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Ethical Photography on Study Away Programs

While you are studying away, it's easy to want to photograph everything you encounter on your journey. From takeoff to photos of cultural sites, there is just so much to see!

Before you snap your experience or click post on social media, it's important to think about what you are capturing and if the potential impact the photo may have when you share it with others. 

Food for Thought: Why Photography Manners Matter

Imagine you are out at the Athens Farmer's market. Another attendee stops near you and starts to take photos of you. They don't ask for your consent, nor do they explain how they are planning to utilize the images of you later on.

This would probably make you feel uncomfortable and maybe even raise your concerns with the photographer or local authorities. 

The same uncomfortableness can be experienced by those you may be tempted to photograph when you are traveling. 

Before You Snap: Privacy and Consent

You may see locals engaging in some customs and traditions that you find fascinating and want to capture to remember. Before you snap the photo, you should pause and think about the people you are about to photograph and their right to privacy.

People have a right to privacy, regardless of where they exist in the world. Part of our cultural understanding of privacy is not allowing folks to randomly take our photo and utilize it for their own personal means. Instead, we would expect someone to ask for our consent to be photographed and subsequently asked if it is okay to share the photo publicly. 

Another way to think of it: Taking a photo with a landmark (ie. Grand Canyon) vs. taking a photo of someone named Mark. Arguably, Mark has a right to privacy that we do not afford to landmarks/buildings/nature.

It's important to reflect before you take that photo on the following:

  • Who is in your shot and have you asked for and received their consent to take their photo/video? Would they like you to share the photograph with them?
  • Are you being respectful of people’s privacy and private property?
  • If there are children in your shot do you have the consent of their parent or guardian?
  • Do you know the local laws about photography and privacy? 
  • Are you putting any individual or animal in danger, either to get your shot or because of it? 
  • Is photography allowed in the location?
  • Are you being respectful of cultural practices and important cultural/historical sites? 

Photographing Children

Children/Minors are protected by The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and there are high expectations regarding the privacy of a child. 

  • Are the children appropriately dressed? You should never take a photo of naked children or a child sitting/showing their underwear
  • Do you have consent from the child's parent or guardian? Children are not legally able to consent to being photographed.
  • Why are you taking the their photo?
  • Do you need to show their faces?
  • What are you going to do with the photograph?

Pause Before You Post: What Story Are You Telling?

It is critical to make sure you pause before you post, and consider the impact of your photo/video. How will you use your photos to narrate your experience?

The story that you tell, both through imagery and captions, reaches far beyond your closest followers. For some of your audience, your first-hand experience of this destination may be the only context they have for the location. This can have a major impact if your story/message isn't clear.

One common example is when folks volunteer abroad at schools in their host countries. They take a photo with their local students (consent given this time) and decide to share that memory out on facebook. Their intention in sharing a photo may be to highlight ways they've grown through the experience, the impact the organization they are working with has, or even just to share their appreciation for the impact the students have had on their life. 

Those can all be valid reasons to want to share this piece of your experience, but it does not mean that is how everyone will interpret your photo. You may be unknowingly highlighting stereotypes and misrepresenting the local culture.

Ask the following questions before you post:

  • How may others interpret this photograph? 
  • What is the context for this photo? Are you accurately describing the image with your caption?
  • Does this accurately reflect the culture you've experience, or does it reinforce stereotypes about the culture?
  • What is your role within the story you are telling? Are you documenting the culture/experience or are you manipulating the image/messaging to highlight you?
  • If you were the subject of the photo/video, would you be comfortable with the content?

Want to learn more about ethical photography?