Finally living abroad, why am I terrified of taking pictures as a foreigner?

Discussion in 'Scenic, Architecture, and Travel' started by ryanlogic, Sep 20, 2015.

  1. ryanlogic

    ryanlogic Mu-43 Veteran

    May 23, 2012
    Antakya, Turkey
    It's been a long time since I've posted in this forum.

    My wife and I have been living in Southern Turkey for 2 months now. I have always dreamed about living overseas and taking pictures of my travels. I don't know why but for some reason, I'm having a serious problem mustering up the courage to walk around with my camera gear. I am not particularly afraid of being robbed or anything like that... Rather, I think the fact that I am simply overwhelmed by not being able to speak to anyone or explain myself that I am afraid of taking pictures around people.

    I am thinking about having some business cards made with a link to my website and my email address so I can hand it out to people that I take pictures of as a form of basic friendly communication. I think having some kind of way to explain that I mean no harm and being able to offer a link to my pictures would help be feel confident enough to get out there, but I am not sure.

    Does anyone have any advice or words of wisdom that might help me find the courage to get out there? I really love taking street portraits and every day that goes by is a wasted day.

    I am also looking for a good supplier of m43 gear in Turkey. If anyone can point me in that direction, I would really appreciate it.
  2. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    I'd think the language barrier would provide a certain level of anonymity, if people razz you you can only really apologize in a different language and move on. Or is it being out and about without the ability to readily communicate itself which makes you feel apprehensive? I get that, it's intimidating.
  3. ryanlogic

    ryanlogic Mu-43 Veteran

    May 23, 2012
    Antakya, Turkey
    I can't really pinpoint what it is. Turks are pretty friendly and I don't get the impression that many would mind all that much if I was taking pictures of them as long as I wasn't harassing women or something (which I wouldn't do anyway of course).

    I think I am just overwhelmed by the whole experience. This is my first time actually living abroad and I'm just not in vacation mode. I have some kind of instinctual feeling that I need to protect myself from looking like a tourist. Maybe I feel that way subliminally in hopes that I will be accepted as a resident. Of course 99% of my fears are simply in my own head because I look like a tourist or a foreigner no matter what, and there's a good chance that nobody I take pictures of or around will ever see me again.

    it's just intimidating and I didn't expect it.
  4. siftu

    siftu Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Mar 26, 2015
    Bay Area, CA
    I think once you get a couple of them under your belt you will be ok. I did it about 30 portraits like that in 10 days in Bali. A few couldn't speak english at all so I just used sign language and a smile. i.e. point at my camera and them, they would nod. I didn't have any say no, but if they did that fine by me. I think they just appreciate you being transparent about it.

    Good luck.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  5. ivoire

    ivoire Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 6, 2011
    Naperville, IL
    I agree with siftu. I've had people in India object to being photographed by scowling and waving their hand. I reply with a smile, point the camera down and wave back. Often individuals will ask to be photographed by pointing to the camera, themselves and making a shutter click gesture. Just get out and take some pics . Once you get a feel for it you'll be more comfortable
  6. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Print up a small book of your photographs (complementary street portraits if you have them) and carry it with you. You can always show it to people to demonstrate what you are trying to accomplish with your photography. No words required.

  7. kevinparis

    kevinparis Cantankerous Scotsman Subscribing Member

    Feb 12, 2010
    Gent, Belgium

    The business card thing is a good idea - do a great service, where you can get a selection of your images printed.

    There is no substitute for getting out there... my only suggestion may be to pick your smallest, least intimidating body/lens combo, and just take that with you every time you go out and just photograph everything and anything your neighbourhood... Sit at a bar or cafe used by the locals and have your camera out, maybe reviewing the photos you just took, get known as the foriegner with the camera, maybe someone will ask you about the camera.. then you will have an in. You will feel more comfortable, and they will get used to you...

    have fun and enjoy your time.

