A couple months ago when I was in Myanmar, a reader messaged me asking if I’d do a post on how I determine when is appropriate to take photos when I’m in other cultures around the world. The request was a great one because while I’ve talked about being respectful in other cultures before, I’ve never really broached this particular subject here on Land of Marvels, specifically when it comes to taking photos within other cultures. I’m sharing today my tips for taking photos within other cultures and how I navigate this travel topic.
Taking photos when we travel is one of those things that we’ve all just come to accept. And whether you’re setting up a beautiful photo with your DSLR camera or just capturing something quick on your iPhone, taking photos while traveling within other cultures is an incredible way to capture what you’re seeing and to look back on those memories later. Everyone around us all the time is taking photos and usually we don’t even notice. But sometimes, certain cultures around the world aren’t as used to or accepting of tourists taking photos. It’s then that we must take a look at how we photograph certain places and be respectful of local customs. Here are my best 5 tips for taking photos within other cultures and how I go about creating photographs that help me remember a place while still being respectful.
Be a respectful traveler in general.
I think the first tip I would say is to always be respectful of another culture in general. Know the local customs and rules, don’t be overly loud or make yourself stand out. You’re going to get more out of a trip if you blend in a little more to the local atmosphere and the same goes when taking photos. If you’re loud and obnoxious and everyone is looking at you, you’ll stand out more when taking photos. Where if you’re quiet and blending in to the locals a little more and are snapping a photo respectfully, no one will give you a second glance. Just be respectful in general of local cultures and it will make your whole trip easier.
Know when it’s ok and when it’s not.
It’s also important to be aware of when it’s ok to take a photo and when it’s really not. For example, when would you be ok with photos taken of you? Know the situation you’re in and reverse it… would it be ok if I were at home in this situation and a tourist was taking a photo of me? Certain things should always be off limits and if it feels awkward or uncomfortable in whatever situation you’re in trying to take a photo, you probably shouldn’t be.
Be quiet about it and stay under the radar.
Similar to my first point, when you blend in as a tourist, you have more freedom when traveling. If you stay a little more under the radar, no one is going to care if you’re taking a quiet picture here and there. If you’re standing out, all eyes will be on you and it makes it more difficult. I generally believe that blending in while traveling allows me to experience a place deeper but also to help me fully grasp what’s going on around me if I’m quiet and observe. Same goes for great photos – try to be quiet, observe what’s going on around you and then you’ll be allowed the freedom to take any photo you like.
Don’t take photos directly of people and keep your distance.
Nick is a great portrait photographer and when we travel, he does occasionally take a photo of a person, however we try to always take these types of photos from a distance. No one wants a camera shoved in their face so if you want photos of locals or people in general, try to get those shots from farther away and keep your distance. You’ll still get a nice shot without being disrespectful.
If using your iPhone, turn it to silent mode so the photo snap doesn’t make a sound.
This is something I always do and it has served me well over the years. I take most of my own photos on my iPhone and by silencing your phone, it allows you take a ton of pictures without anyone even knowing that’s what you’re doing. I’ve walked all over cities and taken photos as I go quickly on my phone and with no sound, no one even knows that’s what I’m doing. It allows you the freedom to move through a place and get some nice shots without anyone around you being the wiser.