By Kim Bercaw
Capturing travel memories with a camera is an excellent way to document your trip. And now that the world has gone digital, the number of snaps you can take is limited only by the size of your memory card. That said, it’s easy to go a little nuts with the photos. Just last month, for example, I took roughly 487 family vacation pics. (My kids’ eyes were all open in three of them.) And when you’re clicking away like Ansel Adams (or Clark Grizwald, for that matter), it never hurts to keep in mind some basic camera etiquette. We’ve all heard the cautionary tale of the tourist who angered a warrior by thoughtlessly taking his photo and, according to the warrior’s cultural beliefs, stealing his soul. While incidents like this certainly occur, you’re more likely to simply come off as impolite or naive if you decide to shoot first and think later. (See example below.)
Who: Me (Five months pregnant, fancying myself to be some sort of pot-bellied National Geographic photographer.)
Where: A rustic cottage, deep in the heart of Provence.
When: Six years ago this month.
What: Attempting to snap a few photos of the WILD BOAR that was minding its own business about thirty yards from our back door.
Why: For exactly the same reason you might do the same thing… for the GLORY.
Of course, I didn’t expect the flash on my camera to make a loud popping sound as I attempted to click the shutter. And I also didn’t expect the wild boar to look up in surprise, snort angrily, and charge me. And I CERTAINLY didn’t expect the enormous zoom lense on my camera to create the illusion that the wild boar was actually three inches from my face, causing me to stumble backward in a panic, fall flat on my rump and flail uncontrollably, all while screaming at the top of my lungs like a threatened howler monkey.
I can suck it up and tell you about this now because the boar was bluffing. After his initial display, he immediately disappeared into the brush. I escaped the incident with nothing more than a big raspberry on one hip and a bruised ego.
Bottom line: Use discretion when pursuing that epic photo. Even seasoned travelers can get hit with the idiot stick when caught up in the moment.
Here are four key pieces of travel photography etiquette:
Pay attention to your surroundings: Don’t let the viewfinder on your camera distract you from changing weather conditions, terrain changes (read: sudden drop offs) or wild animals who may decide to, oh… I don’t know… CHARGE?!?
Pay attention to people around you, especially locals. Are you infringing on someone’s privacy by taking their picture, even if they’re in the background? Either way, it never hurts to communicate.
Showing the person the image on your digital screen after you take it is an additional courtesy. I know one guy who even carries a Polaroid camera and gives his subjects an instant print of themselves after he shoots them with his fancy camera. People really seem to appreciate it. Another friend allows his subjects to take a photo of him first. This helps put them at ease.
Don’t disrupt the flow. Are you blocking pedestrian traffic? Are you spending five minutes getting a shot when you could be spending five seconds? Are other photographers standing by, waiting for a turn? Preparing the settings on your camera in advance and planning out the composition of the shot ahead of time can help things go more smoothly.
When in doubt, ask. Can you use a flash in that church? Do those women in burkas like to have their picture taken? Are the rocks at the top of that 200-foot sink hole slippery? You’ll never know unless you inquire. Even if you don’t speak the language, hand signals and gestures can go a long way.
Following these simple guidelines is the best way to get great travel photos without losing an ounce of pride in the process. Do you have any stories of travel photography faux pas to share? If so, I’d love to hear them.