    • Agree Agree x 1
  8. brettmaxwell

    brettmaxwell Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 8, 2012
    Do you wish to stop and interact with people and get a bit more of a 'portrait', or merely snap candids and keep moving? They are very different approaches, and both can be done simply enough in most cultures, especially if you appearance is a dead giveaway that you're a foreigner.
  9. kingduct

    kingduct Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 12, 2013
    I agree that a small camera and small lens will help you.

    However, honestly it sounds like maybe you should just hold off taking portraits for a while. Two months is not a long time for you to have been in Turkey. Enroll in a Turkish language class, get to know the people in your town or neighborhood, absorb where you live. There's a lot of culture shock in a move to a foreign country and that's probably impacting your feelings about photographing people. Furthermore, you probably don't quite have a sense of the photography etiquette there.

    In the meantime, Turkey is a beautiful country and there are plenty of landscapes, architecture, and other non-human things to photograph. I've lived on three different continents and I find it just takes some time to get used to living in a different place. Since it sounds like you won't be leaving Turkey any time soon, there's no rush. After a while, I'm sure that you'll start to feeling up for taking pictures of people again.
    • Like Like x 1
  10. Ulfric M Douglas

    Ulfric M Douglas Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 6, 2010
    Post a selfie of what you look like with your camera in the street.

    After giggling and pointing we may be able to offer advice.


    Where are you from originally?
    (If the answer is Florida, forget it.)
  11. svenkarma

    svenkarma Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 5, 2013
    mark evans
    Learning the basics of Turkish will help boost your confidence in social interactions. When I taught Spaniards English they often said they wanted to know enough 'to be able to defend myself.' Which is good advice for language learning I think.
  12. ryanlogic

    ryanlogic Mu-43 Veteran

    May 23, 2012
    Antakya, Turkey
    Thanks for all of the (mostly) thoughtful replies.

    I will take the E-M5 out with the 75mm 1.8 to the bazaar (neighborhood farmers market) this Saturday and try to get at least 10 portraits worth keeping as a goal.

    I'm going to have some very simple business cards printed too so I can offer people a chance to see what in up to.

    Of course I will be working on my Turkish as well but it's a slow process..yavaş yavaş.
    • Like Like x 2
  13. PacNWMike

    PacNWMike Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Dec 5, 2014
    Salish Sea
    I'm not really comfortable photographing people without their consent wherever I am. I feel like an intruder in their space. And I don't like it when people do it to me. Ergo I'm not much of a street shooter. Obviously a lot of people don't have a problem with it.
  14. ryanlogic

    ryanlogic Mu-43 Veteran

    May 23, 2012
    Antakya, Turkey
    I typically get people's attention and wait for some kind of facial expression or signal to tell me it's OK.
  15. Repp

    Repp Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Jan 27, 2011
    Seoul, South Korea
    Having lived abroad for the last 5 years, and traveling most of Asia and Europe for work and vacation, here are my thoughts. Simply a polite/quizzical smile and a gesture to your camera can work wonders. I think the business card is a cool idea, and if I had been more active in my photography when living in Japan, I probably would have done so.

    Any country I travel to, I also try and prepare a few phrases in the local language. "Can I take a photo?" is usually one of them. The rest usually revolve around food, drink, and basic courtesies. More often than not, just the attempt to speak the language can be a great icebreaker, as it shows you're at least trying to work with them, instead of expecting everyone to speak English (as sadly so many Americans do... ).
  16. piggsy

    piggsy Mu-43 All-Pro

  17. ryanlogic

    ryanlogic Mu-43 Veteran

    May 23, 2012
    Antakya, Turkey
    Pedophilia is not funny.
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2015
  18. brettmaxwell

    brettmaxwell Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 8, 2012
    If you're going to stop and take 5+ minutes with someone taking a real portrait, a good idea is to bring a small photo printer (ZINK, fuji instax, etc), and give them a small print at the end. A gift they'll appreciate, and you won't feel like you're simply "taking" from them.

    A good read about travel/street photography and also how a printer helps:
  19. Ulfric M Douglas

    Ulfric M Douglas Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 6, 2010
    He wasn't after his feet, Shirley.
  20. ryanlogic

    ryanlogic Mu-43 Veteran

    May 23, 2012
    Antakya, Turkey