Travel Photography Etiquette


[JosT Elias] / [Hemera] / Thinkstock

Taking a photo is one of the best ways to capture a trip and serves as an inexpensive and unique souvenir of some of our best (and worst) travels. Unfortunately some abuse the power of the photographer and use it as an excuse to be inconsiderate of both locals and fellow travelers alike. Here are some tips to help ensure that you get the amazing travel photos you want without annoying anyone in the process.

Ask Permission
Always ask permission before snapping a photo of someone. If you’re planning on taking a plethora of photos while visiting a country, the phrase “May I take your photo?” should absolutely fall under the list of basic phrases you master while traveling around the region. Otherwise there’s always charades. Either way, be sure to ask if it’s alright and familiarize yourself with any superstitions or discomfort people in the region might have about being photographed.

No Means No
Be respectful of local culture and customs. Some Muslim women, for example, are uncomfortable at the prospect of having a stranger photograph them. Other cultures, in the Caribbean for example, believe that a photo may be used to perform black magic. Make sure it’s okay to take photos before busting out your camera. If it’s not okay, accept it and move on. Don’t try to sneak photos and hope nobody will notice. It’s disrespectful, inconsiderate, and a definite violation of photography etiquette.

Offer a Copy
If you don’t have a Polaroid with you or e-mailing them a copy isn’t an option then at least offer to show them the digital version on your camera.

Be Snappy
Don’t obstruct traffic (pedestrian or otherwise) for an unreasonable amount of time. It’s okay to ask people to wait for a moment while you get your shot, but don’t make them wait while you fiddle with your camera settings or try to get the shot from every possible angle. Get your camera prepped before asking everyone to pose, get the shot, and then step out of the way.

Offering Money
There is no hard and fast rule on this one, but it is something to be familiar with and consider before you set off. Many photographers feel that offering money to locals in exchange for photographing them is a bad habit that encourages unsustainable reliance on tourism and travel photography while others feel that if you’re going to be profiting from the photograph, the least you can do is kick down some of the profits. Do some research, ask around, and do what feels right to you.

By Nikki Hodgson