Photography Travel Tips

Top 5 Travel Photography Etiquette Tips

We’ve all been on vacation, camera in hand, chasing that perfect shot. I know when I’m surrounded by beautiful landscapes, stunning architecture, and even delicious food, I feel compelled to document every moment. While that photo is often such an important thing to me, it should never be more important than being respectful, courteous and eco-friendly.

1. Research Local Customs and Laws

Always research a destination before visiting, especially if you want to do things like photography. Every place, culture, religion will have their own traditions and beliefs, even with regard to photography. You need to be respectful of the people and places you’re visiting. For instance, some architectural sites might not allow photography. Some places might charge a fee or require a permit for even hobbyist photography. Many countries have rules about tripods, drones, videography. And in some cultures, taking someone’s photo is taboo. Know what you’re interested in photographing (or videoing) and then research so you’re prepared to be respectful of their customs and laws.

  • Mexico has strict rules about using a tripod at their archaeological sites and requires you to get a permit.
  • Barbados has banned drones.
  • The Amish religion prohibits posing for photographs.

2. Get Consent

Even if you are in a public place and street photography is not frowned upon, it is important to get consent. If there are language barriers, use non-verbal cues to gain consent first. You’ll often hear that asking permission will hinder the integrity of street photography. Your desire for that perfect photo is not more important than someone else’s right to abstain. This goes hand-in-hand with understanding the local customs of whatever destination you’re visiting. Even if consent is granted, some customs dictate that a small gift as a thank you is given afterward. Also photographing a child without their parent’s consent is generally a big no in most places across the world.

  • In Japan, if they don’t have consent to share your image, they will blur out your face.
  • In some parts of Africa, it’s not only customary to ask consent. A small token of gratitude is often gifted to the subject, as well.
  • For some followers of the Islamic faith, having their photo taken is forbidden, so having their photos published without their consent would be even worse.

3. Be Considerate of Those Around You

While working on your perfect photo, make sure you be considerate of those around you. Not just other photographers, but folks who are there enjoying the same locale you are. Especially if you’re in a more heavily touristed area, it’s so important to be conscientious to your fellow tourists. If they are gracious enough to let you get your shot, make sure you are mindful of the time you’re taking. Also, so many people will just want to experience the space they are in. Perhaps they are resting on a bench and reading a book in a beautiful garden? I’m not advocating against getting your photo, but you can be kind about it. When in doubt, communicate effectively. 

  • If possible, plan your shots ahead of time so you can work through your photo list as quick as possible.
  • If someone is in the exact spot you’d like to photograph, ask them if they’ll move. Most people will impress you with their kindness.
  • If you are in a crowded space, do not pull out the selfie stick or try to fly a drone in close proximity to others.

4. Avoid Flash

Lighting can be such a challenge. Especially if your gear doesn’t handling the lighting conditions you’re in as optimally as you’d like. While it’s easy to lean on using your flash, be mindful of your surroundings. If you foresee yourself in low light circumstances often, I highly recommend you invest in gear that can handle those situations. Look for a camera that has good ISO performance combined with a fast prime lens. Otherwise, you might be ruining someone else’s photo or worse, their experience.

  • If you are in low light conditions, turn up your ISO to help snap that photo.
  • If you absolutely must take the photo and use flash, use a diffuser. The flash won’t be as harsh and it will likely help with the end results, too.
  • If you are indoors, be mindful of the rules. Many places have a no flash policy with indoor photography.

5. Respect Nature

This should remain unsaid, but really, I have to say it. No matter how amazing the photo you’re trying to snap will be, respect nature and your surroundings. This isn’t just for nature’s sake, but for yours, as well. Too often, I’ll see a photographer taking an unnecessary risk just for the ‘gram. Never underestimate nature, because she is mighty. Same with wildlife. Be knowledgeable and respectful and give them the space needed for your safety and theirs. And finally, honor local customs and come prepared with a strong understanding of local laws. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

  • Look for signs informing you of local laws. Most places will have signs going over the rules, laws, customs in that area. No signs? If there are ropes, obey them. Do not climb over them.
  • I know it’s enticing to stack your own rock formations and get all the photos. Take photos of existing formations, but do not create your own. For many reasons, including cultural sensitivity.
  • Wildlife is not there as a prop for you. Take your photos but do so respectfully. And carefully.

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