Morals & Ethics of Travel Photography: When Shouldn’t You Take That Photo?

Two boys living in a shanty community outside of Jerusalem

Ever find yourself in a situation where you want to snap a photo, but for some reason, you hesitate?

Perhaps something about the subject or the situation doesn’t feel quite right and after quick consideration, you turn off your camera.

Or perhaps, despite feeling that it’s wrong on some level, you go ahead and take the shot anyway.

Later, you wonder if maybe you shouldn’t have and feel the tiniest bit of regret…or perhaps you don’t look back or give it another thought.

Crimes of Passion exhibition in Bristolphoto © 2009 Heather Cowper | more info (via: Wylio)

 

What would you do in these situations?

Below are several situations in which the ethics of travel photography are questionable, so let’s talk about them and learn from each other.

Please read each of them and think about what you would do. Then let’s talk about it in the Comments section (see note re: privacy in the What Do You Think section).

Take That Photo—Or Not?

Situation #1: A desperate moment that tells a story

You’re passing through a poor area—a shanty town of extreme desperation and squalor. It’s perhaps the ultimate scene of poverty you’ve ever encountered.

Children, desperate and hungry, approach you, begging for a crumb of food or a spare penny. With the shanties in the background, it would make a great shot—one that tells a story of the reality of the political situation or the income disparity in the 3rd world. It’s an important story you think should be told or corroborated.

Is it right for you to do so? Do you reach for your camera and photograph these kids as they run in your direction? If so, do you give them food or money afterward?

 

Two boys living in a shanty community outside of Jerusalem

Situation #2: Photo snapping or soul snatching?

You’re in Chamula, an indigenous town in Mexico known for camera smashing and even jail time for those tourists who get caught taking photos of the people. The equivalent of modern-day Mayans, the people believe that you’re taking a piece of their soul when you take their photo.

You happen to have a special curved lens that allows you to sneak shots without anyone’s knowledge, but promise yourself that you won’t use it. But then, you spot a pregnant woman in traditional clothes holding her baby…

Her eyes are intense…her face is slightly dirty…her hair is disheveled. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime shot, something you’d see in National Geographic. Do you take it?

Chamula, Mexico–a town where cameras get taken and tourists get in trouble if they take people shots


 

Situation #3: Private or public–a fine line

You’re somewhere in the Middle East and you spot a women taking a moment to pray. She looks at peace and in deep connection with her God—and she is unaware of your presence. Also, she’s outside of the mosque–and not in it. Or perhaps she’s in a castle and nowhere near a mosque.

It would make the perfect photo. Do you take it? Do you figure that while it is her private moment in one sense, in another, it’s not since she made it public?

Woman resting or perhaps praying in one of Jordan’s Eastern desert castles

 

Situation #4: Documentation of a crime, tragedy or other breaking news

You’re traveling through a country that’s unstable. You’re hours away from an actual war zone, but as you know, anything can happen anywhere and sometimes, it does.

In this case,  two civilians—a man and his son—have just been shot by two soldiers in the middle of the street. Someone has called for help, but it’s obvious they’re about to die. Meanwhile, the soldiers are in a vehicle whose license plate is visible through your camera’s 300 mm lens. If you take the photo, odds are that no one will notice.

And if you get the shot, you might be able to sell it to a major network and earn some cash, which would allow you to travel longer. You could also run it in your blog, which would result in major traffic spikes. Do you take that photo?

Nuclear War kills kids toophoto © 2009 Takver | more info (via: Wylio)


Does who you are matter?

After considering each of these scenarios for a moment—as a traveler—try to change gears and imagine that you’re an aspiring photojournalist. You haven’t gotten any work yet, either. Would that make a difference?

What do you think?

Are you a traveler, an aspiring photojournalist or an amateur or serious photographer? Whichever category you fall into, what would you do in these situations and why? What situations have you seen or been in? How did you handle them?

And if you’re concerned about anything you’ve done or being criticized for what you believe, feel free to use a pseudonym when you comment. Your identity will not be revealed.

 

Blind beggar in Central America

What Do I Think…and What About These Photos?

As I’m sure you know, the photos in this post are mine (except the one at the top that’s more of a graphic and the one in Situation #4, which I borrowed from a photo website).

Before I explain the circumstances surrounding each shot, I’d like to identify myself as a former newspaper reporter who had once (briefly) fantasized about becoming a photojournalist or documentary maker.

I’m now an ESL professor with students from all over the world, including many of the countries I’ve been to. I think that, on some level, I consider myself an amateur anthropologist. If I were to get a PhD, it would be in Cultural Anthropology. Also, while I’m not an artist (I can’t draw or paint),  I am creative visually and feel that I do OK with that sort of expression through photography.

Here is an explanation of where I took the photos you see in this post, how, why, etc., as well as my general travel photography philosophy.

Photo/Situation #1

Where/When: I was in Israel on a day tour of Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jericho, etc., wrapping up a 40-day trip through the Middle East.  It was my last day before flying home and I was in a car with two South African travel companions; the driver was a Palestinian man who was deaf in one ear.

What/Why: I caught a glimpse of the shanty town and asked the driver to pull over. I was a bit confused as to where we were exactly (Palestinian Territory?). I hadn’t seen anything quite like that scene in the Arab countries I’d just been to. I thought it was important to photograph it, to document it, for a few reasons. First of all, it was so similar to what I’d seen in 3rd world countries; it was the physical manifestation of the disparity between the rich and the poor. Also, the Middle East is controversial and many people don’t really don’t understand what the reality of life is there. I thought I could help others see one small part of it.

What happened: The driver pulled over and just as I got out of the car, the kids came running. They had such intense looks on their faces, I almost felt frightened. At the same time, however, I felt that there was a story to be told through the photos. It all happened in less than a minute and so, I made a split-second decision. I went ahead and took a few photos of the boys (who were, according to our driver, Palestinian Bedouin.). Then, out of nowhere, more kids came running. I took another photo or two and then, it became uncomfortable and chaotic and we left. I vaguely recall giving the kids some food, but I don’t quite remember. That’s how fast/intense it was.

Note: In many other situations, I’ve gotten to know children first before taking photos; then we viewed them together. And they’re almost always joyful moments full of smiles. And that’s true whether in a small town in the Middle East or a congested township in South Africa.

Photo/Situation #2

Where: I was on a day tour of Chamula, a unique town in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Mexico, known for its modern-day Mayans and their special church where healing rituals are held by curanderos/shamans. The town is also known for its strict rules re: photography. They believe that taking photos does take a piece of their soul.

What we were told: We were warned by our tour guide that we should, under no circumstances, take photos of the individual people or small groups. If caught, they might “break your camera or even your arm,” he said. It was OK, however, to shoot photos from up on the hill.

What I did: I listened to what the tour guide said and respected the the people’s wishes. I shot photos of the town and its market outside the church (down below) from up above. I never even considered taking a shot of an individual person.

Photo/Situation #3

Where: One of the Eastern desert castles in Jordan

What: I went inside the castle to cool off since it was so hot out. I noticed this woman in a moment of quiet contemplation, possibly praying. I wasn’t sure.

Why: I felt a sense of peace emanating from her that I thought I might be able to convey in an artistic shot. While I thought it was a semi-private moment, I felt it was OK since she was not in a mosque or even near one.

Photo/Situation #4

What/where: This photo is one that I borrowed and I’m not sure what it’s really about, but I thought it would work as a representation of a crime scene or to help us imagine a war crime as I described in the scenario.

What would I have done if in such a situation? If the situation were what I described above (killing of a father and son by two soldiers, with help coming and the soldiers’ vehicle’s license plate visible, etc.) I would have attempted to take the shot. If, however, no one had attempted to help the man and his son, then I would have made that the priority.

Situation X: the Final Photo

See the last photo of a blind beggar? I shot that one in Antigua, Guatemala. Why? I thought it depicted the poverty in the country well. After I took several shots, I walked away. A minute later, it occurred to me that I should have given him some coins to help him out in some way. But when I turned around, he was gone and I wasn’t able to.

I wish I had given some money or food to him and feel that I should have done it immediately and without hesitation.

Because I did not, it is this photo that now haunts me…

123 Responses to Morals & Ethics of Travel Photography: When Shouldn’t You Take That Photo?
  1. Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World
    January 18, 2011 | 12:56 am

    No, No, Maybe, Yes (but not so much for the money. Gosh I’d be scared of retaliation I’d probably post it anonymously or something).

