Should you take photographs?

Should you take photographs

Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations. But in our digital age, photography and its use is no longer straight forward. Before reaching for the camera we all could do with thinking about ethics.

For starters no-one can take it for granted these days where photographs may end up. Do we guard the privacy of people we capture on camera as carefully as we guard our own?

Exploitation of children

Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Exploitation of children in tourism is a serious issue yet tour operators who support campaigns to protect vulnerable children put photographs of children on their social media. Is there a contradiction? Can holiday photography unintentionally damage their efforts?

Should posting and sharing photographs of children on publicly accessible websites or social media be avoided, particularly if a location is easily identifiable? What makes it ethical to post a photograph of a young child from an indigenous community on Facebook when UK children under thirteen years old are not supposed to use it? Social media sites may also make publicly-posted content available to selected third parties and then those third parties may syndicate to other media and services, so there is no knowing where a photograph ends up.

Cultural visits

What about our behaviour on cultural visits to ‘interesting’ villages and neighbourhoods? These can involve encouraging people to perform or behave inappropriately just  for photographs? As we click away with little thought for people going about their daily lives do we ever consider whether we’d do the same at home? Is it ethical to stick a camera in front of someone and take their photograph, without even speaking to him or her? Ethical photography is about being considerate in attitude and approach, rather than being voyeuristic, thoughtless or selfish.


Similar senstivity should apply to wildlife too.Disturbing wildlife just to get a different viewpoint is definitely unethical, so to minibuses converging on an animal, regardless of any distress caused, to guarantee the all-important souvenir photograph can be taken. Sadly, it is not uncommon for animals, including birds and snakes, to be drugged or mistreated so that they can be used as a ‘photographic prop’.

Paying for photographs

The ethics of Paying for photographs on holiday is a difficult one. If people ask to be paid, is it better to decline and not take the photograph? This is an individual decision as in some places people genuinely make a living through having their photograph taken – the water sellers in Marrakech for instance. They may have a set price or may negotiate – using the local exchange rate or cost of living rather than western rates avoids over payment or setting a precedent. In contrast, asking children to pose for a photograph for money, pens or sweets is wrong on all counts and inevitably encourages them to then ask other tourists for money or gifts, and worse still, could result in them leaving school.

Advertising photography

And what about advertising photography? Photographing ‘clients’ on holiday raises another question about privacy. Relaxed and enjoying their holiday activities, they may understandably object to photographs taken by a tour operator or local guide being used on Facebook or a Flickr stream. Whilst great for PR and marketing, it shouldn’t be taken for granted that clients will want to have their personal holiday experience ‘online’ for general viewing.

Photography competitions

Is it ethical for organisations, often with ‘Responsible Tourism’ credentials, to run photography competitions and encourage people to enter, when the terms and conditions may require unrestricted rights for the use of those photographs? What about the ethics of the competitors,  entering a photograph of a person who has no knowledge of how their image might be used? The subject may be delighted to see a winning picture of themself in a brochure, magazine or online, but alternatively there could be cultural sensitivities or even social consequences as a result of public exposure. Usually it is better to try to make sure that people are happy to be photographed, by talking with them and asking their permission. Photography competitions with rules that disregard copyright or take advantage of the use of entries are best not entered.

Social media sharing

Sharing photographs on social media is here to stay.  People go on holiday, take photographs and share them, for example, on Facebook. They use the public setting, probably not thinking about their privacy, application settings or copyright. Governments, tourism, travel and other commercial organisations who engage through social media need to be ethical in their use of content and photographs shared with them online, especially when they subsequently convert into free marketing opportunities for wide-ranging social media strategies (Pinterest, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.).

Holiday photography  can play an important role in archiving what is around us, highlighting positive and negative impacts on our environment. It will be an even bigger  force for good when we all learn to respect others’ privacy and take account of Internet safety where ‘user generated’ content and digital photography is involved.