The Everyday Genius of Your Artist’s Voice: Part 3, Appearance

Welcome to episode 3 in my 8-part series that I’m calling: “The Everyday Genius of Your Artist’s Voice”. Today, we talk Appearance. Why? Well, two reasons:

  1. It’s an easy leap in bringing our larger “artistic voice” conversation into a practical application (which is where we’re headed with in this series) and
  2. IMO, it isn’t given its due consideration amongst photographers when traveling, especially if you want to have a full, fun immersion experience that doesn’t involve you sticking out like a sore thumb.

While many people think of the whole wardrobe/appearance thing as either a vexing necessity, pure vanity, or even a nuisance – I see it as an opportunity to pay attention to detail; something highly important for any artist. Even more, it’s something I’ve found that affects my mood. Successfully choosing the color, style, fit and functionality that aligns with who I am – and even how I want to feel, the vibe I want to project in order to do my job, means one less roadblock to overcome. Especially when traveling!

Fewer distractions mean more bandwidth is available to focus on your vision, art and photography. You might find yourself even feeling more confident in your own skin. And who doesn’t love THAT feeling? So that’s the spirit with which I broach this topic. It’s yet another way to show up for yourself – something we as artists, must continue finding ways to do.

From the more world-oriented point of view… whether you like it or not, you do represent your country and the sport of photography when you travel abroad. Opinions are formed in a fraction of a second, just on the basis of your appearance and behavior.

What does her demeanor/appearance say to you? Whatever it is, you just formed that opinion at a mere glance. And that’s my point. 

When carrying camera gear around a foreign county, I’d rather appear confident and like part of the local landscape, rather than like a clueless tourist wandering around with pricey equipment taking pictures of everything like I’m at a zoo. Every local hates that… and it’s so easy to avoid! What follows is a conversation-starter. There’s an infinite number of variations, but here are a few solid guidelines and some food for thought to get you going.

As always, you can simply enjoy the audio for this one – and/or read it down below. I’ve also got an “Expand Your Mind” section at the bottom of this post, with links for more reading and some video on this topic. I even threw in some images as examples… and you’ll find more of those in the links I included below.

Let’s get started!


Hey, it’s Karen Hutton and welcome to “The Everyday Genius of Your Artist’s Voice” part 3 of an 8-part series: Appearance.

Today we’re talking about the voice of your personal gear and clothing: Tips on how to adapt when traveling.

I bet you thought I would ONLY talk inner stuff in this series, didn’t you? I mean, when was I going to talk about CLOTHES!!?? I know, I know. I dangled that carrot for a looong time. heh.

I call this episode “the voice of your personal gear and clothing” because everyone can relate to personal gear and clothing. And I want to start weaving this artistic voice conversation into real world choices. Not JUST the ones related to photography itself. To that end, I’m going to share my Go To thoughts on appearance when photo-traveling. It comes up every time I plan a trip, which I am right now – for my September photo retreat in France.
Personally, I love to travel – and of course photograph – and want to feel comfortable doing it. For me, that means three things:

  1. That I dress comfortably, ready to photograph – and in a style that feels like Me.
  2. That my dress code blends in with local culture and style.
  3. That my clothing does not encourage pickpockets. This is a good moment to say that to date, I’ve never been pickpocketed. I attribute that to a few simple practices… which start with my personal gear and appearance.

So let’s talk clothes. Guys… don’t let your eyes glaze over. This is for you too. How you look speaks volumes about who you are, where you’re from, and – when it comes to thieves and pickpockets – how juicy of a target you’ll be.
For this, I’m narrowing the focus to Europe in general – and applying it to France in particular. I do my “The Artist’s Voice” photo retreats in the South of France. Now, French people tend to dress a little nicer there than here in the U.S. as a rule. Even in the south of France, which is more casual than Paris as a rule – people do put themselves together before heading out into public.

From all my years coaching TV news broadcaster and presenters, I know just how quickly opinions are formed about you just from the way you look and sound. Recent research is saying the initial judgment happens in 1/10th second… which even if it’s wrong and the statistic is more like a few seconds… the bottom line is that if you want some say in how your travel experience unfolds, you’ll want to think about how you present yourself. Especially in Europe, where these things are taken more seriously.

While I’m not a fashion expert, nor your mother, I can give you a sensible few tips to get you started. In case you DON’T want your appearance to shriek: “I’m a tourist!!” then consider ditching the following:

        For the guys:
  • Baseball cap
  • Athletic gear in general
  • Logo t-shirts, shirts emblazoned with sports teams names, anything with U.S. brand names prominently displayed (Gap, American Eagle, Abercrombie, etc)
  • T-shirts (unless super styley), hoodie sweat shirts
  • Cargo pants
  • White tennis shoes, flip flops

        INSTEAD, perhaps:

  • Button down shirts with a collar
  • Long pants… lightweight, breathable fabric if it’s going to be hot, something thicker but still breathable if it’s cooler.
  • Leather shoes or at least NOT white tennis or gym shoes.
  • Scarf (if it’s cold) & hat, especially if it’s going to be hot.

Here’s a short video that makes it visual and simple!

And here are couple of images for inspiration. Taken in Valbonne, France… pretty typical South of France hipster-y (suitable for photography) attire…

         For the gals, consider leaving behind…
  • Flashy jewelry
  • White tennis shoes/sneakers (lace up is bad – forget about Velcro!), crocs, birkenstocks, flip flops, open-toed shoes
  • Underwear as outer wear (pajama bottoms, bra tops, etc.)
  • Gym wear, message t-shirts
  • Hiking gear when traveling in a city
  • Random travel sidebar: if you’re headed to the Middle East: no miniskirts, tank tops, bra tops, short-sleeved shirts, shorts, capri pants. Carry a shawl to cover your head when you visit religious monuments.

