Does a Responsible Traveller Take Photos of Locals?

Photographing people is, understandably, a somewhat contentious activity. When we travel — and this we means absolutely anyone — we tend to do so because we are intrigued by exotic places, animals and cultures. “Exotic” simply means different, by the way, so Swedish culture can be just as exotic to a Ugandan as Ugandan culture is to a Swede. This curiosity is, we could argue, part of human nature, and it is to be celebrated.

That curiosity doesn’t give us any particular rights, however. In the last few decades, with the rise of first digital cameras and then smartphones and social media, photography has virtually exploded. These days, everyone has a camera. That’s changed a lot of things, including how often someone living or working in a tourism hotspot is likely to end up in front of a camera or what they think of that happening.

The simple answer to this question is: respect comes first. Strike up a conversation. Show some interest. Ask for permission. True, maybe they’ll say no, they don’t want to be photographed. It really isn’t the end of the world, even for a professional photographer. Memories can be special even if there isn’t a photo to go with them.

Should you ever break this rule? Ideally not in a situation where you could have asked for permission first. You might sit at the shore of a lake and photograph fishermen in their canoes, too far away for them to know that you are there or for their faces to be identifiable in the images. Generally speaking, though, asking permission is good for everyone — including future visitors, who probably won’t have much luck receiving that permission if someone else has photographed people against their wishes.

(A related question might be about paying for photography. For now, let us just say that it’s best to speak to your guide and follow their advice.)

This photo is from the outskirts of Musanze, Rwanda. We’d been keen to photograph a banana transport for a while, so we went out to this fairly busy road and simply asked the first person we saw if he’d mind being photographed. He didn’t, and this was the result.

Don’t miss our extensive interview with Marcus and head to his website for even more.