    Yes, who I am makes a difference. I’m not a journalist or even an aspiring photographer. If I were, my answers would probably be different.

    Definitely food for thought though. Thx for posting.
    Jill – Jack and Jill Travel The World recently posted..Clarion Alley- A Mural Lover’s PlaygroundMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 18, 2011 | 8:23 am

      I agree, Jill. Who you are does seem to make a difference. If I were a photojournalist, I’d be more likely to take the photo in Situation #4. Thanks for sharing your answers with us!

  2. Amanda
    January 18, 2011 | 2:02 am

    This is a really great post, and really has me thinking!

    It’s tough for me to consider a few of these scenarios, simply because of that “does who you are matter” question. Not only am I a traveler, but I am also a journalist. While I’m an editor and not a photojournalist, I still often have to make decisions to run photos that depict death, poverty, crime, etc. Sometimes readers don’t agree with my choices.

    So, the journalist in me would probably say yes to every scenario. Anything to get the story, right?

    But the other, more ethical side of me would probably say no to the first three scenarios, and maybe to the last. That last one is tough. While it would be insensitive to take a photo of the dead bodies (especially with a child involved), documenting the culprits could be important in terms of justice.
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    • CB Driver
      January 18, 2011 | 8:28 am

      Hi, Amanda. Thanks for stopping by. Glad this got you thinking! Fascinating perspective from you as an editor. Deciding which photos to run can be challenging, I’m sure.

      As for these scenarios, I do think that most journalists/photojournalists would probably take advantage of all the photo opps (except maybe the indigenous shot?). Hard to say. Re: the last one…I agree that the photographer could play a role in justice being served.

      Thank you for weighing in!

  3. Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures
    January 18, 2011 | 2:09 am

    #1: Yes, but I would give them change first. Generally speaking, I’ve always found kids to be quite interested in you and in your camera! They just love to see their pictures, even in countries where people believe in “soul snatching”
    #2: No.
    #3: Yes, if she could not see me do it. I have some great photos of elders spinning prayer wheels from my time in Bhutan that I caught as a candid, despite photographing that moment being frowned upon. If it’s in public and they don’t notice you…
    #4: Yes, but only if I was the only person with a camera around and taking said photo would not put me in danger.

    If I was an aspiring photojournalist, it would absolutely change my perception of things in favor of getting that perfect shot, as I rarely feel comfortable taking pictures of people.
    Aaron @ Aaron’s Worldwide Adventures recently posted..“We’re Getting Married Tomorrow…At a Thai Buddhist Temple”My Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 18, 2011 | 8:31 am

      Good point re: #1, Aaron. I agree and have seen this many times. The kids in the photo I posted, however, were different. They were sad and hungry and did not want to see the photo. They just wanted money and/or food. I felt torn as soon as I took the shot. But I felt right about it, too (will explain after all the comments are in).

      Re: #3: I hear you…. :) Re: #4: Good point.

      Thanks for joining in…I think your ideas definitely added to this discussion!

  4. Dyanne @TravelnLass
    January 18, 2011 | 2:22 am

    Quite the series of thought-provoking ethical dilemmas there. When I was younger, my answers might have been a tad different. But suffice that nowadays…

    As a simple traveler (not to mention an, ahem g-u-e-s-t in a foreign land) I’d have to say:

    1. no and NO! (taking a pic merely as a voyeur of abject misery is bad enough – but throwing coins would be the very WORST one could do.)

    2. Absolutely not. And not only ‘cuz of the risk of camera smashing/jail time. What’s not to understand about respecting folks belief that a photo is snatching a “piece of their soul”? Besides, why would I be carrying that sleazy “curved lens” anyway?

    3. Yes, probably. With her back to the camera, the woman is utterly anonymous. So I see no harm in capturing a beautiful moment.

    4. This was the easiest. The operative words here are “…odds are no one will notice.” Uh, we’re talking murder here, guns, soldiers and such – in a f-o-r-e-i-g-n country. No way would I take a chance on ending up playing tiddly-winks with buttons of my dried feces in some g-forsaken prison.

    Thanks for stirring up a most thoughtful set of moral notions.
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    • CB Driver
      January 18, 2011 | 8:35 am

      True, Dyanne–we should not forget that we are a ‘guest’ in the countries we visit. Glad you reminded me of that. Meanwhile, I love your responses to each of the dilemmas. I totally agree with you re: #2….just not right to do that. What about #1? What if people didn’t believe that a certain situation didn’t really exist in that particular country? Would it be OK to take that photo in that case–to document it and show others?

      Re: #4…you made me laugh! I certainly would not want to be ‘playing tiddly-winks with buttons of my dried feces in some g-forsaken prison’ either! Funny and a scary thought. One should be careful if ever in that situation as it is clearly unpredictable. You might think it’s safe with that 300 mm lens, but someone (a sniper with a scope) might spot you from 1000 mm.

      Thank you for your ideas on this. I thoroughly enjoyed reading them!

  5. islandmomma
    January 18, 2011 | 9:13 am

    I’m feeling like a quite a bad person right now because I would take a photo in all of those circumstances, as already said, depending on who you are.
    1. Taking a photo as a tourist, as a souvenir sounds a bit weird, but why would a tourist be there anyway? If a photo like that on my blog might help somehow (someone might see it and donate to UNHCR for instance). I probably, knowing that that kind of thing might happen, would take stuff rather than money. Candy, drinks, food.
    2.I would take a reasonable risk. Since my education leads me to believe that a camera cannot capture a soul, then I don’t see anything wrong with it, so long as the subjects don’t know, so as not to offend them. Probably no close ups either, not sure why.
    3. Actually, I found this one the hardest, but think so, as long as the woman doesn’t know, and is in public, then yes. Although faced with a similar situation at a dockside memorial for victims of a shipwreck a couple of years back I put my camera away. That was too much. I photographed the candles and the people speaking, but not the prayers at the end when the flowers were cast on the water.
    4. I reckon so. I think it would be a reflex reaction.

    • CB Driver
      January 18, 2011 | 11:03 am

      Hi and thanks for sharing your thoughts! I like the idea of a photo being used by a nonprofit organization to generate interest/donations. Makes #1 seem more OK somehow. It sounds like you did the right thing in #3. Memorial services, while often held in public, are somehow private in nature (unless the person is a public figure, I think).

      Thanks so much for sharing! Later, I’ll reveal my feelings and when/why I took the photos that you see in the post.

  6. Gray
    January 18, 2011 | 9:16 am

    #1-3, definitely no.
    #4 is different for me, because whether or not I take the picture would be for different motives than you assign. I wouldn’t take the picture for my blog or to sell it. I would only take the picture if I thought doing so would help identify the soldiers who shot civilians and bring about some justice. But given that you’ve said it’s an unstable country, it probably wouldn’t do any good, so no, I wouldn’t.
    It absolutely matters who I am. I’m a traveler, a blogger, and an amateur photographer. I’m not a photojournalist. If I were, I should think it would be my job to take photos like that.
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    • CB Driver
      January 18, 2011 | 11:06 am

      Interesting, Gray, and it makes sense. I like what you said re: #4. For the purpose of justice (if possible), it would be worth the risk and the ethical/moral implications to take the shot. I agree that when you’re a photojournalist, it’s a different story. Like you said, then it’s your job. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us.

  7. Gillian @OneGiantStep
    January 18, 2011 | 9:59 am

    Oh, how I struggled with this as I traveled!! My answers, based on how I behaved:
    #1. No, I wouldn’t take the photo…but wish that I could have interacted in some way so that I could have.
    #2. No, I wouldn’t and have not changed my mind. It is their belief and should be honoured.
    #3. Yes, I would take it as I would not be intrusive.
    #4. I never encountered. I probably wouldn’t as I would be scared.

    I’m interested to see what people say…and what your comments are!
    Cheers!
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    • CB Driver
      January 18, 2011 | 11:09 am

      You, too, Gillian? It’s challenging, isn’t it? And these moments occur so quickly that it’s often a split-second decision. I hear you re: #1. It’s great to have an actual interaction with the kids, which allows for photos that feel right. I recall having that in South Africa when I visited a couple of townships and it seemed OK somehow. As for #4, I’d be scared, too.