         INSTEAD, perhaps:

  • Blouses or buttoned shirts. (T-shirts if they are cut with style. If you love ‘em, Get a couple in France!)
  • Shoes that are comfy and supportive enough for a full day of walking with your camera gear. Keen and other outdoor brands make some really great urban footwear these days that are functional, cute and make for walkin’.
  • Simple or no jewelry
  • Nicely fitting jeans or neutral-colored pants with some give, look great on you and hold their shape.
  • Scarf & hat (pick them up locally for that authentic touch)

Even in super hot weather, European women put themselves together. Just an example of what you might see when glancing surreptitiously at what ladies are wearing at a local market. Here: at  the Valbone Friday Market.  

A couple of solid casual example from Paris, France. Different styles, perfectly European. Either variety would work for photography too. 

        considerations for both:
  • Ditch clothing or bags printed with swear words, religious or military symbols on them, also national flags, words or symbols in a language you can’t translate.
  • Religious jewelry – if you must wear, then tuck it inside your shirt.
  • Be aware that colors mean different things in different cultures, so research before you go.
  • Also be aware that certain colors attract biting insects in parts of the world – so again, research before you go.
  • Alternatives to a big camera backpack.

A great example from Italian friends of mine… his and hers local-style. He’s a photographer (the awesome Ugo Cei), she’s his wife and chief supporter. 😀

A couple of reasons to consider this approach:

  1. Safety. Pickpockets and thieving types focus on tourists. They’re much easier marks than locals. How do they pick a target? They use their eyes and ears. Blend in with the locals and their beady little peepers are way less likely to linger longingly on you.
  2. Locals experience: I find locals in France are very friendly, if you’ve made an effort. Your appearance, voice, manners, a few words and phrases spoken in their language go a long way toward them opening their hearts to you.

General tip:if you want to blend in and seem a bit like a local, then check out local dress code and style before you go. Maybe pick up a few items locally, like scarves, hats, even a couple of simple outfits.

While you’re out and about, check out what people are wearing in casual environments, as well as casual shop window. Here, people enjoying dinner at an outdoor restaurant in Valbonne offer lots of ideas… 

camera bags

Ideally, go minimal. You don’t need 10 lenses to choose from. I exaggerate, but you get my drift. Truthfully, Having tons of lens options isn’t always the best thing. In fact, sometimes it’s a fatal distraction and you miss the shot while you’re fussing about with your gear. Like I said, all by themselves, cameras draw attention. ESPECIALLY if you hang a big old DSLR on a strap around your neck! Doing that is bad for the neck – and screams TOURIST besides. Personally, I use a lower profile mirrorless camera (Fujifilm) and keep it out of sight in my smaller camera bag when I’m not using it.

My everyday little camera bag isn’t fancy, either. It’s a bit travelworn, is dark, unmarked and not easy to get into. That said, I do have a backpack for certain occasions when I simply have to carry one to do my job. When I do have to carry a backpack in a city, I use my Peak Design 20L, since it has a design and form factor that isn’t a neon sign flashing “EXPENSIVE CAMERA GEAR INSIDE”… and could contain other stuff besides camera gear. It’s pretty low profile for a backpack and physically stays with me if I have to move fast.


The other first impression. As a 25-year voice coach and since we’re on the topic of “artistic voice”… I might as well mention this. The sound of your voice speaks volumes too! For instance, American voices can sound, harsh and loud. I’ve flinched at the honking sound in several countries around the world over the years… and even around the U.S. You can be dressed for success – yet be pegged as “seriously not from here” before anyone every LOOKS at you, just from the sound of your voice. I mentioned that Europeans tend to be a bit more reserved, so consider speaking in quieter tones, don’t yell, swear alot, complain out loud or draw undo attention to yourself with your vocie. It’ll go far toward making new friends and local supporters. You want those when you’re traveling far from home!


You don’t need to be fluent, but you’ll get serious brownie points if you can say a few words and phrases in the local language. It’s easy to make an effort: before you travel, sign up at or one of the language-learning sites. The other popular one is Duolingo is free, Babbel has a subscription fee. Both have great features, so it really boils down to how you like to learn. If online learning doesn’t float your boat, you could hire a private tutor to work with you via Skype. Those are just a few simple suggestions. Most French people I’ve met learned at least a bit of English in school. But they’re usually shy about it and won’t pull it out for you first thing. If you talk take your time, don’t rush, use some local words and phrases… the next thing you know, you’ll be communicating!

Like this conversation? Well, lemme hear your thoughts, questions, feedback and experiences in the comments below.
Till next time… photograph with soul!

expand your mind, learn more!

Travel Blogs:
SmarterTravel: How Not To Look Like a Tourist While Traveling:
The Savvy Backpacker blogHow to Dress & Avoid Looking Like an American in Europe (has some helpful visuals)
Conde Nast Traveler: How To Look Like a Local In Any City blog: How To Travel Safely and Not Look Like a Tourist
GQ: How to Not Look Like a Tourist on Your Next Vacation How To Avoid Looking Like a Tourist

General Tip: Google: “How to not look like a tourist in…” fill in with the destination(s) of your choice.

Sonia’s Travels Youtube Channel She’s a cute, smart, fun hipster – and I think French is her native language. Maybe not all the tips will apply to you… but her videos are only a couple of minutes each and I picked up 5 good tips in as many vids when I was looking around for more resources to share here. She gets my vote!


Just catching up? Here are ALL of the episodes in this series:

Episode 1: Introduction
Episode 2: Preparation
Episode 3: Appearance
Episode 4: Cameras & Gear
Episode 5: Art & Business
Episode 6: Art & Business
Episode 7: Post-Processing
Episode 8: Storytelling

Extra: Q&A

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