Tewfic El-Sawy is a New York based freelance photographer specializing in documenting endangered cultures and traditional life ways of Asia, Latin America and Africa. His images, articles and photo features have been published in various international magazines, and his travel photographs are published in guidebooks and adventure travel catalogs. He also organized and led non-traditional photo expeditions and workshops. He is passionate about documentary-travel photography and produces multimedia stories, merging still photography and ambient sound. He enjoys mixing Asian fashion, culture and history into “photo films”. He recently increased his focus on South East Asia and China. He produced a well received photo book Hau Dong: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam; documenting an indigenous religion now recognized by the UNESCO, and is currently working on a voluminous monograph tentatively titled ‘Chinese Opera of The Diaspora’. He is a faculty teaching member at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop, and a jury member at The Travel Photographer Society’s Photo contests.
It's best to ask permission if you want to photograph someone, especially if you are working in close. Engage them before you pull out your camera. Learn at least how to say "hello" and "May I make a photograph" in the local language—just showing that you've made a little effort helps. Explain to them what you want to do and what it is about them that made you want to make a picture. If approached in an open and friendly manner, most people will be agreeable—many are flattered that someone has shown an interest in them and what they do. In places where there's a lot of tourism, you may run into people who are tired of being photographed—many tourists are not courteous enough to ask permission, and local people can come to feel abused and exploited. The only way to overcome this is to spend time with the people or to go to parts of the place less frequented by tourists.
Whether you're licensing photos through an agency or you're working with local businesses, destination photos sell. If you're just starting out, consider uploading your best work to sites like 500px, where you can offer your images for license quite easily. If you already have a strong portfolio of work, consider applying to Stocksy, the most reputable agency in the stock photo business. Interested in reportage? You can sign up for a Demotix account to get started in travel photojournalism.
Get lost. Wander down alleys. Sit in cafés and watch life pass by. Don't eat where the tourists do, but where you see locals. Just set off down a street and see where it leads. Look around the bends, over the rises. Get away from the crowd. I find that if I meander away from the tourists and tourist sites, away from what is too familiar and comfortable, it's much easier to adapt to the rhythm of a place, and to be more observant.
In many tourist destinations, people may ask for money if you want to photograph them. Many of these places are desperately poor, and people have few ways of getting hold of cash. The money they ask for is usually not very much to us, but may represent quite a lot to them. How you deal with these situations is up to you, but remember that every time you buy a postcard, you are happy to spend the money for a picture somebody else took. Why not spend a little on your own?
The other challenge is to scout for and find the locations for the photo shoots; locations that provide a "badge" of authenticity to the resulting photo films. In the the case of The Girl of Nanjing, it was the water town of Qi Bao near Shanghai....and in the case of The Legend of Hua, it was the water town of Xinchang' at some distance from Shanghai as well...while the backdrop to The Songstress of Temple Street was Hong Kong's famous Tin Hau Temple and the Canton Singing House.
When you travel, saving money is often the exact same as earning. Quite often, exchanging a couple images with a hotel for a free room or a tour company for a free tour is totally worth it. In fact, when I was in Southern Africa, I did this a lot. Safaris are expensive, so I’d create a couple images for a company to use for their marketing purposes in exchange for a free safari. It really is win-win.
Love your site! How do you go about not needing work visas to do photography for tourism boards, hotels etc? I see a lot of travel photography in foreign places, but in most countries its illegal to work there and next to impossible to get a work visa as a photographer. Any advice on reaching out to brands/hotels/tourism boards etc overseas without finding myself being deported for working in their country?
This was a really informative article Hillary :) Just wish I found it sooner because just a week ago I went to the Grand Canyon to snap some photos. I didn't have this article to help, but I found a similarly useful article that provided some kind of checklist of things to do before traveling. If anyone's interested, here's what helped me out before I went to the canyon: http://www.adoramapix.com/blog/2016/10/16/photography-101-packing/#.WFH9...
Make use of people to give your images life and scale. If the facade of a particular building appeals to you, the picture may be that much better if you show people walking in front of it. They will give it scale and also let viewers know what sorts of people live there, how they dress, and the like. An outdoor café may be more interesting crowded with people than empty.