      Thanks for contributing to this discussion; it just gets better and better! And I’ll definitely be throwing in my 2 cents on this at some point and explaining the photos I took/posted.

  8. ayngelina
    January 18, 2011 | 11:23 am

    Traveling through Latin America there are a lot of indigenous who do not want their photo taken. I respect that.

    In Chamula I took a photo of the church and that was all. I wouldn’t want someone to take my photo if I didn’t want it so why should I use a zoom to take theirs.

    I’m a tourist but I don’t like to treat humans as tourist attractions.
    ayngelina recently posted..Would you buy a 500 turkey AKA Have you met AndresMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 18, 2011 | 7:17 pm

      So you’ve also been to Chamula, too? Interesting place, isn’t it? I also shot the church and the scene around it (from a distance). The guide I was with said that was OK–just not individual or small group shots. I felt it was important to respect their wishes. Where I felt a bit uncomfortable was at that nearby Mayan cemetery. I took the photos, but to this day, I get a slightly uneasy feeling when I look at them.

      Thanks for your take on this, Ayngelina!

  9. Zablon Mukuba
    January 18, 2011 | 11:37 am

    what you have said is provoking, because i see so many photos and sometimes i dont feel its right to post some photos. as bloggers we should be carefuly

    • CB Driver
      January 18, 2011 | 7:20 pm

      I can understand how you might feel that, Zablon. I wonder what sort of photos they were and what you thought when you saw them. In any case, interesting point regarding “rights” re: posting photos. I think that several of the people who commented here feel the same way. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  10. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler
    January 18, 2011 | 11:52 am

    I personally wouldn’t take photos in scenario #2 and #4. #2 because I can respect when people do not want their photos taken. It’s their choice.

    #4 because I think I would have a hard time taking photos of something that tragic. I guess I could never be a journalist, huh?!

    I think #1 and #3 are questionable.

    Great post!
    Christy @ Ordinary Traveler recently posted..Christmas in the Dominican Republic 5My Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 18, 2011 | 7:23 pm

      Thanks, Christy–glad you liked the post! I’m very happy that we’re discussing this here. It’s an important topic–for which I’m not sure there’s really one clear-cut answer. But at least, we can learn where others are coming from.

      I think that if you don’t have that journalistic instinct, then #4 would be difficult or it simply wouldn’t make sense. I was once a reporter, which is why I might consider taking the photo. I think I still have some of that instinct in me.

      Anyway, thank you for contributing to the discussion!

  11. Dina
    January 18, 2011 | 12:54 pm

    Great topic, got me thinking. It took me a very long time to reply this as I don’t know precisely how to formulate what I think to words. But I’ll try.

    In general I don’t take that kind of photo. I have a problem obtaining “portrait style” photo of people. The reason is complex. Starting from that I am shy to disturb people. I’m too shy to ask permission from the person, and yes, I feel like I need to ask permission because I’m about to violate their privacy. I don’t like to violate people’s privacy. Also it will feel like treating a human being and their problem as an object. It will feel wrong.

    I do have a small number of photos that involve human as object, but there are very few, in the mildest “usually happy” case, and I usually ask for permission. It goes as mild as taking photo of Cosplay girls in Harajuku, who obviously want to be photographed anyway.

    I guess I don’t have that journalistic instinct in me yet. Perhaps if I have a mission, a message, that I want to spread, I might do it? But for now, no.

    I like the quote from Ayngelina above:
    “I’m a tourist but I don’t like to treat humans as tourist attractions.”
    Dina recently posted..Ballsy KangarooMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 18, 2011 | 7:28 pm

      Thanks, Dina, for coming up with a response here. I appreciate it! Interesting to see how you view the people that some would choose to photograph. I’ve had some moments when I wondered if I was violating someone’s privacy, which is why I’ve hesitated on occasion. I relate to what you said about how it would be different if you had a mission or a message to spread. That makes sense.

      Thanks for sharing with us; I’ll be doing the same tomorrow, I think.

  12. Marsha
    January 18, 2011 | 3:18 pm

    I co-opt Ayngelina’s statement as well. Here in the US we have rules that say you can’t just take someone’s photo without their permission and post it somewhere. I think it’s only fair to extend those same rights to the people we encounter when we’re traveling.
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    • CB Driver
      January 18, 2011 | 7:30 pm

      Thanks for joining us here, Marsha. I’ve often wondered about how the major networks get away with some of what they do. Sometimes, they run programs on the obese and show people walking down the street (and from unflattering angles). It seems like the cut off the face, but still…something about it doesn’t seem right. Anyway, thanks for your opinion on this!

  13. Bryan @ BudgetYourTrip
    January 18, 2011 | 3:27 pm

    Good questions! It’s interesting to see how people answered.

    #1 Yes, I would take the photo, because I believe that more people in the world need to be educated about how most of the world lives. Half of the world lives on less than $2 per day, but the other half is mostly ignorant of this fact. Photography is a great way to educate. I wouldn’t give the kids money, though, because that teaches them not to go to school by rewarding them for approaching tourists. Showing them their photos is usually a happy moment for everyone. I would probably give money to a nearby adult depending on the situtation.

    #2 No, because these people specifically asked not to have their photo taken.

    #3 Yes, for many of the same reasons as #1 (people should understand how the rest of the world lives), and also that the woman chose to make it a public moment by doing it in public.

    #4 Yes, assuming I would remain safe myself, and in an effort to help the victims.

    I don’t think it matters if you are a professional journalist or photographer. Some of the most important photos have been taken by people in the right place at the right time, their profession is irrelevant. Showing the world what the rest of the world is like is more important than professional credentials, in my opinion.
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    • CB Driver
      January 18, 2011 | 7:37 pm

      Hello, Bryan. Yes, it is interesting. I’m really enjoying seeing all the different perspectives, too. I must say that it seems that you and I may be the most similar in our beliefs. I feel pretty much the same as you do about each of the photos and will elaborate on this tomorrow.

      I do think that journalism has changed a lot recently and that’s something to possibly consider. It’s taken a real beating and due to so many budget cuts/layoffs, it’s not possible for reporters to be everywhere. Maybe in #4, that would be something to think about.

      Thanks for your comments re: each of the situations…they were all quite interesting!

  14. Andi
    January 18, 2011 | 9:00 pm

    These are such important questions that you’ve posed. I just go with my gut and try to be as respectful as possible.
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    • CB Driver
      January 19, 2011 | 12:08 am

      I like what you’re saying, Andi. It’s so important to follow your gut…it really does know what’s best and what’s right. Great way to approach these types of situations. Thank you for reminding us of that!

  15. Merav @ AllWays Rental NZ
    January 18, 2011 | 9:36 pm

    Food for thought and an important issue. I will join Ayngelina’s statement that people are not a tourist attraction. Living in a country well travelled, and having kids that, for some reason, attract a lot of attention from tourists, I find myself in an awkward position when I need to go and ask people taking their photos without asking for permission, to erase them.
    In light of the above
    #1 – would take the photo but without the children. It is important to show the world how the other half lives, but I don’t think you need a humans subject in the photo to make the point
    #2 – no.
    #3 – struggling with this one. On the one hand the womans privacy is not harmed. On the other it is her private praying moment.
    #4 – if I was a photojournalist then yes. never for making money out of other people’s tragedy.
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    • CB Driver
      January 19, 2011 | 12:14 am

      Hi, Merav. Thanks for addressing each of the situations…great to see what you think. And good for you for asking people to erase pics; I can understand that.

      #3 is tricky, isn’t it? If someone prays in public, then it seems they’ve left the realm of the private… I’ll admit that I have taken those photos before. In fact, the one you see in the post is one that I took.

      Thanks for contributing to the discussion!

  16. Shane
    January 18, 2011 | 11:28 pm

    I wanted to be a photojournalist when I was younger but knew deep down I could never be ruthless enough to get in close to misery, pain and poverty and get the money shot (mind you, not being a particularly good photographer didn’t help my career prospects either).

    To answer your questions: yes, no, yes, yes.
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    • CB Driver
      January 19, 2011 | 12:18 am

      Thanks for your answers, Shane! Very interesting. They’re pretty much the same as mine (my take on all of this coming tomorrow night). I think it does take a certain type of person to be a photojournalist, especially one who is willing and able to go all the way with it.

