Is there such a thing as responsible travel photography? And along those same lines, are you a culturally aware photographer?

Culturally aware travel photography Karthika Gupta

No really…are you? I really want to know.

This is something I am very very passionate about. 

Time and again, I see photographers boasting about getting that perfect ‘Nat Geo’ shot of a tribal member, or a cultural event or worse yet, of a sadhu (holy man) and claiming that it should win an award, but have no idea on the history of the culture or even the person’s name!!!!

Now at the risk of ruffling feathers, I have to share my thoughts on this topic.

Firstly, I have nothing against National Geographic – I think they are a fantastic resource and do amazing work in the field highlighting a lot of global, environmental and people issues. I love them….

But what I don’t love is this National-Geographic-wanna-be-will-do-whatever-it-takes syndrome.

(that is quite possibly the most use of – in one word!!!!!!!)

We photographers seem to forget than many times the people who are in front of us are fellow human beings that need to be treated with the same amount of respect and dignity that we deserve. Just because you have a fancy camera, does NOT give you the right to point it at their face and TAKE A SHOT…please!!!

I recently had an opportunity to chat with Ugo and Ralph from The Traveling Image Maker Podcast about this subject- Cultural Awareness and being a culturally sensitive photographer.

Memorable Jaunts Travel Editorial Photographer-1-2

In this podcast I share tips on how to be a culturally aware travel photographer. These tips are simple common sense tips like

  • doing research and being knowledgable about the place and people you are visiting
  • being cordial, personable and friendly whether you takes pictures or not
  • knowing how to use your gear
  • learning to observe and then clicking
  • asking permission (wherever applicable)

Do take a listen and as aways let me know what you think of this!

How to become a culturally aware photographer Karthika Gupta

  1. Sarah Davis says:

    This is so important! The more I travel the more I see fellow photographers being rude or even downright offensive! It’s so important to show respect to everyone we meet – your tips are spot on.

  2. Kathryn says:

    It is so necessary and important to be culturally aware as a travel photographer! Thank you for making this post and reminding us all. Great tips for anyone travelling!

  3. I think that is really important to consider when traveling, even for non photographers. Being aware of the cultural environment is not only respectful but must be something we all care about.

  4. Fran says:

    This is such a great article! Many times I have traveled and wished I had more time to immerse myself in the culture and the local traditions. Great traveling tips!

  5. Chelsea Wallace says:

    This topic is definitely an important one to discuss. Being culturally aware is not only respectful but it makes us more knowledgeable about the world around us. When photographing others, especially if a different culture, I agree that one should learn about them before sharing their photo. Plus it adds more emotion to the photo when one knows the story behind the person.

  6. I love this topic! I get what you mean by wanting to have the photograph… Especially when you see worldwide recognized magazines such as NatGeo featuring that type of photography. However, there is a lot behind the scenes as to how to get those photos. I think the ‘average Joe’ photographer forgets that. Thanks for bringing up such an important topic!

    • Thanks Alicia! Yes for sure – we all want those Nat Geo shots but there is so much more to getting those photos that involves research and on the ground work with the locals.

  7. Deb b. says:

    This is a wonderful take on being culturally aware as a photographer. It’s so important to recognize that, the shot isn’t nearly as important as the person in front of the lens. That they are people, and that they deserve respect. Having said that – I absolutely love travel shots that incorporate the culture and the people in it. You’re so right, there are appropriate ways and etiquette that should be followed in travel photography. Great tips!

    • Thanks Deb. Yes, at the end of the day being in a cool place is only half the story – really being present with the intention of understanding the location and the culture is so much more.

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