Were you attempting to take some photos inside the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City? Or were you just reprimanded for casually trying to click a portrait of a Rajasthani lady in Pushkar? The first thought that might come to you is “What’s wrong in taking a picture?”, but think again! That’s exactly why one should be able to respect the diverse cultures in different places, know the subjects they want to click and be empathetic towards people and their preferences and learn about sensitive travel photography.
Would you like it if some stranger clicks a snap of yours and walks away?
Of course, not!
Sensitive Travel Photography: A must for photographers
There’s no doubt that we treasure the photographs we take today as precious memories of tomorrow, but that does not entitle us to click without consent. Learn more how about sensitive travel photography and how it actually helps!
Research Before the Quest
As thrilling as it may be to travel to a new place, do not forget to do your homework before you leave. Once you are done preparing your itinerary for a place or a foreign country, the next activity on your to-do list should be to read up about the place or the country’s culture, and specifically any photography norms that they follow.
For instance, if you are off on a trip to France to satiate your hunger for photography, while it’s fine to click some shots of the French Riviera and the Palace of Versailles, do not think of clicking a one-off snap of a French lady, even in a public space.
Else you will be in for a shock!
A number of places also have region-wise sensitive travel photography regulations, which you must abide by.
So the next time you visit Mexico, do not take your camera out in Chamula, a small Mexican town, as taking pictures of the locals there is considered unlawful.
Also, learn the basics of Street Photography
Interact With the Locals
If you are planning a photography tour to an unknown land with no clue of even the language that they speak, communication can definitely be a problem.
There are two solutions to this issue – learn up a few common phrases and greetings in the local language, which can help you gel well with the residents of that place, (This will also leave an impression in the minds of the locals that you are interested in learning about them.) or share your most genuine smile with the people you interact.
Before taking your lenses out, mingle with the people you wish to click. Share your details in terms of your name and the place you belong to; ask them about their place and customs that they follow.
Such informal chit-chat not only helps in building a mutual rapport but also lets you gauge their body language, thereby making it easier for you to shoot interesting things and people. This is an essential sensitive travel photography be it in India or abroad!
Ask for Permission
As a photography enthusiast, it is expected that you would crave to click every magnificent scene or fascinating incident or the wonderful people you meet on your way. While that might be your primary objective of travel, remember to get the consent of the person concerned so that you do not end up disappointing the locals.
For instance, clicking pictures of children in Quiché, a small city in Guatemala, is a complete “no-no” as it implies that you might kidnap the child. So if you like offbeat travel and have planned your next expedition here, ensure you do not click any photos of children without the permission of the residents there. Not only will it show disrespect to their culture, it might lead to unwanted trouble for you.
A good idea is to learn to speak “May I take your photograph please?” in the local language of every place you tour.
Know Your Gadget Well and Keep Your Destination in Mind
Were you not able to get the best shot at the Hornbill Festival’s night carnival in Kisama, Nagaland because you were busy fidgeting with your camera to get the right focus and exposure? Indeed, that is a loss for you as a photographer. Knowing your gear is extremely crucial while you are out travelling and shooting snaps and videos.
If you are aware that you are going to a hill to enjoy some mountain-side photography, it is important that you understand the nuances of using a wide-angle focal length so as to be able to capture greater detail in a single click.
Similarly, you may spend time amongst villagers in Tankali at Gujarat and get friendly with them. But they may not be ready to spare more than 10 seconds for you to click them.
In such a case, if you do not know the best camera setting to click a portrait of a person, your “mission photography” will not be successful.
Check: 8 Tips for DSLR Beginners
Give Priority to the Subject to be Photographed
Often as photographers, you might come across many religious events or social functions taking place publicly. Instead of barging in and clicking non-stop shots of the occasion, it is always advisable to keep the camera in your bag, while you take a step ahead, talk to people involved and learn more about the festivities.
Not only will such a gesture act as a positive icebreaker, it will make the locals more comfortable with you. And that’s exactly the right time when you should ask them and when they would be more willing to “say cheese”.
Observe Before You Shoot
Capturing the nitty-gritties of every new place you go to is a given, but before you switch on your camera, take the time to look around and feel the cultural change surrounding you.
Considering the time constraints that most of us face these days, we may definitely not afford to spend days together before starting to take pictures, but adding at least one extra day to our travel plan can reap huge results. Why one day? Just for observing and
Why one day?
Just for observing and empathizing with the people and the place you are going to.
While staying behind the lens undoubtedly allows you to capture a glimpse of the “present” and preserve it for the future, being one with the people leaves an indelible mark in your minds as well as theirs.
And for sure, a “groupfie” with your new friends will be a cake walk after that!
Be Respectful Towards Your Unwilling Subjects
Be it a strict restriction, a personal choice or sheer reluctance to be captured in a frame, as a culturally sensitive travel photographer, you must be able to respect the decision of your subject. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and befriend an originally disinterested person to let you click him or her later during your trip.
But if someone insists on not being photographed, so be it.
Do not make unjust attempts to get a picture, probably to show off your photography skills or to get a higher response on your blog or just for some virtual publicity on Facebook!
Look Back and Reflect
To err is human, but to repeat the same blunders is blasphemy!
While you experience myriads of cultures, places and people as part of your travel, it is important that you get back and recall all the good and bad moments you had. Not only is this a way to cherish your memories, but it also helps you to learn from your past mistakes.
For instance, if you happily clicked a few photos inside the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul without actually buying a separate ticket for your camera, the officials would have fined you for that.
So the next time you visit the same place, you ought to be careful of such norms.
As you travel and discover new places, portray a host of elements in interesting shades, and probably also document all that you experience, you gradually grow as a travel photographer. But amidst all the fun and learning, remember to adapt yourself to diverse cultures and be considerate to the preferences of the people you meet. That is the gist and the essence of sensitive travel photography.
And not to forget, while you fathom more around the globe, do feel free to chip in with other photography-related tips and help your fellow photographers.