Flamenco in Spain

Travel photography tips for photographing in Spain by Michelle Chaplow

  • Use your ‘foreign eyes’. As a British travel photographer based in Spain for the last 20 years, I know from experience that as a foreigner it’s easier to visually capture the exotic. A local photographer can just walk by the same scene without recognising the importance of it. I had the Spanish Association of Citrus Fruit Growers contact me for a photograph of an orange tree, after spending weeks trying to source the image from local Spanish photographers to no avail.
  • Although a large percentage of communication is non-verbal, learning the basics of the local language, is a huge advantage in photography. The locals appreciate that you have made the effort and you will reap the rewards in your work.
  • Local characters add life to your imagery. The Spanish people are extremely hospitable and humane. To photograph people in general you need time and the ability to win their confidence, the ability to reflect trust in the image. The photographer also needs to be unhurried and relaxed. A nervous photographer will pass on those vibes to the subject and it will reflect in the image.
  • Personally, I firmly believe that the most beautiful portraits are environmental portraits. People are so much more at one in their own surroundings. A musician with his or her instrument, a potter at work, a dancer dancing, an old lady or couple with their donkey, these images go one step further in portraying that essential connection between humans and their environment.
  • Dress code in Spain is very important, as a photographer. I have a general rule that I dress according to the situation. If it’s a corporate portrait, I will wear a comfortable suit, in a national park, walking clothes, in a night club, evening gear. I believe that this helps you ’fit in’ and reduces the barrier between the lens and the subject. Comfort and the ability to have freedom of movement are key factors.
  • Local Gastronomy: One of my best selling images is that of a classic Paella, set up in a studio on a plain background. The shape of the Paella dish is instantly associated with Spain, it’s important to avoid cluttering or obscuring the shape. Paella isn’t the easiest food to photograph, I spent hours in the studio, but is definitely been a worthwhile investment.
  • Spain is famous for its festivals and local people in traditional dress. These images are widely appealing so it’s worth spending time researching dates of festivals. Imagine arriving, the day after!
  • Keep records of the place names, architectural styles, historical dates, provinces, basically any relevant information that can be used in your key wording. Good concise key wording will increase your sales.
  • Create a theme, which later could be published as a feature or picture essay.
  • Unless you’re on an assignment deadline, try to be flexible with your schedule, if you stumble on a local festival, a spectacular sunset, an amazing sunrise, a craftsman, a celebrity, then seize the moment and change your plans accordingly. In Spain, there’s always mañana.