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Photo Etiquette Tips for World Travelers

Today we are all photographers whether you shoot with your iPhone or your DSLR it doesn’t matter because almost everyone takes photos when they travel. Most photos we take on vacation are pretty straight forward. A landscape here and a famous monument there but things start to get tricky in when you step into developing countries or even just outside tourist zones. The question becomes when is it ok to take photos of people, kids, or personal situations you are observing.

For the most part I am not hesitant about shooting photos of anything when I travel. I carry a Nikon D5000 which is a great camera for beginners and those familiar with photography. I love shooting everything and anything I find interesting but there have been many times where I did not want to violate someones personal space. Here is what I have learned from shooting all around the world.


Ask Permission with Your Eyes

Often the language barrier will prevent you from verbally asking someone if you can photograph them. A simple gesture with your camera or eyes and a smile can signal your intent to shoot. Most strangers will happily oblige and smile for the camera.


These women were happy to let me take their picture. All I did was smile and hold up my camera first

Be Over Sensitive to the Situation

When I am developing countries I often feel as we have the right to shoot as I please but keep in mind every culture has it’s own set of norms and you may be invading people’s personal space. This is why it is smart to error on the side of caution and be sure it is ok to take a photograph. If you think you may be invading someones space then don’t take the photo.

Here is an example from photographs I took inside a Buddhist temple in Bangkok. There was a ceremony going on and I was one of two foreigners observing from the inside. I did not begin to start taking photographs until they saw I was interested and gave me the silent nod. It doesn’t take much to gain permission even in a room full of silent monks.


Inside a ceremony in a Bangkok temple

Treat Everyone With Respect

Consider how you would feel if someone entered your home and snapped a picture of you eating dinner or preparing a meal. Treat people how you would want to be treated if they came to your home town. I am sure you would not mind posing for a photo or even posing with them for a picture. Remember, they are people just like you and treat everyone with that same respect.

Here is an example (not a wonderful photo) of going inside a home and taking a photo. Before I even considered this I spoke with the family and before I knew it they invited me in and even suggested I take some photos. This home was only one bedroom for a family of 5 but they were happy to let me in once they trusted me.


Inside a Haitian home outside Cap-Haiti

 Engage Yourself with the People You Are Photographing

This particularly applies to kids in developing countries. For the most part I have found kids love to be photographed when they are in groups with their friends. They laugh, smile, and pose for your camera. I always make sure I show them all of the photos I took and they love to click through each one which usually results in a laugh. It’s a great way to break the ice and how some fun with kids. If they are with their parents be sure to ask first.


These little guys wouldn’t stop smiling and posing for the camera.

Remember the Golden Rule!

Only photograph someone if you would feel comfortable if you were in their situation. Put yourself in their place before you snap the picture.

Golden Rule

The Golden Rule

Of course, their are situations when these rules don’t apply. For example, photojournalists have their own set of rules. But as a casual traveler always keep the subjects feelings in mind. If you want to take candid photos of people just be quick and quiet about it. Don’t make it obvious and try not to be intrusive. Most people will happy to allow you to photograph them so do your best to ask permission first.

When in doubt just take pictures of cute animals, they never mind 🙂


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I have been traveling to over 100 countries by using the methods I share on this site. My goal is to maximize every trip and make the most of my adventures. Join me on Instagram.