Travel Photography

Tips for Photographers on Respecting Culture

One of the best things about traveling to different countries is experiencing the cultural changes and characteristics of a nation.

One of the best things about traveling to different countries is experiencing the cultural changes and characteristics of a nation. Capturing people and places in landscape and portrait photography is a wonderful way of showing the country as it is but there are several cultural issues to think about when photographing people and sometimes places. Here are some tips on how to get the culture issues right.

Always Ask and Respect a No

From a souk to a local wedding the things that a photographer can snap make fantastic photos back home or even to place online. In some cultures, women do not like to be photographed as they consider it bad luck. This is especially relevant with Islamic women and some tribes. Increasingly this is becoming more common in Western cultures as people do not want to be featured on the internet. It is courteous to ask permission and if someone says no, then respect their wishes. Be especially careful when taking photos of children as parents are very sensitive to issues around security and safety. There are ways of taking photos discretely and getting people to stay in the picture. An example is to shoot from a roof terrace or upper window. Getting a good vantage point like this is especially useful when dealing with crowds and at festivals. Another way is to blend into a scene by observing things for a while and then taking a photo without pointing directly at people. This way you are less likely to attract attention when photographing. Always be aware of your surroundings when shooting in this way as it just takes a moment for someone to find it unacceptable and you can face problems.

Be Aware of Sensitive Sites

In some countries, there are certain places where photography is not allowed. These include border posts, military installations, and some government buildings. Even airports and railway stations can arouse suspicion when a foreigner is seen taking pictures and arrests have been known to happen. If in doubt, don’t take the shot as it can get you into more trouble than you imagine. When a religious service is taking place it is generally not acceptable to take photographs and is likely to cause offense. It is also important to be very aware of the sensitivities in photographing refugees as it can place people and their families in danger, especially if photographs are displayed online.

Positive Ways to Engage and Get the shot

Getting photographs of people can be a challenge when respecting cultures. Some of the ways of getting around this in a positive way is to buy something from a stall or shop and ask to take a photo. Another is to smile and also to spend time with the people instead of pointing a camera. This breaks down a lot of barriers and shows you are interested in what they do and not just there to take photos. After someone has performed a service for you is a great time to get them to pose for a photo such as rickshaw drivers and salesmen. Always say thank you as a basic courtesy.

Capturing the faces and images of a new culture is a wonderful way to use photography but taking time to consider the cultural issues around it is very important and can reap rewards if done in a sensitive way.

About the author

Will Moneymaker

Will has been creating photographs and exploring his surroundings through his lens since 2000. Follow along as he shares his thoughts and adventures in photography.