Read this before taking photos of strangers while traveling
By Aimee Heckel
National Geographic recently published a great article about taking photos of people while you’re traveling.
It got us thinking back on some of our trips around the world, especially to remote Third World countries without access to much technology.
Take one small village in Haiti, called Petit trou de Nippes. It wasn’t until after we had taken multiple photos of one young child that we realized that child expected something more. Not money. Not gifts. But that child looked into our camera and thought she was looking into her future. Like the photo guaranteed that we would support her and help change her life.
Perhaps we could find a sponsor back home. But without explaining to her our motives and plan, we had inadvertently given her false hope.
Other Haitians tucked deeper into the forest thought if we took their photo, we were stealing their souls. In the bigger cities, the camera infuriated some buskers.
We quickly learned to be more careful when shooting photos of people around the world. Here are three important lessons to keep in mind:
1. Ask permission. Especially if you want to use the photo for publication or sales. If you don’t speak the local language, find a translator to help you.
If you want to take a photo of a child, make an effort to reach out to a parent or guardian.
Not only is it disrespectful to point and shoot without asking, it can be dangerous. It is illegal to shoot photos of military personnel in some countries, and some government regions are off limits, too. Plus, if you whip out a large, black camera and bring it to your face, an unsuspecting stranger may mistake it for a gun. Just be polite and transparent with your motives.
2. Know the culture. Before you arrive, research the people and read other travelers’ reviews of their interactions. For example, the voodoo priestess in Haiti had spiritual beliefs about photography that needed to be respected. Know your subject, so you can honor your subject.
3. Do not bribe or pay people for photos. This can set up an uncomfortable precedent for future photos — and future photographers. It can spark jealousy among villagers, too. You may think you are being kind and generous by handing over a few bucks for a photo, but you don’t see the ripple effect of what happens after you leave; you may be creating new problems.
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