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Responsible travel photography tips

travel photography tips

A dominant impulse on encountering beauty is the desire to hold on to it: to possess it and give it weight in our lives. There is an urge to say, ‘I was here, I saw this and it matters to me…taking photographs can assuage the itch for possession.” – Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel.

This idea of photography as a possession is an interesting philosophical debate, and there is no doubt that our attachment to phones, photo sharing and the Insta idyll has created a need to stop and shoot everywhere we go. However, if you need a reason to keep your phone in your pocket, it’s worth remembering the language around photography. It’s actually quite aggressive and invasive, something that goes against the ethos of responsible travel. We capture a woman selling fish at the market; we shoot some cool kids dancing on a boulevard; we seek out powerful shots, we take, we expose, and so on. So, with this in mind, we are sharing a few of our top travel photography tips with a view to supporting a travel ethos where we create visuals with values. 

Travel photography tips
Don’t just barge in, buy something first.

Ask permission to photograph 

It’s simply unacceptable to stick a camera in anyone’s face and take a photo without asking. We wouldn’t want anyone to do it to us, because it feels invasive and unethical. Yet, it’s amazing how many people think it’s fine to just take photos with wild abandon, even of children. Taking photographs from a distance doesn’t make it any better, especially if the people are going to be identifiable. 

Travel photography tips

Don’t steal moments to create your own #moments.

Take your time

We’ve all been guilty of holding our camera up and asking ‘photo?’ without giving people the chance to respond. It’s best to just take your time, introduce yourself to people, gain their trust and they yours. You will also have a more fulfilling cultural exchange and get a much better photo as a result. 

Child protection 

It’s as simple as this – would you want anyone to come into the playground, or your child’s football club and take photos of him or her, and then just take off, not knowing where the photos are going to reappear? Please protect children’s human rights and do the right thing, by not photographing any children if you don’t know them and haven’t asked their parents’ or carers’ permission. If you ask the children themselves, they may feel under pressure to agree, to respect their elders and all that. It’s best to really just let children be children, and let them be. 

Children and young people have the same general human rights as adults and also specific rights that recognize their special needs. Children are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity. They are human beings and are the subject of their own rights.” – Convention on the Rights of a Child – UNICEF

The western eye

This issue of photographing people while on holiday also raises the issue of poverty porn and viewing situations and people through the western lens. Sadly, many of us are guilty of creating a ‘them and us’ situation on our travels, especially in the Majority World. Many of us risk promoting ‘white saviourism’, i.e. where white tourists are posing with people of colour from local communities, in a way that is so much more self-serving than sustainable. This Code of Ethics takes you deeper into this complex issue. 

Check your western lens. It may be blurry.

Don’t offer money 

Taking someone’s photo shouldn’t be a transactional process. People living in a place aren’t performers, or consumables. They are our people and they are our hosts. It’s much better to create a transaction by buying products from their stalls, for example, chatting with them and having a proper interaction about their work and stories, before asking them if they would be happy to be photographed. If you really enjoy portraiture photography, you can always travel with a mini printer (Polaroid does a very cool tiny one that works on Bluetooth) and share a print when you’re done. 

Responsible wildlife photography 

Keen wildlife photographers will already be aware of good practices as most of them are passionate about protecting and respecting wildlife. However, there are a few basics to adhere to, not only to protect wildlife but also yourself. Never go near wildlife in order to get the perfect shot, especially if they have young ones with them and will do anything to protect them if they feel threatened. Don’t tempt any wild animal with food in order to encourage it to come closer and don’t use flash. Also, never pose with wild animals that are being kept in captivity to be used purely for photographic purposes, such as snakes, monkeys or elephants. 

Travel photography tips
Too close for comfort.

The philosophy of photography opens up so many avenues of thought, just as our travels do as a whole. Ultimately, as proponents of slow and sustainable travel, we believe that communication can so often be better than cameras, and that you can gain so many more memories by just enjoying moments with people rather than capturing them. For more responsible tourism thoughts, you may enjoy our blog Tips on walking responsibly as well as our Responsible Tourism Policies.