  17. Sabina
    January 19, 2011 | 8:30 am

    This is just really a very timely topic in my own life. Just today I had a few instances when I was walking down the street, saw people I wanted to photograph, pointed to my camera to ask permission, and they didn’t nod yes, so I didn’t take the photos. Then I thought they probably wouldn’t have minded if I snapped a picture, they probably didn’t realize I was waiting for them to nod yes, I should have taken the photos anyway.

    So a few hours later I’m riding a bike down the street and I see a man atop a truck full of hundreds of dead chickens. I ride back, point to my camera, he has no reaction, so I hold it up to take a photo. After I take it, I notice he is holding up his cell phone and is taking a picture of me! I do’t think he appreciated me taking the shot after all. But I did get a smile out of him a short while later when the truck drove by and I waved. The moral of the story is, I now think you really shouldn’t take a photo if the subjects don’t clearly indicate that it’s okay.

    • CB Driver
      January 19, 2011 | 6:40 pm

      Interesting anecdotes, Sabina. It’s hard to say what was going on in that first situation. Perhaps that would have been OK. In the second one, I find his reaction sort of amusing but slightly perplexing. Perhaps he was not entirely comfortable with it, but not super uncomfortable, either. I’m glad that he waved at you later on. That was a good sign, I think.

      Thanks for your stories; I think they provided another perspective and angle (excuse the pun) from which we could look at photographic ethics, morals, etc!

  18. Kymri
    January 19, 2011 | 9:41 am

    Rather than answer point by point, which I think has been done enough in the comments to cover most pov’s, I’d like to share a story.

    While traveling through Tanzania by road I was warned by my guide to respect the local culture when he explained that they believed being photographed was stealing their soul. A few miles later, some interestingly dressed Masai boys were at the side of the road, waving us down. They exchanged a few words with my guide, who explained that they were posing for pictures for a few dollars. Upon hearing this, I remarked “oh, so some are willing to sell their soul?” and my guide had to agree that blew the whole “soul-stealing” belief warning.

    Then further on we made a visit to a boma (Masai settlement village), where the Elders were more than happy to accept (rather, charge in advance) a small fee in exchange for freely photographing anyone in the village. So I concluded that really, ethically and morally, the difference lies in obtaining permission first, then you are not “stealing.” I found that by learning to ask permission, in the local’s language, more often resulted in a willingness, and then out of mutual respect they wouln’t ask for or expect money.

    Other parts of the world are very different. Some cultures would be insulted to be offered any money to photograph them. Asking permission, then sharing the image on the camera, goes a long way.

    And then you have places like Cusco and the Sacred Valley in Peru, where they dress in colorful clothes with their llamas and practically harass you to photograph them. Then the hands come out, and I’ve seen tourists chased down the street for not handing over some change. In such situation, it is correct not to offer money or pay them, especially children, who then grow up lazy to do any real work and also look to tourists as nothing but people who throw money around.

    As a documentary photographer with images licensed in textbooks, guidebooks, and online for educational/editorial purposes, I have learned to come out from behind my camera and engage with the locals, so that the image I take tells their story while still respecting their culture.

    These blog articles I’ve posted may be of interest:
    http://bit.ly/jvaPs – behind the scenes in Nepal
    http://bit.ly/hfMd3h – Entrepreneurial Peruvians
    Kymri recently posted..The Top 20 10 Viewers Choice of 2010My Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 19, 2011 | 6:48 pm

      Wow, Kymri…thanks so much for taking the time to share those stories. Wow! It really does sound like it varies from culture to culture, doesn’t it?

      I think they’re quite strict in Chamula, Mexico. I didn’t see anyone taking money for photos there. And in Nicaragua, because I visited areas that weren’t tourist traps, the vibe was different. Children, it seemed, wanted their photos to be taken. They were actually surprised and almost offended if you didn’t. They never asked for money the way they did in Guatemala at times.

      I’ve tended to try to interact with people first. Perhaps, if it felt right, I’d then buy something. And then, if appropriate, I would ask if I could take a photo. But in some cases, I simply took the photo/s. It’s really depended on what was going on and how I felt in that moment. I’ve generally gone with my gut feeling.

      Anyway, I appreciate your weighing in here. Because you’re a documentary photographer, your perspective is an important one. Thank you so much!!

  19. Steve
    January 19, 2011 | 1:46 pm

    For the most part, I hesitate to take a photo if it is of another person. I’m not always certain they want their photo taken and they might even find it rude. I try to ask in as many cases if I can take a photo of them. Sometimes the urge is just too hard to resisit if the shot is good.

    I would probably not take a photo in situation #2. I would respect their local issues with cameras. But it would be hard to resist though if it was a good shot.
    Steve recently posted..The Travel Itinerary for Your LifeMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 19, 2011 | 6:51 pm

      Nice that you ask people, Steve. I don’t you can go wrong by doing so. It’s very respectful and a safe way to approach this. I do hear you re: it being hard to resist certain shots. I totally agree with your re: #2. I would listen to and respect their rules there…absolutely. Thanks for contributing to the discussion!

  20. Meandering_Poet
    January 19, 2011 | 3:51 pm

    I’m surprised there’s been no mention of Kevin Carter here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Carter

    I wouldn’t say it’s wrong to take a photo if the scenario captured is a long term one: of course if somebody is in short term danger it is better to act.

    Otherwise the credible work of photographers is of priceless value and captures some crucial images for the rest of the world.
    Meandering_Poet recently posted..Festive antics in AmsterdamMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 19, 2011 | 7:12 pm

      Hi, Chris. Thanks for joining the conversation. I agree that if someone is in danger, you should do something (if you can). As for Kevin Carter, that is some story–one worth mentioning (perhaps I’ll add in some links at the end of the post). To anyone unfamiliar with the story, he was one of several S. African photographers documenting the famine in Sudan back in 1990s; he earned fame for the photo he took of a Sudanese girl (skeletal and near death) who was struggling to make it to a food center while a vulture was waiting in the background for her to die so it could eat her. Kevin took the photo and later won a Pulitzer for it. Unfortunately, some called him a ‘vulture’ for having taken the photo. Also, he was haunted by what he’d seen in Sudan (and his own personal issues). And so, he ended up taking his life just two months later. He was 33. According to a Time Magazine article:

      The brief obituaries that appeared around the world suggested a morality tale about a person undone by the curse of fame. The details, however, show how fame was only the final, dramatic sting of a death foretold by Carter’s personality, the pressure to be first where the action is, the fear that his pictures were never good enough, the existential lucidity that came to him from surviving violence again and again — and the drugs he used to banish that lucidity.

      Click here to read more about Kevin and here to listen to an NPR broadcast that features and interview with the director of the documentary “The Death of Kevin Carter.” And here’s a link re: the moral implications of Carter’s photo.

      Thanks, Chris, for mentioning Kevin. I’m not sure if all the readers here were aware of him, so I appreciate the reminder. It gives us even more to consider. As for your final statement, I agree with it.

  21. ayngelina
    January 19, 2011 | 8:00 pm

    Just to follow up.

    Once while traveling I had a local man take a photo of me with his camera phone. I remember feeling a bit violated.

    I hate to be a hard ass but it is NEVER OKAY for #2. You are being completely insensitive, disrespectful and selfish.

    I have taken many indigenous photos and as Sabina said, all you have to do is point to the camera and they will say yes or no.

    Sometimes you get huge smiles which is much better than stealing someone’s image.

    I would be ashamed to travel with someone who would take a photo without permission.
    ayngelina recently posted..Would you buy a 500 turkey AKA Have you met AndresMy Profile

    • Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_
      January 19, 2011 | 8:42 pm

      I agree with Ayngelina… and I also had issues with others taking photos of me in China and Japan… it drove me crazy. I felt like a freak…
      Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_ recently posted..Vote for The Traveller’s New Banner!My Profile

      • CB Driver
        January 20, 2011 | 8:42 am

        Funny that you say that, Lindsay. I just said mentioned that I was “on the other side” of this when I was in China. Often people asked me, which was nice (still felt odd), but a couple times they didn’t. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have tourists walking through your hometown and on your street, snapping pics of you all the time. Having said this, I must admit that I do take people shots quite frequently…never, however, in an indigenous area where I’ve been asked not to.

