Clothes – What Story They Tell In Your Travel Photos?

clothes, travel story

Paris Copyright Carla Coulson

I had a whirlwind trip to Italy, three days in Tuscany, a hair-raising ride to Rome and 24 hours in Naples.

Five whole days to think about photography and how many elements there are that go into telling a story with your photos. There are so many ways to tell a story using light, location, emotion, props, movement, body language and every detail in a photo adds to that story.

Today I want to talk about the importance of one of those details – clothes.

As photographers we are the directors!

They say ‘clothes don’t make the man’ but they certainly add authenticity and depth to our photographic story. Clothing tells a story of country, culture, age, attitude, job, era, social standing, structure, freedom and hundreds of other stories.

Let’s take the shot above that was taken on the streets of Paris during a music festival. Ask yourself what would their clothes tell you if you couldn’t see their faces? Are they young or old, conservative or not, what decade is it and what do the clothes bring to the photo? If they were wearing suits and ties (you know what I mean) what different story would be told?

Carla Coulson travel photography ritz paris, clothes, travel story

 The Ritz Paris Copyright Carla Coulson

Give me a uniform and I go weak at my photographer’s knees.

I love a uniform because they speak volumes and I mean volumes in a photo. In the above photo in Paris that uniform amongst the background screams Europe, elegance and The Ritz.

If the lady was wearing a tracksuit or a pair of jeans the shot and the story this photo tells would be totally different. Think about all  the uniforms of doctors, policemen, fisherman, brass-band members, Parisian waiters and priests, they immediately tell us what they do, where they may come from and the person viewing the photo gets an immediate sense of place and job.

Carla Coulson portrait travel photography, clothes, travel story

 Arm Wrestle Rawlinna Copyright Carla Coulson

But what about clothes that aren’t uniforms? My great friend calls the way people put themselves together as ‘R P STYLING’ (real people styling). It is incredible when you start to look at what people wear and how many extra clues you get into their lives and story from their hats, gloves, aprons, shirts and ‘stubby holders’.

Take the cowboys above arm wrestling at a rodeo in Australia. Whilst framing this shot I was doing my best to ‘gather stories’. There was a story in the banners in the background, a story in the logo on the shirt (that says so much), a story in the arms meeting and the hats instantly say cowboy. If they weren’t wearing those hats we would have less of a sense of who they are and what they were doing.

Carla Coulson travel photography workshop

 Shay Stafford at Le Lido de Paris Copyright Carla Coulson

I took this photo at Le Lido de Paris, a cabaret in Paris when the dancer Shay Stafford was having her costume repaired. Now I didn’t need to tell you that because from the photo and what everyone is wearing that is clear. The fact that the seamstresses are dressed in street clothes and Shay is dressed in an over the top cabaret outfit show immediately their different roles.

Carla Coulson travel photography clothes

 Paris Gentleman at a protest Copyright Carla Coulson

This photo was taken at a protest in a Paris. I adored what this man had to say (via his signs) but I also adored that his clothes gave his words and his signs respectability. If he was a 20 year old dressed in a tracksuit or had a punk hair-do the way the viewer would process this message would be totally different to this well dressed man standing up for his rights. His clothes say descent, respectable, conservative and community and in my opinion give his words more weight.

Carla Coulson travel photography

Fishmonger Market Sicily Carla Coulson

I nearly did a double twist with a roll when I saw this ‘RP STYLING’. I love styling and this was in pure character for this Sicilian fishmonger I found in a local market. I adored his paper hat and the way his jacket was buttoned to the top and I believe they are as important elements in this photo as his beautiful face and two day stubble. If he was wearing a white t-shirt would the photo have the same impact?

India Copyright Carla Coulson

This is only a small insight into what clothes tell the viewer. It is always the photographers choice to decide who will be in his or her photos and what story you as the photographer want to tell.

The above shot was taken in India.. You can probably guess the rest.

I hope you have enjoyed this reflection on a small part of telling a story in your photos.

“Clothes and manners do not make the man; but, when he is made, they greatly improve his appearance.”  William Penn




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La Contessa
9 years ago

Arriva La Contessa and her men………….will you be able to pick us out in the crowd!Me thinks YES!
A presto bella!

9 years ago

Marvelous, Carla! Your travel series had become an invaluable reference, especially for someone who does not normally photograph people! 🙂

Being more aware of such details is so helpful. Thank you!


Millie Brown
9 years ago

Thank you Carla for more great insight, can’t get enough of these posts xx

Corrina Tough
9 years ago

Great insight Carla, I know my recent trip to France and especially Paris I had those eyes on- I was searching for the elements that make for an interesting story and clothing definitely add something extra! I adore nuns and priests and I was able to capture a small child twirling in front of a cafe on Isle Saint Louis dressed in that oh-so French chic way! xx Corrina

9 years ago

Hi Carla, Just love this post thank you!! Wish I could join you for your travel workshop, we were just in Italy (Sept. 2013) therefore wont be there next year. But do hope to make the next one xxx Hope to see you when you’re in Sydney!!

9 years ago

Beautiful shots and stories!

9 years ago

Clothes can show how you feel, which place you are, what you want to reveal and sometimes they
express their country (unfortunately not so much anymore). An interesting thoughtful posting.

Peggy Braswell
9 years ago

how I adored the quote from william pen + fabulous photos.

9 years ago

Great post. Very insightful article, well written and illustrated.