Educational Adventures, Featured, Photo Essay, Travel Narrative

Kid to Kid: Advice from a Teen Travel Photographer



As a travel blogger, I’ve spent a good deal of time working to improve my travel photography.  And while my technical skills could still use a lot of work, I feel I return home from most of my trips with at least a few dozen good shots.  But the one thing I struggle with is how to capture the faces of the people who live in the places I visit.  Which is why I was beyond impressed when one of my 8th grade students showed me her stunning portrait photographs from her recent Southeast Asia trip.

And by ‘beyond impressed’ I mean ‘inspired and awed’.

I can’t help but think that there is a lot that I (and other aspiring travel bloggers and photographers) can learn from this thirteen-year-old girl; the girl who captured the beautiful images featured below.  So I sat down with her and talked to her about her trip and about her photography.  This is what I learned…

Advice from a Teen Travel Photographer

When did you start taking photos on your travels?

My family has always traveled a lot, but mostly around the US or to different islands in the Caribbean.  Because of that, the photos I’ve taken in the past were mostly pictures of nature or pictures of places–not pictures of people.

This was our first ‘big’ trip; our first time truly out of the country, and for this trip, I focused on getting photos of the people.

Why was portrait photography your focus?

When we decided to go to Southeast Asia, I knew I wanted to get to know the people, to interact with them.  I knew that, to understand this part of the world, I really had to connect with the people who lived there.  So it made sense that my photos would focus on the people as well.

How do you approach people to ask for a photo?

The first hurdle is the language barrier, so there was a lot of gesturing–you just sort of point to the camera and smile and ask.  But I found that the whole culture was just…so accepting.  And so friendly.  They would even offer to have you hold their child to take the picture.  It was so amazing to interact with them; they were so kind.

Did anyone refuse to let you take a photo?  How did you deal with that?

There were people who didn’t understand; they would just laugh and walk away.  So you thank them and move on.  Thanking is crucial!

What advice would you give to people who want to take portrait photos but are afraid?

The way I think about it, these people are on the other side of the earth.  You’re not going to see them again.  Plus, they might enjoy having their photo taken–it’s likely not something they have done very often.  You shouldn’t be afraid to do something like that–it is just interacting with people.  As long as you are polite and thank them, there’s nothing to be afraid of.


Well, there you have it, folks.  Wise words from a 14-year-old girl.  Thanks, Kira.  I may be your teacher, but there’s clearly a lot that I can learn from you, too.

Kira’s Photos

Please note:  Aside from her amazing photos, all words are also Kira’s.  I didn’t even really have to edit them.  And she agreed to do this interview and write these descriptions out of the goodness of her heart.  Perhaps I should offer her some extra credit? 

Ya Ya


This is a picture of Ya Ya.  She was one of the orphans at the Cambodian Children Sanctuary.  We asked our tour guide Sopiana to take us to an orphanage that wasn’t popular with tourists, and he took us to a man who lives with the children.  He is a whole-hearted man.

We played and interacted with these children for a majority of our day. It was the HIGHLIGHT of our trip.  This was one of my favorite photos of the trip because it was the best day and best expeirince.  Ya Ya was one of the most interactive and loving kids that we met.

Rice Paddy Girl


On our last day in Cambodia we went on a four-wheeling adventure.  The guide took us to a rice field–there are thousands throughout southeast Asia–and he was explaining how rice was prepared; when we turned around she was standing there in the middle of nowhere.  She wouldn’t talk; she just smiled and tilted her head. She was adorable.  We assumed she was homeless and lived in the fields. Our one regret about the trip was not interacting more with her.  We wish we could go back and get her.

Chiang Mai Beauty


We were in Chang Mai and went to visit the long-neck tribe.  This was a girl that lived with the long necks. She was beautiful.  This picture is perfect because it symbolizes the beauty of the people and of that culture.

Laos Mamma


This was in a very remote village in Laos, the Mong Village.  Before arriving we had been in a boat going down the Mekong River for about two hours. It was so far away from civilization.  It was like a movie.  There were about twenty people, mud, and a cow with a bell.

When we arrived children ran up to us and held out purses that their parents had hand-made.  In one of the huts there was a mother and young child. I asked to take their picture and she nodded and made no expression; that made the picture perfect.


2296Do you have any questions or comments for Kira?  She’d love to hear from you!  Please start or add to the conversation in the comments below.  

Kira Koehler currently finishing up her 8th grade year at Eyer Middle School in Macungie, PA. She is addicted to field hockey.  Kira also enjoys soccer, tennis, skiing, and scuba diving–she got certified at age 10; it was her birthday present that year.  (How awesome is that?) She really likes to travel and feels very fortunate and thankful to have spent time in SE Asia.  

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