Every culture has its own idea of personal space, the invisible boundary between me and you. Infringing on that personal space can make some-one very uncomfortable. In some areas you might be welcomed into someone's home with open arms, invited to dinner, and offered a place to sleep. In other locales you may find people hesitant to even talk to you. Most good guidebooks will talk about personal space, and give you a heads-up about what issues and behaviors are taboo.
Figure 4.6. Try using a telephoto lens to take a close-up shot without making the subject uncomfortable. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
Always, always, always ask permission before photographing a person. Don't worry if you don't speak the language. Simply point to your camera, then point at the person and look for the reaction. If there's a smile and nod, you're good to go; if there's a frown or a negative head shake, or hand waving, don't even think of taking the picture. Put your camera down and nod your head in a "thank you" gesture to acknowledge that you respect personal space.
Figure 4.7. On a trip to Costa Rica, Reed Hoffmann's group stopped at a shop with beautiful carvings out front. "We asked to meet the carver," Hoffman said, "and got a complete tour of the workshop. We had a great experience, made some nice photos, and bought some fine carvings to go with our photos." (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
Different people have different ideas about personal space and privacy. This is influenced by cultural norms, but there are always people out there who don't like to be approached by strangers, or who are so gregarious they seek out new personal experiences. The extroverted people of the world love to be photographed, but the introverts often have more interesting stories. Spending time talking to people, without your camera involved, will often help make them more receptive to being photographed.