P for Photo Etiquette

Alison Laycock

Travel is my great love and after that taking photos of my travels, the people I meet and the places I see and sharing them with others either with friends or as an educational tool in my lessons is a close second. However, I have noticed during my last few travels that things are changing. My love for it remains the same although some frustrations creep in as I see changes in other people’s attitude towards taking photos or more importantly their disregard for others when taking their own photos.


Maybe you have also come across these types of people on your travels and if you recognise yourself in any of them then please have more empathy awards others and change.

1) The sign says no photography as it is a place of worship: In Buddhist monasteries, there are signs to indicate no photography is allowed. This is to encourage people to be in the moment and to experience the environment fully. So take in the chanting, the paintings, the whole atmosphere rather than seeing it through a lens and also spoiling the centuries old paintings and statues with the flash.

This rule also applies in most churches and cathedrals, it is especially the case in the Sistine chapel in Rome with signs evident and security guards walking round both encouraging silence but also no photography.

So how is it people still feel the need to get that photo? Is it because they need to defy rules? They have to have something that others won’t even think of taking as most people respectfully follow those rules and understand why they are in place?

2) Historical sites are no longer sacred: When I was in Egypt, I visited Cairo and Luxor with some amazing historical sites. I knew the sites would be busy and hot due to the soaring temperatures and I knew if I wanted some photos then I would have to compete with many other tourists. However, what I hadn’t predicted was that there would be tourists wanting a photo of every pose they wanted to take in front of a statue, so much so that I would have to wait patiently, quite clearly wanting to take a photo and then have to jump on quick to grab a quick photo as the friends changed around so that the 2nd friend would feel the need to pose in every position and some completely inappropriate.

3) Everyone else must want a photo of me taking a selfie: Whatever happened to noticing that other people are waiting to take a photo? Or do people really think that I and others wish to have them in my photos? At the cross leading into Astoria, Spain I was kept waiting along with other pilgrims wanting to take a photo of the cross with Astoria down below in the distance. A great photo it would make but certainly not with the other pilgrim in it standing on the base of the cross taking a selfie of himself stood in every possible position in front of, next to, leaning against the cross in every imaginable pose.

4) Locals are beautiful and it’s great to get photos of them: This is true however not when you have a long lens stuck in their faces. Be respectful, ask permission if you are really close up and offer something in return but please don’t do what I saw happening in Bhutan. An elderly lady was asked by a guy if he could take a photo, she said yes and then he proceeded to take photo after photo with a long lens getting closer and closer to her face. He may have got a few photos, however all they would have shown was a woman’s expressing changing from being open to closing and starting to feel scared.

5) Allow people to worship without interfering and taking a photo: A person’s act of worship is a private moment so why would you want a photo of it? I was meditating in Lumbini, Nepal when I was interrupted by a Nepali young man shaking me wanting a photo. I have never before or since this moment refused to either pose with locals or allow them take my photo as I understand they love getting a photo with someone who looks so different to them. Since that moment, I’ve questioned whether I regret saying no as I saw the look on the young man’s face but no I don’t because in that private moment I was in Buddha’s birthplace and this was my goodbye that area as I prepared to leave Nepal. When we look at others, we can never know what they are thinking or feeling so why can’t we allow them their private moments.

Photo by Prasanth Inturi on Pexels.com


As I said above, there are many great reasons for taking photos but when did we lose respect for others? There are many other situations I could have described here, however I’m sure you all have some examples of your own so I don’t need to go further.

Taking photos have given me many moments of joy and the camera also allowed me to interact more with locals without speaking their language. When I left my village in Nepal, I printed out photos of the people I had interacted with, those I considered to be my family and friends as well as teachers I had interacted with in schools. This served as a thank you, a sharing of how special the moment was that we had shared and it also gives people a chance to see themselves as they may not have a mirror or camera.

Photos are a great way to share memories and experiences with others rather than simply talking about the event. However, there are many moments I will always remember even without the photographic proof as I’ve experienced the moment to the full in experiencing it properly and taking it all in rather than worrying about getting the perfect photo.

As a traveller and I like to say an explorer rather than a tourist, the whole point of being in another country is to understand different cultures, make connections and to enjoy many experiences. Why in this openness would we suddenly become so selfish and blind towards others in our environment? Has the need for the best selfie turned us into people who simply take photos and move on without allowing ourselves to be caught up in that moment?

Let us know your experiences by getting in touch below.

#culture #photo #selfie

 

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