Photo Etiquette While Traveling – 7 Helpful Tips

Did you know you can easily offend while taking pictures?

You’re on vacation, out traversing some exotic land; it’s hard to resist capturing practically every waking moment. You’re soaking up the culture, engrossed in the sights and sounds. However, not everything in a foreign land is subject to photography and you’re better off erring on the side of caution. We don’t want to send out any unnecessary invitations to trouble, now do we?

To a lot of us, taking photos while traveling is among the few souvenirs we get to bring home. While out on our little photography spree, we are often more daring than home and tend to lose ourselves in the moment. It’s easy to get carried away, however, there is such a thing as photography etiquette while you’re out traveling, having the time of your life in a foreign land.

Whenever in doubt, take heed from the golden rule of photography: never assume. Make it a habit to ask before shooting. Understandably, this isn’t going to be possible all the time, but you can try! These tips will no doubt prove to be useful and could help you steer clear of trouble.

1. Always Good to Ask

Don’t think you can take no for an answer? Perhaps you’re under the impression that it may be embarrassing or confidence breaking to ask in a foreign language. It’s common etiquette to ask for permission before taking people’s photos. The best way is to queue with your camera or eyes to indicate you’re interested in taking a photo. This usually gets a positive response. You’d either get a nod or shaking of the head to signal a yes or a no. This should suffice, no need to have a translator walking around with you.

2. Take Your Time and Get to Know Them

Asking for permission to take photographs of foreigners often presents a good opportunity to strike up fun and interesting conversations. Take your time – get that angle just right. Let them know they’re in the frame, rather than rushing it and pretending to take a shot of something behind them. That’s just wrong! It would serve as a nice souvenir to bring back photos where you know the story behind the photo. Getting to know your subject always makes the experience more memorable.

3. Let Them See Your Handiwork

Wouldn’t you like to see a photo of yourself somebody just took? Photographing kids and showing them the outcome of the photos can be a fun activity for all. Kids just love being kids and they are all too happy to strike whacky poses in front of a camera. You know shortly after a snap, a cute thunder of screams of excitement and laughter is going to break out. The more joy, the more there is to share! The giving doesn’t have to end here; if you happen to have a Polaroid, give away some copies. Now that’s the gift of sharing!

4. Be a Little Sensitive

Being sensitive to people’s privacy, religion and cultural customs are all part of having good human qualities. Would you want anyone being insensitive towards your beliefs, customs or privacy? You’re certainly not out in a human zoo, and snapping away photos in certain places or situations is simply not appropriate – taking snaps of local living conditions, religious processions or practices, funerals, or snapping away when you come into contact with people suffering from some ailment/disease or otherwise injured.

5. Rules Are for All

No matter how tourist-friendly the place seems, always keep your eyes peeled for signs prohibiting photography. Typically, cultural places or sanctuaries, churches and museums will prohibit all kinds of flash photography. You may however come across places that allow photos as long as you avoid using the flash. Always ask an employee or nearby local when in doubt.

6. No Need to be a Pest!

There’s no need to interfere with people who are going about their daily routines. You don’t have to be a nuisance or generally disruptive, which is exactly how they’re going to see you as you snap away without giving a second thought. Again, whenever in doubt, simply reverse roles and think about how you’d feel in a similar situation. Besides, by not respecting their space, you’re just inviting a not so positive experience overall – unpleasant facial expressions or awkward moments, as a result of rushed photographs. You get the idea.

7. Get it done with

You might want to have your camera “locked and loaded” if you’re taking pictures in popular or busy tourist spots. You don’t want to block the sidewalk as you fiddle with the camera settings, trying to take photos in a hurry. Let’s be honest here: it would just be plain embarrassing as people glare at you while you fumble for the ideal set of circumstances.

These general guidelines aren’t meant to discourage you from travel photography. Just keep in mind that people’s personal space is important, no matter where you are. In most situations, all it takes is extending a little common courtesy by asking.