In Foreign Territory, Arrange A Local Guide

An English-speaking local guide can help you communicate with other locals much more effectively than you can on your own. That’s true even if you’ve mastered a limited set of guidebook phrases or have a smartphone translation app (though such phrases and apps can definitely be helpful). If you aim to understand the culture you’re visiting or the ceremony or festival dance that you’re photographing, a local guide can be invaluable. The quality and depth of the verbal and image stories that you tell will definitely benefit.

Remember the extended exposure scene from a Vrindavan temple during the Holi festival? We would likely have been hard-pressed to gain access to that balcony at all, at least on reasonable terms, without a local guide to negotiate on our behalf.

As we practiced productive wandering in Chhattisgarh, an India village, our local guide helped us to communicate with villagers. They welcomed us into a courtyard where one was cranking a fan to separate the desired crop from the undesired chaff.

If you find an especially photogenic setting, either by yourself or with the help of a local guide, another option is to wait for interesting characters to come into your scene on their own. On a trip to Yunnan province in China, we were based for several days in a small village. Most mornings, we did pre-breakfast walks, looking for ways to take advantage of the terrific early-morning light. One effective strategy was to find an attractive background scene with good lighting on a fairly active village street and wait for interesting villagers to come into the scene. Some declined my gestured requests for permission, but most accepted.

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