Being a green traveler means more than just taking public transportation, sleeping in an eco-hotel, respecting one’s surroundings, and using a reusable water bottle. It also means being respectful and responsible when taking pictures. Every traveler who takes photos and every photographer who travels needs to be sensitive to the local culture. Learn to take great travel photos with these tips to take culturally sensitive photos as well. It is essential to be mindful of the local culture, customs, and etiquette. Here’s how to do it! Has a stranger ever taken your picture? If so, how did it feel? Did you turn around to see if there was someone or something interesting behind you that that person was photographing? How did you feel when you realized you were the subject? It is a weird feeling to be photographed without your consent or knowledge. Be mindful of this feeling always.
Take Culturally Sensitive Photos Each & Every Time
1. Understand the cultural context. — Before taking pictures, it is worth your time and is especially easy with the internet, to learn in advance about the local culture including religion and customs.
Check for laws or policies prohibiting photos. — For instance, churches, temples, mosques, and museums may prohibit photography. Also be conscious in high-security buildings and structures, including military bases, which might also ban photography. It is forbidden to take pictures while through Customs in an airport. When we visited a Greek Orthodox monastery, we learned from their website in advance that we could take pictures of the grounds and churches but not of the monks.
photo credit: David Boyle in DC
3. Get permission. — You may want to get permission before taking someone’s photo. Digital Photography School has a great post about asking permission to photograph people. Two key points from that post are:
- Ask permission of someone if they are the main focus of the photo.
- Asking doesn’t have to be verbal. It can be a smile and a gesture that indicates you are asking, with them smiling or nodding in response.
4. If the person says no, respect that. — If anyone says they don’t want their picture taken, respect their request. Go somewhere else for a photo opportunity.
5. Watch body language. — A person doesn’t have to say “no” to mean they don’t want their photo taken. If their body language indicates they are uncomfortable, leave.
6. Be mindful of children. — Shots of children tend to really capture a scene. However, be careful when taking kids’ photos. If they are the main subject of the photo ask the parent’s or guardian’s permission.
7. Consider the implications of the photo for the person or site pictured. — This is so very important when you are trying to take culturally sensitive photos. Could the person in the picture be subject to violence or political repercussions because of the photo? If so, you should not take his or her picture.
Common sense always dictates whether or not you should even think to take a picture. If it seems appropriate, ask, and be ready for a “no,” which you must abide by. In the meantime, capture the sights and scenes, and locals as best and respectfully as you can. Before leaving from our vacation, we do try to remember to have taken one excellent, frame-worthy shot, as one of our sustainable souvenirs. Just remember to always take culturally sensitive photos with these tips.