    • CB Driver
      January 20, 2011 | 8:40 am

      Thanks, Ayngelina, for jumping back in! I hear you re: being on the other side of this. I had that happen to me when I was in China. It felt very strange and not quite right. When people asked first, it was different, of course. I think you’re right about #2, by the way. Of all of the situations, that does seem to be the most clear cut and the one that seems to have resulted in a consensus. I live what you said about the smiles…it often does end up that way, doesn’t it? :)

      Anyway, by tonight, I think I’m going to reveal everything–why I took the pics I took (the ones in this post) and my true feelings on the subject.

  22. Elizabeth Saunders
    January 19, 2011 | 10:43 pm

    Great topic. I’m pretty much with Aaron’s answers.
    2. I don’t even buy postcards of Amish people. I missed a great shot in an Aboriginal village, but I had just arrived and didn’t want to blow my welcome. Those pictures are in my memory.
    4. Shoot now, crop later. I would probably get the license plate and then run to safety! I was lucky to work for a compassionate editor when I took photos of an airplane crash. We cropped out a sheet-covered person and focused on a nearby policeman’s expression as he stood by the nose of the airplane.
    Elizabeth Saunders recently posted..Book nookMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 20, 2011 | 8:45 am

      Hi, Elizabeth. I like the idea of the pics being in your memory. Some are like that and actually, sometimes too much photography can pull you out of the moment. Have you ever had that happen? I remember my first trip abroad, which was to Egypt, was a little like that. I had some fancy camera equipment and was happy to use it….nonstop. At one point, someone asked, “Are you a professional photographer?” I then knew I’d overdone it.

      Interesting re: the war crime scene scenario… And I like how you handled that photo of the the airplane crash. Sounds very ethical and just right. Thanks for sharing with us!

  23. Iain Mallory
    January 20, 2011 | 8:52 am

    Truly a great topic Lisa and one that I am sure will just run and run!

    The first three for me are choices of conscience, in all these cases having a sensitivity for the situation or culture of the people that you are intending to capture an image of. We all consider that professional photo journalists would go ahead regardless as they have editors to appease, but this maybe a little unfair.

    I like to think I would take any image that was contrary to the beliefs of the indigenous people, but children in most circumstances are more than happy to engage with a photog, posing no end!

    #4 have to take that one! If I did not try would regret it forever.

    Pictures to think about in this context:

    Huynh Cong Ut – Napalm Strike
    Kevin Carter – Vulture Stalking a Child (and Kevin Carter received so much criticism for it he took his life 3 months later!)

    Thank you Lisa great topic for discussion, really need comments on my site, thanks again for remoinding me I need to change!

    • CB Driver
      January 20, 2011 | 12:16 pm

      Makes sense, Iain, to bring up one’s conscience, which would definitely play a role in these types of decisions (except in the case of a sociopath–LOL). Interesting re: #4. So…do you feel that not taking the photo would be the equivalent of not doing anything and taking it would mean helping in some way? I see.

      Kevin Carter just came up a few comments ago and I included some info and links about him. What an intense and sad story that was…powerful, really. The photo…the circumstances…the repercussions…and the eventual suicide. And the Napalm Strike photo is another intense one with its unique story and circumstances.

      Thanks, Iain, for joining in!

      • Iain Mallory
        January 21, 2011 | 10:11 am

        I feel if there is a story of some human tradegdy unfolding in front of me would have a moral obligation to at the very least try and record it, bring it to the attention of the outside world.

        Helping the people involved directly may not be possible, maybe they are beyond help and I would merely be risking my own life without a realistic chance of saving them, unless you are in such a situation it is impossible to comment. Providing evidence may ensure they did not die in vain though.

        I would welcome the chance to visit a place such as Dafur/Chad to document the human misery there, just heart breaking the rest of the World merely ignores it, bit like Rwanda :(

        Just ruined my own day

        • CB Driver
          January 22, 2011 | 10:37 am

          I like what you’ve said, Iain. I’s obvious that you approach travel photography with a hint of photojournalist in you and more importantly, with a whole lot of caring about humanity. And that’s what sets you apart from someone who’s just out to ‘get a shot.’ I understand the moral obligation that you’ve described. And yes, it’s sad when the world ignores human suffering as it sometimes does. Let’s hope that over time, people pay more attention to those world crises…

  24. SuperG
    January 21, 2011 | 2:01 am

    Crossing borders doesn’t give us the right and doesn’t mean that everyone is fair game in the photo world.BUTI’ve often handed the camera to the person I am observing as a show of my intention. A brief relationship. An exchange of experiences. Having a look through my lens for themselves almost always results in a photo of shared experiences.

    • CB Driver
      January 21, 2011 | 8:24 pm

      Hi, SuperG. I like the idea of handing the camera to the other person…that’s cool. I could see how that would result in a different perspective/perception for that person. Thank you for that…I may try it sometime!

  25. Sally
    January 21, 2011 | 6:28 am

    Interesting post & great discussion going on here! I always feel really weird about taking photos of people unless I know the person or the person has given me permission to take their photo. Of course, there have been a number of times I’ve seen someone (like the woman you saw praying) that I really wanted to take a picture of but knew by asking that it would ruin the moment (or even that asking might be inappropriate). In that case, I sometimes take the photo if I think they won’t notice (or I can pretend like I’m taking a photo of something else). But usually I don’t because I’m not very good at being sneaky. I definitely wouldn’t take the photo if I had already been asked not to.
    On the subject of having your own photo taken without your permission, I’ve had this happen to me in Asia before but I honestly didn’t mind. In fact, the idea of my showing up in someone’s vacation photos kind of cracks me up. Granted, I might feel differently about this when I move to China, where I hear it’s a lot more common place.

    • CB Driver
      January 21, 2011 | 8:26 pm

      Hi, Sally! I’ll be honest…on occasion, I’ve done what you said, too (pretending to take a photo of something else to take a photo of someone)…and usually it doesn’t feel right. And that’s why I don’t usually do it.

      I had my photo taken in Asia (China), too. It was a family and they wanted a pic of me and their daughter. I laughed a bit, felt sort of funny and said ‘sure.’ Like you, I get a kick out of that pic being in their album!

  26. Norbert
    January 21, 2011 | 12:15 pm

    Good scenarios and some tricky ones…
    I would say:
    #1. Yes – But if possible I would interact with them and try to get to know their story. Pictures can tell 1000 words, but it’s always good to get their personal perspective also. If I can help with money or food (and doesn’t create any problem), I give it away.
    #2. No – I might not believe their “soul-snatching” theory, but I’m respectful about other people’s cultures and beliefs.
    #3. Yes – Unless the person makes a gesture that makes me know I’m bothering.
    #4. Yes – If the given situation allows me to take a picture without endangering myself.
    Norbert recently posted..Wolf’s Lair- Hitler’s Bunker in PolandMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 22, 2011 | 10:42 am

      Hi, Norbert. I think that interacting with people before taking their photo (and if they’re comfortable with it) is a fair/respectful approach. And I think it’s awesome that you would respect the wishes of the indigenous despite not sharing their belief re: soul snatching. Everything else you said makes sense, as well. Sounds like you have a great approach to travel photography. Thanks for sharing what you would do and your views re: this topic!

  27. Jeremy
    January 21, 2011 | 2:24 pm

    I tend to shy away from taking photos of people in all situations that might be offensive. I am an outsider coming into their homeland. Acting like a tourist is bad as it is, but taking photos is even worse.

    If I had to go for it, the general rule of thumb for me would be the further the distance from the people, the more likely I would be to take a photo. That is, the less features of a person are visible, the better. If it is a general scene and people happen to be in it, fine, but focused on one person w/o their permission, I tend to avoid.

    Of course, if you are actively putting yourself on display, either be it a performance, protest, or advertisement, I have no problem taking your photo. And no, I wont pay you for it either, unless I really like what you’re doing.
    Jeremy recently posted..Where You Should Be! – Chamonix- FranceMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 22, 2011 | 10:52 am

      Thanks for weighing in, Jeremy. Great to see your approach to the ethics/morals of travel photography, which as we’ve seen is not always clear cut (except maybe in the indigenous example). I understand your idea about the photos from a distance. Sounds like what’s allowed in Chamula, Mexico.

      Meanwhile, it sounds like you’re more comfortable with the photos of those who are putting themselves out there anyway. Makes sense!

