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I have the impression that in Muslim countries taking pictures of people is often not welcome. On the other hand there are other countries where people really enjoy it (and also sometimes expect some money). In which places in the world (countries, cultural regions) is it considered offensive when a tourist takes a picture of local people?

Also should you always ask for permission or does it depend on the region/situation?

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Although it is really different from country to country and maybe region to region, I think it is always a good idea to ask before taking a picture of foreign people. That's just kind and shows respect. –  RoflcoptrException Mar 6 '12 at 15:00
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I ran into an interesting situation in turkey where a guy about 23 was taking photos(more than 20) of my female friends and I on a boat, the number and rate he was taking them seemed a little creepy. When I took photos of him and his female Muslim acquaintance this caused a real problem, apparently I wasn't allowed to do that. I refused to delete the 80 odd snaps I had fired off in 15 seconds unless he did the same. After 10 min of negotiation, international incident averted. –  Stuart Mar 7 '12 at 0:15
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Is it really cultural? I really dislike it when people take a picture of me, without asking permission. Still in my "culture" the many glossy journals proof that some real crave for this attention. –  andra Mar 7 '12 at 17:48
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I have heard of pre-modern cultures where taking a photo was considered "stealing somebody's soul". According to Islam, representations of people and even animals is wrong but as far as I know only the Taliban when they ruled Afghanistan enforced this. I have definitely seen indigenous people in some parts of some developing countries hide from or react otherwise very negatively to cameras. Some traditional ceremonies etc should not be photographed. And of course in North America you generally must not take a camera to a naturist beach/camp/resort etc. –  hippietrail Mar 7 '12 at 22:21
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@hippietrail whether some societies believed it stole your soul, or if that's a western invention, sounds like a good question for skeptics.se. –  Andrew Grimm Mar 9 '12 at 12:26

3 Answers 3

  1. Always ask before taking a photo - unless they won't know if you take it. That's not supposed to sound creepy, but sometimes you're say, taking a photo of the Eiffel Tower and someone happens to be in the shot, so that's fine.

  2. NEVER pay money for a photo. It encourages begging, or harassment. Ask permission, and if they say no or want money for it, offer instead to send them a copy of the photo, or show them the photo and ask if that's ok. Thank them and move on. I realise this is a controversial one, but personally I'd feel really strange asking for money if someone wanted to take a photo of me, so I treat others how I'd want to be treated.

  3. Susan Sontag who wrote "On Photography" (1977) had this to say:

"The camera doesn't rape or even possess, though it may presume, intrude, trespass, distort, exploit, and, at the farthest reach of metaphor, assassinate - all activities that, unlike the sexual push and shove, can be conducted from a distance, and with some detachment."

In most places, taking a photo in a public place is fine and you have the right to do so. It's in private places (homes, schools, gyms, workplaces) that you don't have the right and must have permission. However, what you DO with the public photos can affect your rights - for example, newspapers can publish news photos and don't need permission. However, try and sell a picture of a person on a photo website or similar, or use it in a book, and you'll need permission to use their image for commercial purpose.

Of course, how are you going to get permission from the awesome old Cambodian guy with the crazy beard that you got a travel photo of? Good question, and I've met several travel photographers who consider this a grey area and just risk it. But the key word there is "risk".

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Semi- and professional photographers would sometimes leave their name cards to subjects that are shot when posing specifically for the photo, like your Cambodian bearded guy -- this helps establish trust, and they could even send back a copy if contacted. –  mindcorrosive Mar 6 '12 at 21:21
    
That's a good idea actually, +1. –  Mark Mayo Mar 6 '12 at 21:38
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I tried taking a picture of a couple on a tatami mat in a cafe in Zao Onsen ski resort, and they posed for the picture, which wasn't what I wanted. I tried to gesture that they should turn around and ignore me, and they didn't understand. After a while they started laughing, and I took a photo of that. –  Andrew Grimm Mar 7 '12 at 12:15
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I have just read book on photography (a National Geographic one) and what they advise, regarding your point nr 2, is to pay for the photo if you are asked for that. –  mithy Feb 1 '13 at 11:11
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@MarkMayo: Oh, ok. I had thought of a simple gesture of agreeing with the taking of the photo, but in the case of a written permission, I agree with your statement. –  O. R. Mapper May 7 at 6:11

I'm not certain this should be down to country or culture.

I don't think the UK has a culture where people object to having their picture taken (*) - we have the highest number of CCTV cameras per head of any country in the world - but I for one would my very displeased if a stranger took my picture without asking.

And for those cultures you mention where people would expect money, asking them would also be a good idea.

(*) but some locations are off-limits to photographers, so while you may not offend someone, you may find a policeman or military guard coming to have a word if you photograph things that might be terrorist targets or military bases...

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Just two weeks ago I've been in London and I've visited the flower market in Colombia Road. There a German tourist started to picture a flower girl without asking her. She got really really angry and shouted at him that it is very unfriendly no to ask before taking pictures. –  RoflcoptrException Mar 6 '12 at 20:53
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In my experience, people who live or work in the "tourist" areas of London can get quite grumpy about people taking any photos, not just of them. London is quite a mixture, a lot of the tourist areas are mixed up with busy commercial areas. I think photographers can be very thoughtless, frequently blocking the street, stopping suddenly on busy pavements and so on. Professional photographers or film makers can be worse than tourists too, and there are few hotspots round London where they regard busy commuters are free extras... I would definitely ask permission in London. –  Colin Pickard Mar 8 '12 at 10:41

In addition to cultural issues, one should also consider that taking photos of border crossings, military installations, some police stations, and their associated personnel may be considered spying in some countries, and carry a VERY long prison sentence.

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I don't think this answers the OP's question. He's specifically asking about the culture of photographing people, not the legality of photographing buildings etc. –  hippietrail Mar 7 '12 at 22:16
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@hippietrail the two are intertwined at many levels. In the USSR for example taking pictures of guards at memorials was not just "not done" but illegal, in many other countries ceremonial guards are just that, ceremonial. That's a cultural difference codified in law. –  jwenting Mar 8 '12 at 7:11
    
@hippietrail thats why i said in addition to ! Just in case people infer the other 'offence' as in legal, rather than cultural, as many muslim countries especially consider morality and legallity to be exactly the same. –  NWS Mar 8 '12 at 8:50
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Because it's an addition rather than an answer I think it would've been better as a comment. Sorry. –  hippietrail Mar 8 '12 at 8:52

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