When first going to the field, you are excited by the new world you are going to see and experience. Extraordinary nature, exotic animals, interesting people, markets, and lots of crazy stuff – you want to keep the memories, you want to share with your friends, family, and social media.
For some people it’s tempting to show skinny kids in rags and eyes full of tears or bare breasted women in villages. Please Don’t don’t these type of photos. We need to understand that taking their photos does not make us heroes and positions us to save them. If you want to be impactful, you need to build trust and respect with the community members and that is not by taking photos which may not be socially or political correct. Wrong moves will impact your work and your relationship with the communities which you are trying to serve. Just gaining attention is not a goal worthy enough when sharing your photos from the field. You have the power to educate and influence respect, use it!
Here are some general rules of photography for you:
1. Assess the context before you take your camera out
In conflict zones such as Darfur or South Sudan or tense refugee camps, you have to be cognizant of the local political and social climate. Avoid taking photos of military or sensitive areas. It can get you in a lot of trouble anywhere. A big camera with a big zoom lens is not something that you want to bring attention to yourself.
2. Always ask permission
Some love it and some really dislike people taking their photos. Respect their personalities and cultures – for example, in some places you have to ask the men if you can take photos of their home, wife and children. It is especially valid in conservative countries like… (give examples) (put a link to another article – stories behind some of your photos)
3. Build relationships
Try to engage the people you like to shoot, establish some sort of trust. Use the chance to learn something about them. Putting a big lens in front of someone’s face creates discomfort for anyone who does not know the photographer or why they are taking a photo of them or their families and friends or even their homes.
4. Respect women’s bodies
Please avoid taking photos of women whose breasts are exposed. I have seen it many times working in the field in the rural settings where expat men get infatuated by seeing some women’s breast and go crazy by taking photos. I am so sorry, it is just not nice and Ethical. You can grow by trying to understand the culture and personalities deeper by rather than taking cheap shots.
5. Make sure your permission is still valid
For work and project purposes, always ask your subjects in regardless that you have taken their photos before. Dynamics change on the ground and being an outsider and not familiar with the culture and language, you have no idea what is really going on. For example, once we had permission to go around and take photos in a refugee camp. The permission was given by the local leader but in a less than 20 minutes our staff was being escorted by gunmen who had no idea why our staff were taking photos around the camp. This imposes a lot of danger for you, the organization and the community members. Always ask the right people in these types of contexts.