  28. Andrew
    January 21, 2011 | 3:04 pm

    I guess I would make a lousy photojournalist. I don’t even always feel comfortable taking pictures of people I know, let alone strangers. And add ANY chance that it could be construed as weird and I end up with TONS of neat pictures of buildings and landscapes.
    I have tried of late to take more pictures of people (including myself), but it is hard to break a habit. I know those sort of pictures are more meaningful and powerful, but I just can’t get over taking pictures of someone without asking. Especially if I have aims to publish them, even if only to my little corner of the blog world.

    Though in a lot of ways I agree with Sally. I have no problem with someone taking my picture. I don’t know why it bugs me so much to think about taking pics of someone else. Especially someone else I am talking to.
    Andrew recently posted..Peanut Butter and Jelly – A Cultural MarkerMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 22, 2011 | 12:23 pm

      Hi, Andrew. Very interesting that you tend not to take shots of people…I can respect that. One must do what feels comfortable…definitely. And in reverse you’re comfortable. Really interesting! Thanks for sharing with us!

  29. Turkey's For Life
    January 22, 2011 | 4:25 am

    What a great post! I can’t go through like the others have done and say yes, no, yes, no because these situations are something I think about a lot and the truth is, I don’t know! I’m really into photographing landscapes – but is that because I shy away from confronting what I would really do in these situations involving people? I suspect so!
    Julia

    • CB Driver
      January 22, 2011 | 12:26 pm

      Thanks, Julia–glad you liked it. Great that you think about these situations and thanks for admitting that you don’t know what you do in each case. I’m sure that are other people who aren’t sure, either. Meanwhile, landscapes are wonderful to photograph and convey their own special messages, I believe…

  30. Lesley Peterson
    January 24, 2011 | 9:25 am

    Snapping pics of people, or other people’s children, for their “picturesque” qualities of poverty or garb or something else that strikes you as exotic is just wrong. You don’t have to digitally document absolutely everything you see. It’s easy to overshoot (by thousands of pics) and end up missing the soul of a place. Look with your eyes, store in your memory, note impressions in a journal. Consider that the camera can be a barrier between you and the world. It’s okay to miss a shot, and sometimes way preferable.

    • CB Driver
      January 24, 2011 | 7:58 pm

      Thanks for weighing in, Lesley. True–one does not have to document everything they see. As you said, you can miss the soul of a place. I think you can also miss the moment and that’s not good, either. As much as I love to photograph places and people, there are times when I put my camera away and simply enjoy the moment I’m in vs capturing it and saving it for later.

  31. Brynn
    January 24, 2011 | 1:42 pm

    Very good article! A lot of these things you don’t think about. People who are new to traveling will often take pictures of anything. Sometimes, it’s just not appropriate. I ALWAYS carry a travel journal with me. So, if I sometimes see something that I’d like to photograph but shouldn’t, I’ll write about it in detail.

    • CB Driver
      January 24, 2011 | 8:00 pm

      Hi, Brynn…thanks for joining the conversation. It’s true that some new travelers take photos of everything. I’ve even seen some people taking photos of their friends taking photos! A journal is a good idea, especially in moments when photos aren’t allowed, don’t feel right or are not appropriate.

  32. Liv
    January 24, 2011 | 4:55 pm

    I think it is unforgivable to take photos of people who you know don’t want their photo taken, whatever their reason, if they have a strong belief about it, such as those in your example. If you are aware of your subjects feelings and you go ahead anyway then all you demonstrate is your selfishness.
    I do understand the value of educating people through taking & sharing photos that you may find uncomfortable to take though, like situations 1, 4 & 5.
    Its not clever to put yourself in danger for a photo though.

    • CB Driver
      January 24, 2011 | 8:02 pm

      Hi, Liv….it does seem the Chamula example is pretty clear cut and that there is a consensus re: respecting the wishes of the indigenous. I’m happy to see that. As for putting oneself in danger…no–that’s not a good idea. Some do feel, though, that it’s worth it if you can make a difference somehow. I think it depends on the individual.

      Thanks!

  33. Corinne @ Gourmantic
    January 25, 2011 | 12:16 am

    Thought provoking situations. I have in the past taken photos of similar instances when the opportunity presented itself and I could do it without being noticed and in a safe environment. What I do with the photos is what makes the difference. Many have just been added to a personal collection, not something that I share with the public.
    Corinne @ Gourmantic recently posted..Round The World Travel- Don’t Forget to Pack Your BlogMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 25, 2011 | 10:52 am

      Corinne–thanks for sharing your approach to travel photography. I think it’s an individiual decision re: what to do in various situations (although nearly everyone agrees that going against someone’s wishes is always wrong). And it sounds like what you’ve been doing has worked well for you….and I think that’s what it’s all about. Thank you!

  34. Jim
    January 25, 2011 | 1:59 pm

    At least we are all thinking about whether we should take the shot, or what we do with it after, and making a choice based upon what we feel is right. Rather than an unthinking ‘ got to get that pic’ attitude.
    In small crowded rock cut churches in Ethiopia, we were dismayed at how many tourists poked their long lens cameras right up to people’s faces while they were praying. Gross, rude and insensitive.

    • CB Driver
      January 25, 2011 | 9:36 pm

      Hi, Jim…yes, great that we’re having the discussion–definitely. Sad to hear that you saw people behaving that way in Ethiopia; what a shame. Thanks for sharing/joining in…glad to hear your experience and perspective.

  35. Peter
    January 25, 2011 | 6:32 pm

    A very interesting post. I was in Tarabuco, Bolivia and had a piece of chicken thrown at me because a local woman thought I was taking a photo of her, when rather I was taking it of the street. That certainly woke me up to be aware of the surrounding when pulling out my camera. I agree with other comments in just asking myself, if it was me on the opposite side of the camera, how would I feel? Sometimes I miss a shot because of this. but respect is the key..

    Cheers!
    Peter recently posted..Marching PowderMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 25, 2011 | 9:38 pm

      Hi, Peter. That sounds like an intense experience you had and an important reminder of what people are OK with and what can happen in some cases. Makes sense to put yourself in the other person’s shoes–definitely. Thanks for sharing this.

  36. Rebecca
    January 26, 2011 | 5:53 am

    Really interesting post. I visited Chamula and definitely didn’t take any pictures of people, knowing it was against their beliefs. One of the guys on the tour did though, and a mother came running at him, throwing things at him. The rest of the people on the tour shot him very dirty looks and I don’t think he was spoken to for the rest of the visit. The others… I’m not so sure. Photos can certainly make a story and let other people know about the situation there. I think it comes down to how you take the photo (whether you ask, or whether you give them some money as a thank you) and then how you’re going to use the photo afterwards. Very interesting. No real answers.
    Rebecca recently posted..Photo of the Week- Winery in South AfricaMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 26, 2011 | 9:49 pm

      Thanks, Rebecca–and cool that you’ve also been to Chamula! I hear you…I wasn’t even tempted. I can’t believe someone in your group tried to get a shot…bad move. And it sounds like the consequences weren’t good.

      I agree that often there are no real answers to some of these questions (except Chamula, perhaps?). It seems that each person has his/her views and makes decisions accordingly.

  37. Wade | VagabondJourney.com
    January 26, 2011 | 1:13 pm

    In terms of ethics, there is public space and private space. In public, in a place where no one would be offended if you look at them, I have no qualms about taking photos. As far as publishing them, if a reader could easily put themselves in the same place I am, I see not ethical problem. But if I am given private access to people, situations, or places then I make sure that my intentions are known.

    But the sneaky, sneaky photographer is still and always will be a weiner. If I want a photo I walk up to someone, show them my camera, do a little head nod, smile, click, say thank you. The deal is done in a matter of seconds.

    I remember reading a very similar post to this by Dave at the TheLongestWayHome.com at The ethics of travel photography back in August, and he mentioned some good points.

    • CB Driver
      January 26, 2011 | 9:56 pm

      Good points re: public versus private space and publishing. Also, I think your approach is an excellent one. Sounds like asking for permission has worked well for you and that’s great.

      Thanks for sharing that link. It’s an excellent post, which covers the ethics of paying for set-up photos, losing photos via competitions and other topics, as well as some of what I’ve discussed.

