The ethics behind taking a photo might not be as straightforward as they might seem. Here are seven tips for responsible travel photography.
Travel photography is a touchy subject in today’s world of iPhones and influencers. With an increasing number of stories about tourists scaling the Great Pyramid for a nude photoshoot, celebrities taking selfies at Holocaust memorial sites and hikers putting themselves in danger to capture the perfect shot at the edge of a cliff, now is a good time to review the rules of ethical travel photography.
Below are some tips for how to behave responsibly behind the lens:
1. Follow the Golden Rule
You remember the Golden Rule, right? The idea of treating others how you would want to be treated is a basic principle that can be applied to everything you do including taking photos. If you wouldn’t want someone to take a photo of you without asking your permission, don’t do it to them. And if they say no, respect their decision.
2. Know Your Subject
It never hurts to do some research about the local culture before hitting the road. Some tribes believe that by taking a photograph of them, you are stealing their soul. The Amish think allowing people to capture them on film is a form of pride which goes against one of the basic tenets of their religion. A little awareness goes a long way.
3. Understand the Law
Just as it’s against the law to bring certain things to certain destinations, it’s also illegal to take photos of other people without their consent in some countries. While many courts have ruled that there can no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place, others have found this to be a violation of personal rights. It’s also illegal in many countries to take photos of government property, including buildings, bridges and other structures. Don’t risk being fined or even jailed. No photo is worth that.
4. Read the Room
While it may not be illegal to take photos at places of worship, memorial sites, or in the local bazaar, it’s not always in good form. It’s best to avoid snapping shots during a worship service. Wait until the congregation has cleared out to get one for the ‘gram. And selfies at Holocaust memorial sites? Just don’t do it. Capturing the hand-dyed silks in the souk or taking a picture of that amazing art in a local gallery might seem harmless, but sellers can be suspicious of your intent. They don’t know if you’re just admiring their artistry or planning to copy their creative ideas. If you’re not sure if it’s ok, just ask permission before clicking the shutter.
5. Safety First
Don’t put yourself or others in danger for the perfect shot. Hanging out of a moving train, dangling your feet off the side of a skyscraper or posing for a selfie with a wild animal is just not smart. This kind of risky behavior has resulted in an increasing number of deaths worldwide.
6. Photography in the Wild
Speaking of wild animals—treat them with the same respect you would show humans who you want to photograph. Obviously, you can’t ask their permission to capture them on film, but you can respect their freedom of movement and avoid stressing them out by making unaccustomed noises to attract their attention or startling them with your flash.
7. Nurture Nature
That perfect field of lavender in Provence isn’t going to be perfect for long if Instagrammers trample it just to get a staged photo of themselves in its midst. Your need for “likes” doesn’t give you the right to walk off-trail, trespass on someone’s property or pose with flowers that you’ve picked just for the shot.
All of these rules may seem like a lot to consider before capturing the moment, but common sense goes a long way toward making you a more ethical travel photographer.