Camera etiquette overseas

Posted Date: 11 January 2016
Camera etiquette

Have you ever been on your travels and had that inner voice say, “should I really be taking a photo of that”. We’re not talking about the cheesy photo of your travel companion trying to push the Leaning Tower of Pisa upright (admit it – if you've been to Pisa you’ve definitely tried to take that pic). We’re talking about whether it’s appropriate for you to take that photo, and being aware of your surroundings and different cultures.

Manners, please!

Camera etiquette is a matter of respect. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ will go a long way to help you get a great shot when taking someone’s photo. Try to learn a handful of complimentary words in the language and be polite and courteous. Appropriate behaviour can be as simple as making eye contact with someone, showing them your camera and making sure the person knows he or she is being photographed.

If people don’t want their picture taken then respect their wishes and put the camera away. If you’re not sure of the local etiquette then ask those around you. Often, hotel or visitor centre staff are more than happy to answer questions and give you tips. Above all, be respectful and don’t assume it’s ok.

To selfie or not to selfie, that is the question

Taking a selfie has become a global phenomenon in recent years, but as it has grown in popularity, so have the fatal risks. There were 12 recorded selfie deaths in 2015, compared to only eight reported shark attack deaths in the same year. 

It’s hard to believe that many people risk their lives to get the ultimate photo. One man lost his hand after taking a selfie with a rattle snake, five people have been gored taking selfies with bison in Yellowstone National Park, and others have died taking a photo with a loaded gun.

Selfie accidents are so common in Russia that the Government has had to release a guide showing you how not to die taking a selfie. Remember to keep your wits about you, take the photo on steady ground, be cautious when taking a selfie from a height, and avoid posing with dangerous animals and guns!

Photographing children

The number one rule is ‘don’t photograph kids without permission’. Once you gain permission, show them the photos – kids are fascinated with gadgets and for some, this may be the first time they see their image on a screen. Don’t overwhelm kids and expect them to repeat the same action for you or take hundreds of photos taking up their time. Remember, this is not a photoshoot. Don’t be surprised if you come across kids asking for money for a photo of themselves or a group of friends. Many have learnt from photo hungry tourists that they can easily sell a snapshot.

Beware of animals

They may look cute from a distance but animal bites account for many of our insurance claims, along with theft from monkeys. Try to remember that wild animals are wild – they can and will attack you if provoked or startled. Leave the National Geographic style photos to the pros, no matter how good you think your smart phone lens is.

Don’t give your camera to a stranger

Be aware of people offering to take a photo for you while on holiday, especially in countries that are notorious for tourist scams. One common scam is locals dressing like a tourist and offering to take a photo of you, only to run off with your camera as soon as they get a hold of it. Another scam is a when a “tourist” asks you to take a photo of them with their camera, only to say that you broke it and you will need to pay for it to be fixed. Remember to keep your camera safe and don’t leave it unattended. If you’re not taking it out with you that day, keep it locked in your accommodations safe. 

Shrines and temples

Remember to be culturally sensitive and not treat a shrine or temple like a tourist attraction. Don’t take photos while people are praying and try not to let your flash go off when there are a lot of people around during prayers or mass. When in doubt, be conservative and ask if you think it might be inappropriate. 

Monuments and art galleries

When visiting galleries and monuments, try to get there early so you can beat the rush and capture a great picture before the crowds gather. Be mindful of others waiting to take photos and wait your turn. Many monuments and galleries will have signs up if they don’t allow photos being taken. If you’re unsure, ask around – you don’t want the security guard chasing you out the door!

Government and military establishments

Government buildings, such as military bases, courts or nuclear facilities, can prohibit photography as it can be deemed a threat to national security. Security alerts are so tight these days that it probably pays to leave the camera in your bag in these situations. Nobody wants to be suspected of terrorist activities.

Social etiquette

People love posting photos of their holiday on social media – nothing beats a photo of you on holiday to make everyone at home jealous. If you’re taking group shots, remember to ask before you post it online. You never know when someone may want to keep a low profile about being away from home.

Don’t be one of those annoying people in restaurants and cafes that takes hundreds of photos of their food, not letting anyone else eat before you’ve captured the perfect shot to post on Instagram. And don't be an inappropriate flasher! You know what we mean…snapchatting your friends in a theatre and the flash goes off at a crucial time in the show. Social death!

Take time to smell the roses

And finally, after you’ve taken several photos, put down your camera and immerse yourself in the real experience. Seeing something through your own eyes and not through a lens is liberating.

Related Articles

Foreign language survival tips

Foreign language survival guide

Don’t get lost in translation, follow these simple tips to help you survive in a foreign language country. read more

Travel tech tips

Travel tech: do’s and don’ts

Make sure you don't suffer from FOMO on your holiday. Check out our guide on travelling with technology. read more

Things we cannot cover

Common travel insurance confusions

Understand common confusions about what travel insurance can or can’t cover, and how to avoid being caught out. read more