  38. FearfulGirl
    January 28, 2011 | 7:00 pm

    Congratulations on having your article posted on BlogHer! — well deserved, it’s a great article on a topic I’ve thought a lot about myself. I’m a terrible photographer because I’m always afraid to impose on other people’s privacy. In fact, I have an awesome 135mm lens just so I can snap candids without people knowing about it!

    But you make good points pro-photo snapping: sometimes the a brief imposition is worth it for the anthropological documentation. I never, ever regret having a picture of something emotional, something that sparks my adrenalin a little just to shoot it. I do regret NOT having those photos on the occasions where I’ve been too shy / ‘polite’ / afraid.

    • CB Driver
      January 29, 2011 | 9:55 pm

      Thank you, Torre….appreciate that! I’m glad you understand the ‘angle’ from which I approach certain shots. And I thank you for sharing when–and how– you approach travel photography. Glad you have no regrets…that means you’ve been doing what’s right for you, and that’s important. Thanks for joining the conversation!

  39. [...] of my all-time favorite blog posts about travel EVER –Lisa of Chicky Bus asks “When Shouldn’t You Take That Photo?” She lists four possible scenarios that’ll get you thinking what’s more important: human [...]

  40. Alison @ Guest Travel Writers
    January 30, 2011 | 6:04 am

    Wow this article has quite rightly stirred a lot of thoughts in the comments. I try to avoid including people (especially faces) in shots but some of your examples show how much power they add to images. Excellent article.
    Alison @ Guest Travel Writers recently posted..Visit Chernobyl A Nuclear Disaster Tourist Site Extreme TourismMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 30, 2011 | 11:23 am

      Hi, Alison. It certainly has led to a great dialogue! Thanks for sharing how you handle people shots and for your feedback. Appreciate it! And your most recent post (which I see below your comment) looks great…I’ll definitely be checking it out. Thank you!

  41. Siem reap
    February 2, 2011 | 5:03 am

    Traveling provides a great opportunity to learn about life and what is important to you. Everything you see and do and every person you meet provides an opportunity to gain a new effective perspective that can help you live a better life.

  42. Sherry Ott
    February 17, 2011 | 3:01 am

    #1 – yes – but I wouldn’t give them money – I would simply show them the pictures. In addition, I would take pics of the general landscape first and then ask them if I could take their picture. I don’t normally take photos without asking – especially in those situations. I think it’s very important to depict the real life of people sometimes. In fact – my favorite places to travel and shoot are those where there is poverty.
    #2 – no – I can respect someone’s wish to not have their photo taken.
    #3 – maybe – it really depends on how I feel about it. If I feel that I’m intruding, then I wouldn’t – however with her back to me and my camera sound off I would consider. I’m currently having this issue in the Middle East right now (planning to write about it shortly!) There are many photos I have not taken which I wanted to, not because someone told me not to, but because I felt like it was over the line intruding and quite frankly I didn’t want to ruin the moment I was feeling nor ruin the moment for them. Sometimes it’s good to simply memorize it in your brain and actually use your writing skills to depict it.
    #4 – No…I’d be running. I have no journalist instincts in me that strong.

    When at all possible – I always ask to take the photo before I take it of people. It’s an easy habit to get into. Plus – I find that as a viewer, I can tell when photos are ‘stolen’. They aren’t as powerful as when you get someone’s eyes to meet the camera lens and make a connection. You will only get that if you ask and don’t lurk in the corners with a long lens.
    Sherry Ott recently posted..signsMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 17, 2011 | 6:14 am

      Thanks, Sherry, for sharing your views on this topic. Very interesting that you’re having some of these issues in the Middle East and not surprising. Also interesting that you can tell when photos were ‘stolen.’

  43. [...] Lisa at her blog Chicky Bus brings up the question: When shouldn’t you take that photo? [...]

  44. David
    March 10, 2011 | 9:02 pm

    Good question. I would not take a photo of an ‘innocent’ person that showed them in an embarrassing light – such as someone taking a pee in an alley.

    Having said that, I recall seeing a man walk off a bus in a small town on the altiplano in Bolivia and he just opened his flies and started to pee right where he stood – in the middle of the square.

    If only I had had a camera with me…

    If I had the opportunity, I would take all of these photos – perhaps except the last one of the blind beggar unless I asked him first.

    I feel I understand your feeling about the photo and it is very brave of you to publish it, given how you feel with the regret of not giving him something.

    Don’t be hard on yourself – I am sure he would not think badly of you.
    David recently posted..New Ecard Images At Quillcards- Birds And BeyondMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 11, 2011 | 7:18 am

      Hi, David. Thanks for joining the discussion. Interesting re: peeing in an alley (semi privately) vs in the square (publicly). Crazy that he did that. Did others stare or ignore him?

      Also…you would take the photo in Chamula even if the town makes its strict rules clear to everyone? Would you sneak it or be bold? Also, could you tell me/us why you’d take that shot? I’m curious.

      Meanwhile, thanks for what you said re: the final photo. You might be right.

      • David
        March 11, 2011 | 8:06 am

        Hi CB,
        About Chamula – I would do it sneakily with a remote release.

        I would not shoot openly because I would not want to thrust my belief (that photographs do not steal part of the soul) upon them.

        Equally though, if I can get a photo without upsetting them, no-one is harmed.

        About the gentleman in the square – it was a big square and he was in a hurry to get off the bus. He seemed both obviously in need and yet nonchalant.

        I think I was the only one who stared :-)
        David recently posted..New Ecard Images At Quillcards- Birds And BeyondMy Profile

        • CB Driver
          March 11, 2011 | 8:41 am

          Thanks for the explanation, David. As for the man who urinated….it does sound like it was a bit urgent. I probably would have looked (and maybe stared) because of how public he was about it. :)

  45. Odysseus
    March 11, 2011 | 12:21 am

    The only one I feel very strongly about is #4. I would never take a photo of someone’s pain just so I could make money or gain fame from it. If it was for another reason, such as documenting the incidence for the police, then maybe I would — but most likely not since I wouldn’t know how to present it to the police in a foreign country anyways. Truthfully, even when professional photo journalists take pictures of someone dying, I have very mixed feelings about the ethics involved.
    Odysseus recently posted..ROUS in IndiaMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 11, 2011 | 7:22 am

      Hi, Odysseus. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. The way you’ve described it makes a lot of sense. I think that photo #4 is complicated and would really depend on so much (for me, anyway). If I saw that some serious injustice or crime had occurred, I might risk it in order to document/tell the story. I hear you, though, re: mixed feelings about photos of someone dying. To take the photo just for money or fame does seem wrong….

  46. Steve Collins
    March 11, 2011 | 1:07 am

    It is very hopeful that this discussion is taking place. These are the necessary conversations (conscience dialogues?) that are needed exactly now; when lots of people are callously indifferent (or, at least, don’t feel they have time to care), the concern is all the more important. Respect is important and it’s not something we should leave to someone else. Thank you, Lisa.
    Steve Collins recently posted..Experience true wilderness in Quetico Provincial ParkMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 11, 2011 | 7:25 am

      Hi, Steve. The more I see the response and the real discussion taking place, the happier I am that I wrote this post (I almost didn’t, believe it or not). I like the idea of ‘conscience dialogues’….sounds exactly like what we’re having here. True re: the callous indifference. Thanks for bringing that up and for reminding me/us about respect. Thank you!

  47. Abbie
    April 7, 2011 | 11:08 pm

    I think that it can depend on where you’re coming from. In examples of poverty or even war, you can use photos to get across the context of the situation. We can hear and read the news all we want, but it’s pictures and visuals that make it more “real”, and that can be important.

    • CB Driver
      April 9, 2011 | 9:21 am

      Hi, Abbie. Good point. Photos make it real and often tell the story in a certain way. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  48. [...] image is from an extremely good post by one of my favourite writers on the Chickybus site. It is a very thought provoking piece about the ethics of photography. It was the final image [...]

  49. [...] image is from an extremely good post by one of my favourite writers on the Chickybus site. It is a very thought provoking piece about the ethics of photography. It was the final image [...]

  50. [...] Morals and Ethics of Travel Photography – When Shouldn’t You Take That Photo? at Chicky Bus [...]

