Guidelines for Ethical Photography

When you travel, use these guidelines for culturally sensitive photography. Make sure to review the guidelines before entering the GIDS photo contest. Guidelines prepared by Dr. Steffi Hamann.

Get the consent of the people you photograph

Never post or share photographs publicly that contain identifying information (e.g. faces, conspicuous individual characteristics) without obtaining consent from the subjects in the images.

Remember that even if you do not speak the language of the people that does not mean that you have consent to take their photo. If you are unable to verbally ask for consent, use body language, sign language, or facial expressions to demonstrate your intent. You will get a feeling as to whether or not you have received consent.

Treat subjects with respect and dignity

You may find yourself taking photographs in areas that you would never be allowed in your home country. Avoid taking pictures of people in the hospital or in vulnerable situations.

In an article published in Transitions Abroad Magazine, Jim Kane suggests using the at home test to determine whether or not you should take a picture. Would you take the same picture of people if you were in your home country?

While living in Guatemala, Devin Graves noticed that tourists would take pictures of women who were selling food in the market. Many of the women would cover their faces as tourists passed through since they knew that tourists branded cameras ready to snap their photos.

As a visitor to your local grocery store, would you feel comfortable taking photos of the cashier? Ask yourself similar questions while abroad to determine if you should take a picture in any given situation.

Respect the culture

While taking pictures abroad, respect the local culture and customs. When you see a religious ceremony, funeral procession, or other cultural events that you will wish to document.

Make sure that you ask yourself whether or not it is culturally appropriate to take photographs in that context. Avoid stereotypes and exoticism in the pictures you take.

Tell the real story of the community

Through photography, you can share the stories the community wishes to share. To do this, familiarize yourself with your community, ask people what they love and enjoy about their community, and share these feelings through your photographs.

One photograph of a sick child in Kenya can paint a narrative of a country full of sick children since people who have never visited Kenya may not understand the context of the photo. Use your photography to share the positive and unique aspects of the individuals you meet during your time abroad.

Share photos responsibly

As mentioned previously, social media is the most common way of sharing your photos but it is important that you contextualize photos and share the full story. Don't stereotype of share false generalizations, and by all means, avoid becoming a Barbie Savior.