Smiling Eyes: Beautiful photo series that captures the friendly spirit of the world

A late starter to travel after receiving his first passport stamp at the ripe age of 26, Manchester-based photographer Mike Hawkins has been making up for lost time ever since, visiting six continents and putting his feet to work trekking from Kilimanjaro to Everest and Patagonia.

In his beautiful series Smiling Eyes, Mike shows us how a smile and a bumbling attempt to speak the local language allows him to make friends, and tries to capture their spirit and zest for life through his lens.

Mike explains: "I’ve always been fascinated by photography. As I began dreaming and plotting my first escape abroad, I began browsing all the Lonely Planet guidebooks. And just like that, stuck in suburbia, I was hooked – by their pictures that evoked all the feeling and wonder of exotic lands and cultures.

"Now, I’ve as big a weakness for stunning landscapes and architecture shots as anyone – but my mind always remembered the portraits. Two people, who could connect over a shared moment across cultures – helping me tackle local street food (especially fried giant grasshoppers – eat the body but never, ever the head) to steering me to the right path with a grin and a wave as I got a bit lost off the beaten track.

"Now, I’ve become a bonafide photography geek – bringing my dSLR everywhere I go. With digital photography, snapping a picture can now be a shared experience, as both photographer and subject can instantly share the results. And I always email or print and mail copies to them as soon as I can."

These ‘Smiling Eyes’ are some of Mike's favourite travel portraits. He adds: "I’m hoping they might inspire other potential travellers to go beyond their comfort zone… to get up, grab their passports, and just go!"

Via direct submission | All images courtesy of Mike Hawkins