  51. Erik
    August 9, 2011 | 8:22 pm

    I’ve always had trouble taking pictures of people, permission or not. I’ve received some criticism for that, but I laugh it off as ‘not my style’. I haven’t visited much of the third world, but that is a skill I would need to develop before taking that trip. I’d also have to develop some courage. Great post, interesting arguments- you could do a book just from the intelligent, well thought out responses here.
    Erik recently posted..Reasons I Travel- #82- The Mountains of the United StatesMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 9, 2011 | 9:11 pm

      Hi, Eric! Have you felt awkward taking people photos? Or just that’s it’s not right to? Just wondering. I do have my moments where I feel funny about it, but then something sort of takes over and all of a sudden, I’m taking it.

      Glad you liked the post and great point re: the book….a lot of intelligent dialogue here–definitely. Thanks for joining us!

  52. Erin
    August 11, 2011 | 11:43 pm

    Awesome post and conversation! I haven’t had to deal with any soul snatching or cultural clashes, but I probably would not want to offend someone’s culture. That would suck to think your soul had been stolen!
    There is one situation I’ve been in several times here in Costa Rica that I feel a wavering desperate need to photograph, but can’t bring myself to do it in fear of offending the family, or the dead – funerals. The process leading up to death and the method of burial here is fascinating. The funerals I attended were not huge tear jerkers. The deceased were older men who the family felt had had a good life and it was time for them to move on. Everyone had an opportunity to say goodbye in the final hours. The dying were ready.
    I just can’t bring myself to photograph that, though. Or ask if I can. I’m constantly back and forth on whether this is a good idea or just disgusting and disrespectful. :/
    Erin recently posted..Photo: The OMFG SunsetMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 13, 2011 | 11:24 am

      Hi, Erin. Thanks for sharing your views with us! I agree with soul stealing–would not be fun to be on the wrong end of that. :)

      Interesting about the funerals (before and during) and your feelings re: photographing them. I think I might feel the same way. Perhaps if, in another culture, it was common knowledge that it’s OK to take pictures there (and not considered disrespectful), I might consider it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t.

      I sometimes feel reluctant taking photos in cemeteries–unless they’re historical in nature. If I do it, I have mixed feelings about it even if I feel that it was photo-journalistic in some way.

  53. Questionable ethics: stealth photos!
    August 12, 2011 | 11:17 pm

    [...] I write this, I am reminded of Lisa's post over on Chickybus about the ethics of travel photography.  It's a thoughtful post with some nicely nuanced feelings and dilemmas expressed.  [...]

  54. Claire
    August 18, 2011 | 10:28 am

    I used to not think about it much and just snap the photo nonchalantly and walk away as if nothing ever happened. Then I started to actually THINK about what I was doing and how it might make the other person feel. Would I like to be the object of someone’s photo without my permission? No. Now, I try to either ask permission, or take it so that it is not intrusive, i.e. your shot above of the woman praying or resting. But sometimes it is just so tempting to just whip out the camera and snap away!
    Claire recently posted..My 7 Links: I’m One of the Cool Kids NowMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 19, 2011 | 6:43 pm

      Hi, Claire. Glad to hear that you’ve been thinking about the implications of taking photos while traveling. I think it’s important. Thanks for sharing here!

  55. [...] posts Morals and Ethics of Travel Photography: When Shouldn’t You Take That Photo? SWF in Syria (2): Torn Between Two Husbands Dialog in the Dark: Journey Into Blind [...]

  56. Chad Claeyssen @RoadDogTravel
    December 22, 2011 | 9:44 am

    Great post, really interesting.
    1. I see how taking this photo could do good by calling attention to the situation, but I probably wouldn’t take a picture.
    2. I think this is clear, if someone doesn’t want their picture taken, you shouldn’t take it. I’m not even sure if I would feel right taking it from afar.
    3. Guess it’s ok if someone is in public.
    4. I probably wouldn’t think of taking a picture.

    I guess you can tell from my answers, you’ll never see any of my photographs of people showing up on magazine covers or winning any awards. I personally always feel weird taking pics of people who don’t know it, but I’m glad that there are people out there taking photos and calling attention to the bad situations and evil in the world. No amount of words can convey what one certain picture can. Thanks for the post.
    Chad Claeyssen @RoadDogTravel recently posted..Ricketts Glen State Park and Ganoga Falls in PAMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      December 22, 2011 | 4:29 pm

      Hi, Chad. Welcome to the C Bus and thanks for joining the chat. I don’t think you’re alone in feeling awkward re: taking people’s photos when they’re unaware. As for those photos that tell a story–especially the ones that really need to be told–I agree.

  57. [...] very special article I wrote about the ethics of travel photography, my most popular post ever, was syndicated by Blogher and also used by a Jewish volunteer [...]

  58. [...] your thoughts re: this sort of photography,  you might want to check out my post on the morals and ethics of travel photography. It deals with this very subject–and some of the controversy surrounding it. 8 Comments [...]

  59. [...] you’ve found this post interesting/useful, then check out one I did last year on the ethics and morals of travel photography in general. The discussion was a fascinating one. Buddhist Cemetary, Siem Reap, [...]

  60. Casey
    May 19, 2012 | 8:53 pm

    This is a wonderful post.. love the travel photography philosophy.. many times I have been in these same situations as well, so this really made me think about the photo decisions I have made during travel!

    • CB Driver
      May 22, 2012 | 10:09 pm

      Hi, Casey. Thank you…glad you liked it! I’m happy I wrote it since so many people seem to have benefited from it. I myself now think about what I’m photographing a little more than I used to…

  61. [...] image is from an extremely good post by one of my favourite writers on the Chickybus site. It is a very thought provoking piece about the ethics of photography. It was the final image [...]

  62. Andy
    October 13, 2013 | 2:49 am

    I think that situation 4 can sometimes be a duty in a journalism type setting, but as you mention it can also be a fine line. In #1, I think that in most cases overlooking everything it is fine to take photos, but I have this thing about posting pictures of people without their permission. However, I can also respect the message of a good photo in that it can reveal to others what the rest of the world is like or just how dire a situation is. Interesting post, thanks for sharing these provoking questions/situations.
    Andy recently posted..How to improve your travel videosMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      October 13, 2013 | 3:30 pm

      Hi, Andy. Thanks for joining the discussion…cool that people are still interested! There’s a lot to this, isn’t there?

      Glad you enjoyed the post.

      PS: I have a similar one re: cemetery photography. Click here to check that out.

  63. Yeshi
    January 20, 2014 | 3:35 pm

    It’s hard, isn’t it, to know what to do. I would say, ask and see if you can find a translator to ask for permission for you!!!! My friends, Tibetans, get their photos taken and then those photos get used for commercial websites.

    Do my friends get money for their photos? No. Rich westerners taking photos of impoverished Tibetans. Very classy, western people. Very classy. Not.

    I had encountered this same situation in China; my daughter and I were often in the center of a mob of photographers until I learned to ask for money. That dissuaded people. My view is, don’t take photos without permission. You are violating someone’s personal space. Think if it were you and your found your photo months later on google.

    • CB Driver
      January 20, 2014 | 5:27 pm

      Hi, Yeshi. Well-said. You made some great points–especially re: photographers using people’s photos for commercial purposes. I know that in some cases, a signed release form is required. Even so, if someone stands to make a few thousand or even a few hundred dollars, maybe the subject of that photo should get royalties or something.

      Re: people taking photos of the impoverished…I think some of it has to do with the context of the photo and reason for taking it. In some cases, I tell a story and show people in certain situations. I know others try to ‘collect’ photos of people to show them off. That seems wrong.

      I had the same thing happen to me in China, too, by the way. Quite a few people asked me if they could take my photo or be in one with their kids.

      Thanks for all you shared–great points well worth looking at!

  64. Chelsey
    April 3, 2014 | 2:22 pm

    Hi! just researching a little and came across your post. i have lived in Antigua for the past three months and have seen your man posted up on the botegona corner playing his harmonica just about every week. first, don’t feel too bad, he’s not really blind. but also, to solve your haunting, i would be more than happy to take him to lunch on your behalf, as a tribute to your photo! let me know whatcha think!

  65. The Twitter 10: February 2011
    June 20, 2014 | 12:27 pm

    […] Morals and Ethics of Travel Photography – When Shouldn’t You Take That Photo? Lisa puts before us four different scenarios we each may face with our camera and asks ‘should we click?’ […]

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