Skip to main content
Home
/
Ethical Photography Abroad ‎

Ethical Photography Abroad

While studying abroad, naturally, you will want to document your experience through photographs. Before snapping that perfect shot, you should consider a few things. This U-M guide to ethical photography will help you think critically about photography abroad.

Step 1: Know Before You Go

Photography Legality
  • Before going abroad, research your host country’s rules and regulations on photography by visiting a country’s tourism website or searching “[country name] + photography regulations” on your browser.
  • Remember to follow local laws and be mindful that photography is banned in some places around the world and maybe even within your host destination!
Local Photography Customs

Consider why someone may not want their picture taken. Recognize that many countries have an exploitative history of foreigners documenting what they perceive to be “exotic” subjects. There can be many reasons that an individual may decline having their picture taken, but here are a few of the most common:

  • Political Reasons: Individuals may want to remain anonymous and unaffiliated with individuals or the picture’s context. Never show the faces of
    individuals if it could result in negative repercussions for them.
  • Private Property: Always ask permission before photographing homes, stores, religious spaces, etc. Consider how you would react to someone taking
    photos of your home without asking.
  • Religious Considerations: Some religions have prohibitions against having photographs taken of their followers.

Remember: Regardless of the reason, all individuals have the right to deny you their photograph!

Did you know?

Did you know that in many host countries, photography is significantly restricted?

  • In Japan, photography of shrines and many sacred temples is prohibited and
    could result in a fine.
  • In South Korea, photographing people in public without consent can violate
    privacy laws.
  • In Egypt, photographing government and military buildings can result in
    imprisonment!

Step 2: Taking the Perfect Shot

Think Critically
  • Abstain from using photos that potentially stereotype, sensationalize, or discriminate. Aim for complex portrayals of subjects that avoid reinforcing stereotypes.
  • Choose photos that represent people truthfully and show dignity, equality, support, and integrity. Try to create a feeling of mutual respect and reciprocity when photographing individuals.
Guiding Questions
  • What is the purpose of the photograph?
  • If you were in your home country, would you want to take the same photograph?
  • What does your image convey? Could your photograph have negative repercussions for your host community?
  • What context, if any, is missing from the photograph?
  • Does additional context need to be added to the captions to not contribute to stereotypes or generalizations?
Consent
  • Before taking a photo of a specific person, ensure you have their enthusiastic verbal consent. Kindly ask them if they would let you take a picture.
  • If you are in a country that speaks a language you are not fluent in, brush up on photography-related vocabulary.

Step 3: Sharing your Photos

Tips and Tricks
  • Use captions to fill in missing information (i.e., context) that viewers cannot get from a photograph alone.
  • Refrain from sensationalizing images through captions. Example: Using a single photograph of a hungry child as a representation of an entire community.
  • Edit responsibly. Photos must be carefully and faithfully edited to avoid
    misrepresentation.
  • Consider your audience. What additional information will your audience need to know in order to better understand the context of the photographs?

Step 4: Learn More!

Resources to Learn About the Guiding Principles of Ethical Photography
  • CDC Ethical Photography Guide
  • NPAA Code of Ethics
  • Photography Etiquette Around the World
  • The Engaged Photographer
Resources to become Informed About the Exploitative History of Photography
  • When the Camera Was a Weapon of
    Imperialism. (And When It Still Is.)
  • Photography & Power in the Colonial Philippines
  • Power, Consent, and Obligations in Photography