What’s the etiquette for taking photos of strangers?

We have all been there wondering around soaking up the atmosphere and keeping an eye out for photo opportunities, when suddenly you turn a corner and there in front of you is the most photogenic person you have ever seen. It is the shot you have been waiting for, and no doubt it is destined to make the front cover of some glossy adventure magazine.So let the moral dilemmas begin. How do you go about taking the picture? Do you do it sneakily without them noticing, or stroll right up and point the camera in their face? Will you offend them to ask? Will you offend them to offer payment? Will you even be breaking some local cultural taboo and usher in the devil as soon as you click the shutter? Its a minefield.

Taking a well-posed snap of friends and family is straightforward. Everyone is in agreement and ready to have their photo taken. However, taking a shot which involves photographing strangers is an entirely different matter. Deciding on the appropriate etiquette for snapping someone you don’t know can be tricky to get right. Here are a few pointers to help get it right.


To ask or not to ask?

The first issue to deal with is that of permission. Some photographers prefer not to ask to be allowed to take a picture, preferring instead to just get the shot while it’s there. This takes a lot of confidence and experience though and may not be the ideal way for an amateur to get the picture they want.Confidence isn’t a bad thing, however. Showing that you’re afraid to ask permission to photograph someone can come across as abrasive and almost threatening, which will immediately alienate your subject. The best way to get over this fear is just to do it. Get plenty of experience by asking for permission frequently. Be open, approachable and friendly. If you feel you need to give a valid reason for wanting to photograph someone, say it’s for a school, college or photography class project. Most importantly, take refusal with good grace and acceptance and move on.There may be cultural or religious reasons why someone does not want to be photographed, so if you’re taking shots while abroad or at a religious or cultural landmark, it’s wise to ask about the etiquette that may apply at these venues. Tour guides, venue staff or even just a passing local, might be able to fill you in on what’s acceptable and what’s not.


Getting relaxed shots

Getting the best shot can be difficult if you’ve asked permission first, as most people who know they are to be photographed will naturally turn towards the photographer, striking a pose. This is where your confidence as a photographer comes into play. Be bold about asking your subject to look at the camera, or away from it, or at the task they are doing. Strike the pose you want yourself so that they can copy you. Being direct about what you want can get better shots than treading on eggshells, or snapping from a distance.Keeping the conversation flowing while snapping can help your subject to relax while you get the picture you want. Chat to them about what they’re doing, ask questions about their costume, talk about the weather, even. Anything that will help them to lose any stiffness or awareness they have that they are being snapped.


To pay or not to pay?

Once you’ve got the shots you want, it is important to thank your subject. They may be keen to see the pictures you’ve taken and it’s only fair that they should be allowed to take a peek at them. In certain popular destinations, you need to be aware that there may an expectation of payment for having been photographed. Some cultures will be offended if you offer payment without being asked, so try to get to grips with what is appropriate before you start taking snaps. Most importantly, don’t be so impolite as to attempt to barter if asked for remuneration in exchange for a picture. If you’re not prepared to pay, then politely refuse and walk away.


Post by Tony, a UK based blogger on behalf of Cheapflights.