, cultural photography is not devoid of certain rules and tips. Like any other form of photography, it is more than simply picking a camera and taking pictures in a documentary fashion. It is a process with many nuances.
When undertaking cultural photography, you have to follow some tips and tricks to get the maximum out of what could be a rare once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You must ensure that your pictures speak of the exotic beauty and centuries of history packed inside the sight before you.
Here are some tips that can help novice cultural photographers immensely.
1. Look for the unusual
You may visit the famous monuments or markets of a region and get plenty of material as a photographer. However, as a cultural photographer, your treasure lies in unusual places. Seek out the rare markets, remote tribes, and peculiar stories hiding behind the apparent hustle and bustle of the region you are visiting. I captured the best local life of Indonesia by looking into remote tribes. Their secluded way of life would have been invisible otherwise.
2. Learn about the particular culture before you visit the place
Educate yourself. Learning about a region’s traditions, values, and practices is crucial before you take a deep dive into its culture. Your knowledge will enable you to capture the core of the culture.
3. Follow the prescribed rules of the places you visit
You must always respect and follow the rules of the locations you visit. Yes, it may become frustrating. You may not understand the logic behind certain regulations. Yet, despite it all, you have to show respect for different cultures. Remember, you are a guest in their home, not the other way around.
4. Respect privacy and ask for permission
Always ask for permission before taking pictures or set it up well before you go. Be it from the chief of a tribe or the head of a traditional dance group, respecting privacy is vital for a cultural photographer. I often take a day or two without the camera to have conversations with my subjects and spend time getting to know them and establishing a connection, before even talking to them about getting a picture. It usually makes the person comfortable and open to being photographed.
5. Pay attention to detail
Often, the culture manifests itself in a region’s deepest and most obscure nooks and crannies. Be open to capturing such details. They will make your photographs stand out from the hundred others in the crowd. In my time in Uganda, I used bananas as props to highlight its status as a major crop. This detail added significant merit to my series.
6. Establish a context for your photograph
When capturing the cultural details, it is always a good idea to establish a particular context that alludes to the culture you are trying to show the world – be it through local settings, the intricate designs of jewelry, or the clothes they wear, incorporate them all in a blend to pay a true homage to the rare and explicit token of a culture.
7. Be ready to deal with unexpected obstacles and delays with patience
Cultural photography is not all smooth sailing. There are plenty of hiccups and hurdles on the way. From language barriers to cultural preferences to unfavorable natural conditions, things can go wrong in plenty of ways. It is necessary to be patient in such circumstances.
8. Immerse yourself in the culture
Live like the locals, befriend them, and participate in traditional activities. It will increase your understanding of the local place, adding richness to your photos. It will also improve your perspective and eye for catching particulars that others might miss.
These are a few tips that can become game-changers for cultural photographers. Also, remember that developing an apt artistic gaze for photographing the right moments and details will take time. Practice is the key that will take you the long way.