Cultural Sensitivity in Travel Photos


– Learn the customs and especially the cultural taboos of the area you will visit
Taboo in some cultures: Pointing, touching, patting head, showing feet, etc.

– No touching anyone without permission

– Be careful not to regard those from a drastically different culture as if they are in a zoo

– Respect the right to privacy of others

– Make eye contact

– Remember to say ‘thank you’ in their language when done

­– Politeness goes a long way

– Ask for permission to ‘make’ photos, don’t ‘take’ them!

– Just because they don’t speak English or seem ‘primitive’ to you does not give you the right to do whatever you want or point your camera wherever you want.

– The sense of personal space around an individual is different in different cultures. Warmer places or densely populated areas seem to be more comfortable being in close proximity to each other while in more Northern climates people have a larger sense of personal space around them. Know what is appropriate to not offend others, put your subject at ease or use judiciously to throw your subject off balance.

– When you ‘steal’ photos by waiting until you think they are not watching sends a clear message to others about your intentions, integrity and ethics. It also affects how residents see the behavior, treatment and ethics of all photographers or foreign visitors. When you sneak photos of someone who does not want to be photographed your subject may not know but others do see and know what you are doing.

– Asking permission is not always a prerequisite when doing ‘street photography’, photojournalism or just including someone as part of a larger scene. The key is still acting in respectful manner and remembering that ‘no’ means no!

– I have also made what I call the ‘cowards photo’ many times- photographing someone from behind after they have passed me by because I was afraid to ask them if I could make a photo with them. Practice speaking up and being decisive. The worst that will happen is they will say no but every ‘no’ get’s easier to take and get’s you closer to the next yes.

– We are there because we want to make photos and trying new ways of making photographs is important to our experience. I also encourage you to trust your instincts and put that into action. One way to discern for your self what is appropriate behavior is to ask yourself “would I photograph that way at home if it were the people in my community?” How would you approach it photographically if your subjects were in that same situation at home? Use that as your guide to behavior.

­It is up to you to find a balance of respect for your subject and doing what it takes to get the photos you want. Find that place on the scale where you have a comfortable balance of action and respect.

Thank you for this consideration.


©Douglas Beasley 2012