Scenario: You go to a remote village in 3rd world country x. You see a photogenic wizened old man, or woman in traditional dress, etc and ask if you could take a photo. They indicate yes, but also extend their hand for money?

I'm not asking the subjective 'should you' as some will argue they're in public, etc, but giving that money - is that the right thing to do for the community? Or will someone getting some money from a foreigner cause more problems (obligatory clip from Eurotrip)

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    Note that in the Western world models en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Model_(person) are paid as well. Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 15:47
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    @cbeleitessupportsMonica indeed, it was just an example.
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 22:06
  • Mark, I feel this "should you" issue is impossible to answer. Recently I was discussing w/ someone about the app "industry" (rofl) in today's world. That "industry" is simple: Perhaps 3000 people make a living, and some 2 million labor endlessly dreaming they'll make "millions" with the next iFart. It's a simple, straightforward scam, on the large scale; the only entities which benefit are Apple/Google, and the pennies (in app purchase or ad views) are indeed exactly like the "tips" in the question. Hence, never use any apps, you're just hurting the "totally misguided beggars" involved?
    – Fattie
    Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 13:24
  • Is this fundamentally different from just buying something or paying someone to provide some other service in a third-world country? Why is photography important enough to focus the question around here?
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Dec 15, 2019 at 10:43
  • The broad socioeconomic and moral considerations that come into play here seems a bit beyond what an experienced traveller would be an expert on. I expect users on Economics and Philosophy would probably have more to say about those respective aspects. If you're planning on publicly sharing the photo, there may also be the consideration of what effect that would have on how people from other countries view people in that country and whether this would be good or bad, but that would probably be a different question.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Dec 15, 2019 at 11:14

3 Answers 3


TL;DR: Yes.

Here's a spin on your question: let's say you asked somebody in the West (say, a street performer) if you can take their photo, and they asked you for money. You would consider if the amount being asked is reasonable, and then either take the photo and give them the money, or you would not. However, you would presumably not start arguing with them about whether "it's the right thing" for them to ask for money, or for you to give it.

This applies equally anybody you meet in a remote 3rd-world village. Many photogenic tribes (long-neck Karens, Maasai herdsmen, Aboriginal dancers in Australia, etc) are quite well aware of the fact that Westerners consider them photogenic, and not a few make a living off this. So, if they're asking you for money, and the amount they want is reasonable, pay them.

That said, it's tough to separate this from the subjective "should you" discussion: for example, many Karens in Thailand are there as refugees with extremely limited job options outside posing in human zoos for tourists, and the lucrative industry built around this both encourages the status quo and drives young Karens to join it. But if you're concerned about exploitation, the correct response is to not go on organized tours in the first place, so the middlemen don't get their cut.

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    Hmm, no vote on my part but this answer kinda missing the mark for me. 1st paragraph - of course I won't interrupt the act to question them on it but if I happen to bump into them in a pub afterwards I wouldn't be against doing so as part of general, polite conversation (as opposed to hostile and accusatory). 2nd / 3rd paragraph - but doesn't encouraging this type of 'employment' discourage others that may be more beneficial to the community eg why become a builder, plumber, teacher when I can make more being photographed? I think that's what the question is asking, but it could be clearer. Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 14:16
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    cont. I see you do touch on this in the 3rd, but it could be improved with more exploration into 'is this good for people in the community or not'. Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 14:22
  • Phrased this way, the question is very similar to asking whether it's reasonable to pay professional models for photo shoots. Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 18:13
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    The "should" is a very difficult question to answer. Relief organizations are being revamped because foreign aids tend to completely destroy the local economy of whatever they're supplying "food, clothing, medicine" so they need to be very careful about how to give aid and how to get the local economy running again. If the US drops in to a country and gives out millions of dollars of stuff, I bet a TON of people just instantly became jobless.
    – Nelson
    Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 5:36

Yes it is.

On a group safari in Kenya our lorry rolled into a village and stopped to replenish the water tank. Within a few minutes they had dressed up some of the women in their finest clothes and beads (no jewellery - they were desperately poor) for photography. They wanted 5 shillings from each photographer.

I couldn't help but notice that those of us who seemed to be the most well-off were the ones who complained the loudest. Yet it was less than the price of a bottle of soda.

Otherwise, what was in it for them? Nothing, after a group of wealthy tourists help themselves to "their" water and drives away.

Even small amounts a money make a difference in a cashless economy.


There is a cultural issue here too. In parts of the world it's not just that people do not like to be photographed, or photographed for free, but feel that it somehow damages them: that you are not just making a photograph but really are taking something from them. People can be so offended that they might remonstrate in a threatening way, or even get up and move their temporary home somewhere else, because you have violated them and that place.

But by establishing a deal, you know it's ok to photograph them.

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    "Cashless economy" is the wrong phrase, but the advice is correct. In fact, this has been tested... and confirmed... Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 14:09
  • @Harper-ReinstateMonica how do you mean "the wrong phrase"? On the same trip, we asked a teacher how much he earns. I forget the exact amount but it seemed pitifully small. One of us asked "How do you live off that?" The reply was "I don't: my family lives off the land, and the money pays for things we can't grow or make or barter." That's what I meant by a cashless economy. Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 14:55
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    I understand you mean extreme poverty. "Cashless economy" means the very opposite of what you are saying: it means using Apple Pay, NFC, credit cards etc. instead of carrying bills and coins around. It's sort of like "pro-life", not what it sounds like... Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 15:19
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    @Andrew Morton that means something else. I meant an economy which is not money-based, but that might be a hard concept for westerners to understand. Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 21:15
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    @WeatherVane Ah, in that case, non-monetary economy would be the accepted term. Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 21:17

Anecdotal: We were in Mumbai a few years back; and while visiting the city, we were told not to give money directly to individual beggars because they probably will be mugged later on (especially if giving American money which we had on us at the time), but to give to organized charities (Which we did)

So, depending on the situation, if you are "surrounded" by beggars while taking pictures, it is probably not a good idea to do it; but if you are in a remote area, engaging a single person, it might be OK to give away little bit of local money.

If using a local guide, you can ask them.

This is the kind of question that could be cross-posted to https://photo.stackexchange.com/ where photographers could have had the same experience.

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    I think there is a big difference between being a random beggar asking for money, and you choosing to take somebody's photo and being asked for money in exchange. Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 3:15
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    Another danger in giving money to a beggar in a city is being swarmed by a mob of them there and then. I was advised to give money through a car window at the moment of driving away. Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 7:29

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