Responsible Photography

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Let’s face it, we all take cameras on our vacations. Even if you don’t bring an actual camera, your phone or iPad will do the trick these days, often times with better clarity than many cameras on the market. And although photography isn’t one of those things where you’re necessarily going to be doing any harm, Paul Miles (professional photographer and sustainable tourism specialist, www.paulmiles.co.uk) offers the following advice:

  • If possible, always ask before taking pictures of people and/or their property, whether it’s a small market stall or at home.

  • If there is time, build up a rapport with someone first before asking to take a picture – chat about their lives, tell them your name, ask theirs, say where you’re from, and buy something from their market stall.

  • Don’t flash camera equipment about. Keep it in an ordinary-looking bag until you need it. As well as being more secure, it may mean that people don’t just see you as another tourist on the prowl for pictures.

  • When travelling in poorer countries, where few people have cameras, giving someone an instant picture, such as a Polaroid, is a treasured present and a much better ‘thank you’ for being in a photograph than money. You’ll suddenly find that everyone wants their picture taken.

  • If people do ask for payment for a picture, fair enough. Negotiate the rate and be clear about whether that fee is per photo.

  • Be aware of gender differences. In many cultures you will find it easier to photograph people of the same sex as you.

  • When photographing children, ask for parent/guardian consent first if possible, and also ask the children themselves.

  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you say you will send copies of the pictures, do so (otherwise give a Polaroid, or at least show them the screen on a digital camera).

  • Show some trust, sharing and fun. Let the people you photograph use your camera to take a picture of you and/or each other.

  • Digital photography is more environmentally benign than film, with all its chemical processes, especially if you take lots of pictures.

  • If you take pictures professionally, remember to ask people to sign a model-release form (an agreement that they don’t mind their picture being used commercially) if possible. If there are language or literacy difficulties, this may not be feasible. Presenting a form for someone to sign is intimidating if you cannot explain it clearly.

  • Try travelling without a camera sometimes. You may find you enjoy your travels even more. There’ll be less to carry, less to worry about and more chances for equal interaction. You won’t forget it all. Buy postcards, make a scrapbook of tickets, keep a journal, and make friends and memories.