Stop Clicking Those Pictures. Travel Photography Ethics You Should Know.

On a morning in Luang Prabang, Laos, monks and laymen gathered for the morning alms giving ceremony. As the parties arrived, one photographer stuck his camera in a monk’s face, and another grabbed a layman by the arm to get the perfect frame.

This kind of behavior is extremely disrespectful and inconsiderate. There is certain etiquette to follow when taking photographs during your travel. Here, we discuss some travel photography ethics to ensure that you stay safe and don’t come off as impolite.

Ask for Permission

As per an article published by National Geographic, Japan will issue fines worth Y10000 ($99) to anyone who photographs geishas in Kyoto without their permission.

You wouldn’t like someone sticking their cameras or smartphones on your face, yet that’s what many travelers do.

If you plan on taking pictures during your travels, make sure you ask permission before you do so. Do your best to connect with people and learn about their lives instead of only using them as props for your pictures.

If someone seems uncomfortable or does not give permission, do not photograph them.

Credit and Compensate

On a Reddit thread of what ethical travel photography looks like, a user stated that he wrote down the names of every single person during a travel photography shoot in Ethiopia in 1999. Later on, when he used the photos for commercial purposes, he gave credit to everyone. He also mentioned, however, that getting credit did nothing to change the photographed individual’s life.

Go one step beyond. Give the individuals credit and offer monetary compensation, especially if you are going to use the photos for commercial purposes. Mention the money isn’t a tip you’re giving, but a modeling fee the participants deserve.      

Kids are not Objects

Kids love cameras, however, you should not take advantage of this.

While kids enjoy the attention and crave internet fame when they are young, things could change later. These kids who once wanted to be internet-famous might have a completely different attitude toward posting online as an adult.

The next time you are around kids during travel, be responsible. You wouldn’t want someone to post pictures of your child, so don’t do it to others.     

Don’t Manipulate Situations

Be it photography or life, it’s best enjoyed when it’s not staged. If you are a travel photographer, you should take utmost care to not mold a situation. The best art comes from a place of truth and vulnerability.

Molding a situation prevents the truth from coming out.

Be Mindful of Plants and Wildlife

Something that a lot of travelers do is feed an animal to get a photo.

Because of this, wild animals like wolves, coyotes, and owls begin to depend upon humans for food. The dependency turns them aggressive, and they end up attacking tourists for food.

As per the Yellowstone National Park website, they consider a fed animal a dead animal. The park authority kills any animal habituated to human contact and food.

On roads passing beside a jungle, animals come to the roadside to get food from travelers. The hope of food ends up with the animals getting hit by cars.

Khirai, the Valley of Flowers in West Bengal, India, became a tourist attraction last year. People flocked from around the nation to click pretty photos with the flowers. In February 2020, things took a different turn as a non-governmental organization (NGO) had to clean out 32 bags of plastic waste left by the tourists.

Whenever you take pictures of plants and wildlife, remember they have the right to live, which is a need far greater than getting a perfect photograph.

Respect the Law

Did you know shooting the Eiffel Tower at night is illegal if you plan to use the photos for commercial purposes? The light show at night began in 1985 and is under the copyright law of France. Similarly, different countries have varying rules on what you can and cannot photograph.

In South Korea, a person could press charges against you if you photograph them without their permission, especially if you use the photograph for commercial purposes.

The red-light district of Amsterdam, Netherlands does not allow travelers to take photographs, while the UK forbids any photographs of the crown jewels.

Research the laws of the country you are traveling to. Otherwise, you could end up in legal trouble. 

Don’t Just Take, Give Back

Travel and tourism generated $1.5 trillion dollars in the U.S. economy in 2020. In addition, the industry supported 11 million jobs. 

So, buy from the local businesses, give a tip to the waiter if you can, and when photographing an artwork or handicraft, make sure not to disclose the photos on the internet to avoid copying.

Staying Alive is more important than Going Viral

The Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care published a study entitled “Selfies: A boon or bane.” The study stated that 259 people died while taking selfies during the years 2011 to 2017, worldwide. The causes included falling from heights, drowning, and related to transports such as an oncoming train.

The study further concluded that the 18-23 age group constituted 70% of these deaths, which chalks up to 182 deaths.

Going viral brings millions of followers, but it should not be at the expense of your safety.

Safety is everything on an international trip. While you want to have a great time, it’s even more important that you return home with your health. Be sure to purchase travel medical insurance or travel insurance before any trip abroad. It can help ensure you’re able to receive the treatment you need, without the big resulting bill.

Travel Comes First

Don’t only look through the lens while traveling. Watch how the sky turns red during sunset, eat that food while it’s still hot, and ask your family how much they are enjoying the vacation. Those are the moments you are going to cherish forever. Remember, travel experiences come first.

What to do now

When done correctly, travel photography informs people. Through travel photography, you get to know the daily lives and cultures of people you might never meet. Maintaining these ethics when traveling will satisfy both the photographer and the photographed individual.

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