Nikon and Martin Edström offer expert advice on a whole host of cultural etiquette you should be aware of when meeting and photographing people from different parts of the world.
Accompanied by beautiful, award-winning photography from Martin himself, this guide also gives expert advice and inspiration for capturing the best images of your travels, from the optimum times of day to take landscape shots to how you should position people within a photograph.
The perfect pocket-sized companion for your next holiday, this guide offers some tricks of the trade that will help you impress your friends and family on your return and make your holiday memories even more beautiful.
A word from Martin: These days, a digital camera is often one of the first things people think to pack when going on holiday. This has meant that people around the world are now more accustomed to having their photo taken but, at the same time, many have also become impatient with tourists taking a lot of photos, especially without permission.
Wherever you are in the world, you need to be courteous and always ask before taking someone’s picture, even if this only means nodding to someone and showing them your camera.
People should have a choice whether to be in a picture. This is especially important when photographing one or a group of individuals, but to a much lesser extent when photographing a place full of people.
A great thing about digital cameras is the LCD screen – enabling you to instantly show people your images. People often want to have a look, and it always lightens the mood if you can show them the great picture you just took.
If you are thinking about selling your images to an agency for commercial use, remember that you will need written permission from every person in the picture.
- Capture the religious diversity of Asian culture
Sanctuaries and holy places are often good places to start if you want to capture the spirit of a country, especially in the large cities where everything else is just a chaos of buzzing traffic.
Although religious rituals can make for interesting photography, you do need to be especially respectful when taking photos of individuals taking part in these types of ceremony. In South Asia, be aware that during many Hindu ceremonies, photography is viewed as sacrilegious – being a distraction from the worship taking place.
And in India, there is debate about the right etiquette with regards to rewarding or ‘tipping’ the subjects of your photos especially in the more impoverished parts of India. Many people believe the rule to be that you should tip a shop person or worker because you have taken them away from their job. However, the best idea is to play it by ear, and if you’ve taken up a lot of somebody’s time, then a small gift goes down very well.
Martin's top tip:
Good lighting is essential for creating the perfect picture so make sure to explore every possible light source before taking your photos. Using the palm of your hand is the best tool for finding good light. Just hold it up at the spot you want to photograph – if the light looks good on your skin, it will probably look good in a portrait.
Africa - A cultural playground
Africa is a continent packed with a variety of natural wonders - from the famous Sahara Desert and Victoria Falls to the stunning Mount Kilimanjaro and Table Mountain.
However, being such a popular tourist destination, many areas of Africa can prove crowded and difficult to photograph, particularly as the safari holiday has become more popular over the years. It is often an idea to try and avoid the crowds or visit out of the peak season in order to capture the best images.
During my time in Africa I have noticed that people are not keen on you trying to capture images that portray the more negative or volatile aspects of their country, so it is advisable to focus on more positive aspects if you don’t want to offend anyone.
Martin’s top tip:
When taking landscape photography, there is sometimes no way of avoiding the harsh tones created by direct sunlight. When in Africa, the early mornings or late afternoons provide the best soft-light conditions for capturing perfect images.
Europe - Uncover natural wonders
Beyond the powerful cities and modern architecture, Europe has some of the world's finest wilderness, from the mountain ranges of the Pyrenees to the Black Forest in Germany. Including destinations like these in your travel plans will help you to collect a diverse set of images.
Europeans have some of the most relaxed attitudes to photography in the whole world. However, as with most continents, the rule is always to ask before taking anyone’s photograph and in some countries, more specific rules apply.
When placing your subjects within a shot, be careful not point with your finger but instead use your whole hand. Pointing at someone is considered a rude gesture in many parts of Europe.
Martin’s top tip:
In portrait photography you should keep the eyes of the person you're photographing in mind. Make sure there's some kind of reflection in them - even just a small glint or shine will make a portrait image come alive.
North America - Get involved in the local culture
Nowadays, capturing the culture and spirit of North America can be achieved simply by staying in the cities to watch the colourful personalities of the local people unfold before your eyes.
Relaxing for a day on the beach in Los Angeles and watching the surfers - or strolling along the boulevards in Montreal amongst the dozens of roller-skaters can be just as interesting as the Grand Canyon or Yosemite and can provide some of the best photo opportunities.
In more rural parts of North America, such as Mohave, custom demands that the body as well as the property of the dead should be cremated and because of this, the preservation of photographs is deemed an especially offensive violation of this rule, since it preserves "the shadow," i.e., soul of the dead. Hence the Mohave are very reluctant to be photographed and resent any attempt to photograph them by stealth.
Native Americans in the US might refuse being photographed because they believe a mirror does not reflect reality, but a persons’ soul. A picture, taken by a device that relies heavily on mirrors, may therefore capture and enslave the soul. Sometimes, this restriction only counts for infants and children, as their souls are fragile, and can more easily leave the body.
Martin’s top tip:
Portraits are much more inviting when it feels like the person trusts the photographer, so if you can gain a rapport with your subject you can then try and catch them in action or capture their image while they are laughing.
South America and the Caribbean - Make friends in South America
South America is the continent where people often live in complete harmony with nature.
In rural areas, such as Amazonia or the Andes, the way of life is completely defined and enriched by its surroundings. A good thing here is to catch people in this harmony - pictures of man and nature living as one are seldom seen in the western world.
South America is a very inviting place to photograph, and people are very friendly. If you travel through rural areas you should be ready to show them your pictures – people are often more than willing to be photographed and love to see the results.
Many people in poorer areas are not able to take and print their own pictures so a good tip if you want to take photos of the locals is to take note of their addresses so that you can send them a couple of printed copies. I have done this on many occasions, and have received very grateful replies.
Some Caribbean cultures believe that a representation of a person may be used in ‘sympathetic magic’ to cast voodoo spells on the person in question. Ask before you take a picture - especially in tourist areas where regardless of the cultural beliefs, many people do not want to be in photos simply because they are tired of having them taken.
Martin’s top tip:
There are magic numbers in photography and the most important number to remember is the number three. Whether you're photographing objects or people, having precisely three of them in a picture will create the most powerful pictures.
You can be the expert too
Travel photography is all about trying new techniques and being inventive with the way you take your photos.
For the best and most original images take pictures of more unusual objects or look at a well known landmark in a different way. For example, instead of taking a picture of a beach landscape why not focus in on a rock pool or a set of footprints in the sand?
Nikon welcomes you to use this guide when taking photos abroad and add your own notes on the lessons you learn on your travels. If you have any images or tips you would like to share, Nikon would love to see them.