I live in a truly spectacular place.
So I like to get out and experience it and explore it.
I am also really into photography and have a crush on my Canon.
So I want to capture these experiences and explorations in photographs too.
But sometimes it's hard to tell where the line is between what is just awkward and what is rude in regards to taking pictures while traveling.
Because locals stare at me all the time, regardless of whether I am scooting to work in the morning or jogging down the street or grocery shopping or ordering a Starbucks coffee or eating out at a restaurant or crouched down taking a picture of something.
My goal as a photographer is to make sure the stares are simple hey-there-is-a-foreigner stares and not what-a-jerk stares.
For example, my friend and I went on a little temple-hopping, photo taking adventure last week.
We drove our scooters around downtown Hsinchu and poked around three different temples, one small, one big yet abandoned and one huge + highly populated.
And we both wondered: how do we do this the right way?
This being taking pictures of the temples we explored.
Taiwan is unlike Thailand or Indonesia concerning temple etiquette or even tourism.
No signs outside of the entrances state the rules for how to properly behave in a temple.
Further, I am pretty sure we are some of the only westerners in Hsinchu so locals are not accustomed to foreigners coming around to snap photos.
I've searched the web for Taiwan temple etiquette but nothing really useful or definitive pops up.
So rather than feel like I cannot proceed with my photographic explorations of something as iconic as Taiwan's temples, I simply proceed with my common sense.
This is how I stay in the realm of awkward-foreign-girl-taking-pictures rather than rude-American-girl-taking-pictures.
ask for permission
I don't speak Mandarin beyond a few survival phrases, none of which have to do with taking pictures. But I don't actually need any words to ask locals for permission. Before I take photos of certain things, for example a night market stall or people, I make eye contact and motion to my camera. Every single time so far, I get an overwhelming positive response. Most people seem ecstatic that I would find their fruit stall or even themselves photo worthy. This simple gesture lets people know I actually care about their feelings and allows me to snap as many pictures as I want without feeling awkward or guilty. Last week, if someone was at the temple we wanted to enter, we simply asked for permission before just walking inside and taking pictures.
notice what locals are doing and respect it
This is pretty much how I get by day to day for far more than just figuring out how to be respectful while taking pictures. This is how I learned the rules of the road while driving my scooter and this is how I learned how to get business done in the post office. This is very useful when trying to navigate what is appropriate and inappropriate in regards to taking photos. After living in Taiwan for more than two years, I know that a proper dress code for anything does not exist so I don't cover up to visit a temple like I would in Thailand or Indonesia. Women here visit temples wearing shorts that are reflective of my underwear, just to give you an idea. Further, I pay attention to rooms that people don't go in at a temple so I don't either. If I notice they don't touch something, then I don't either. If something is obviously revered, I may just leave it alone. The simple action of paying attention to local behavior allows me to feel confident that I am not doing anything offensive while snapping photos.
put yourself in their shoes
I don't feel bad going into a temple and taking photos despite the fact they are well used by locals. Do I feel a little awkward? Sure. But that's not enough to keep me away. Taiwanese temples are breathtakingly beautiful and an iconic symbol of this country I call home. That said, I do not take pictures of people actively practicing their religion. In my opinion, certain things are meant to feel private. If I was a National Geographic photographer writing an article on Buddhism, that would be different. But I'm not. I am just me: a curious person. So when deciding whether its appropriate to snap a picture, I always ask myself if I would want someone taking a picture of me if the situation was reversed. If I don't think I would want that, then I don't take the picture. It's as simple as that.
remember that not every picture has to be an overt act
I have taken plenty of daily life photos in which the subjects have no idea I am taking their photo. Sometimes this is easier said than done but it is one way to remove worry from your end of the situation. It also means you don't have to ask for permission or jump through any hoops before taking out your camera. I usually do this by shooting from my hip. I don't bring my camera to eye level. I do this a lot at markets and I usually love the quality image I get because it's a little crazy just like the scene I am capturing.
Small, simple steps can ensure that locals feel respected and valued while at the same time allowing you the opportunity to snap away.
What about you? Do you have any good tips for being a respectful (and maybe a little awkward) travel photographer??
This post is part of the Sunday Traveler and Travel Tuesday link up. Check out both for more fabulous travel writing + photography!