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Provence, FranceA travel photographer working in an unknown culture should approach small communities with particular sensitivity. Some societies are rigidly patriarchal and it is essential to meet and relate to local people on their terms. In some areas of the world it is even necessary to obtain permission from the village head man before entering the neighbourhood. Respecting social structures, and observing local traditions and protocols, takes time and effort. However, investment in these areas is invariably worthwhile and may lead to unexpected photographic opportunities.

If possible, stay with a local family rather than in an hotel or guesthouse. This is the best possible guarantee of personal security in areas where crime is a problem. It is also a good way to obtain local knowledge and may lead to all sorts of unexpected opportunities. Enquire about local festivals, celebrations and other special events, and show interest in the normal activities of the village. Once you are known and accepted in the community it should be possible to photograph agricultural workers in the fields, craftsmen in their workshops and even families in their homes. People are usually flattered by a genuine interest in their lives and activities.

Early morning is a good time to observe village life. People are going to work, getting children ready for school or just preparing for another day of family life. The light is also fresh at this optimistic time of day, and produces long shadows and deepening hues. The atmosphere is moist and delicate, and mysterious effects are sometimes created as the sun warms the air.

Try working with a wide-angle lens to capture people in their normal environments, and look for images that convey the placid atmosphere and timeless way of life. Wrinkled faces, cheeky children, homes, crafts and the broad environment all make rewarding subjects.

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