Proper photography etiquette varies around the world. Learn from these six pro photographers as they share their experiences shooting people and landmarks in every corner of the globe.

As individuals and as societies, we all have different attitudes about cameras. Travel photographers must understand the laws in every country and community they visit, but on a more basic level, they must also understand the nuances of the etiquette in any given location. In some situations, showing a sign of respect makes all the difference.

Sometimes it’s as simple as asking someone, “Can I take your picture?” Or maybe, if you’re in a strictly regulated area, it comes down to getting the required documents signed and approved. And other times, it’s simply about showing that you’re willing to take the time to get to know your subject. For instance, in order to take her iconic 1946 portrait of Gandhi, Margaret Bourke-White first learned how to use a spinning wheel herself, as per the request of the activist’s secretary, Pyarelal Nayyar.

We asked six travel photographers from around the world to give us some insight into how the process might work in different areas and under different circumstances. When you’re visiting a new place, keep in mind that the polite way to take a photo will vary. These are just a few personal experiences to give you an idea of what to expect while traveling.

1. “…Definitely ask if you are not sure. You yourself might not get into trouble, but it might be that you are getting your subject into trouble.”

Maarten Noordijk

6 Photographers on Camera Etiquette Around the World — Remember to Ask Permission

Image by Maarten Noordijk. Gear: Nikon D200 camera. Settings: Focal length 25mm; exposure 1/160 sec; f8; ISO 100.

Have you ever photographed in a place where there are unusual rules about taking pictures?

In North Korea, you know that everyone is watching you. As strangers in a strange country, we stand out from the crowd. And we have no idea what happens to the people if we take their picture. Somebody may report that they had contact with a Westerner, and as a result, they could be called up by the authorities to explain themselves. It might make matters worse if a photograph is taken, so ask their consent before or after.

Sometimes it is not really asking but just waving or a thumbs up to let the people know you took a great picture. If they smile back or want to see the picture, you’re fine. We were there with four people and had two guides every step of the way. If you live in Pyongyang, you are already a good party member. The rules for taking pictures are even stricter outside the city, so it’s always good to remember that there are differences for taking pictures within a country itself.

Pictured: [1] Maarten Noordijk [2] Maarten Noordijk

I did manage to catch a soldier in one picture, and it became a favorite of mine. It is a picture of a soldier standing guard in front of the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun (the mausoleum of Kim-Il-Sung). I also like the fact that you only see his back. It multiplies the anonymity of this place and even a bit of the country. It was almost impossible to feel close to people during this trip to the DPRK.

Pro Tip

For me, the golden rule of thumb is to ask! And definitely ask if you are not sure. You yourself might not get into trouble, but it might be that you are getting your subject into trouble.

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2. “I think being polite and respectful of the people around you is key, wherever you are and whatever you are shooting.”

Sylvie Bouchard

6 Photographers on Camera Etiquette Around the World — Respect is Key

Image by Sylvie Bouchard. Gear: Sony a700 camera, Sony DT 16-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. Settings: Focal length 60mm; exposure 1/100 sec; f11; ISO 125.

Have you ever photographed in a place where there are unusual rules about taking pictures?

In Cameroon, most of the women I wanted to photograph had to ask their husbands’ permission to do so. Many refused, and I had to accept that. This woman is a widow and she readily accepted, although it may not have been well-perceived by some. I took pictures of her regularly during my stay, and we had a lot of fun. I think she was brave, bold, and beautiful!

6 Photographers on Camera Etiquette Around the World — Be Polite to Subjects and Bystanders

Image by Sylvie Bouchard.

Pro Tip

I think being polite and respectful of the people around you is key, wherever you are and whatever you are shooting. One African street vendor taught me that. He was offended that I did not ask permission to photograph his merchandise. I admit, I had not thought of that. Lesson learned. Now I always talk to vendors before shooting!

3. “…She posed for me for a small fee. I photographed her, and then she signed a model release.”

OlegD (Oleg Doroshenko)

6 Photographers on Camera Etiquette Around the World — Give Something in Exchange

Image by OlegD (Oleg Doroshenko). Gear: Canon 40D camera, Canon 70-200 4 IS lens. Settings: Exposure 1/320 sec; f5.6; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This is a small story. This picture was taken in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India in 2012. This woman was selling souvenirs for tourists, and she posed for me for a small fee. I photographed her, and then she signed a model release. Five years later, I returned to the same place, and I found this woman. She was very happy, and she had changed a lot.

Pictured: [1] OlegD (Oleg Doroshenko) [2] OlegD (Oleg Doroshenko)

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4. “The norm in this village was 100 rupees each for photos.”

David Evison

6 Photographers on Camera Etiquette Around the World — Be Willing to Make a Deal

Image by David Evison. Gear: Canon 5D III camera, 16-35 f2.8 lens. Settings: Unknown.

Have you ever photographed in a place where there are unusual rules about taking pictures?

A few years ago, we traveled to Nagaland, North East India, in search of the famous Mon headhunters. Until the early 1970s, the tribes in Nagaland were infamous for having a tradition of headhunting and displaying the captured heads on the front of their houses.

With the fact that the practice has been outlawed since the arrival of Christianity some 50 years ago, the number of surviving ex-headhunters with facial tattoos is slowing dwindling as they die off. One village we visited on the border of India and Myanmar had eleven ex-headhunters left when we visited. Usually, you are lucky if you get to meet one; however, we wanted to meet as many as possible.

Our guide could see we meant business and roped in a local to take us to the houses of the warriors. One was at home, looking very ill. We gave him some medication we had for a headache to help out. Another had heard some tourists were in town and found us. He was selling all his old trophies, so we bought some in return for some photos. We knocked on a few more houses, but there was no answer. It turned out there was a large local funeral down the Burmese side. We trekked down into Burma, and eight of the headhunters were at the funeral.

The norm in this village was 100 rupees each for photos. They saw some tourists had come to visit, so they stopped the ceremony, and all of them came over. Despite having killed numerous others, they were the nicest of people. We took our photos and shook hands with them all. Ten out of eleven wasn’t bad. On our walk around the villages, we were shown this old collection of skull remains; it shows how many heads or trophies were taken. You can see some of the portraits in my Shutterstock portfolio.

5. “Tourists are also only allowed to visit places that were agreed upon and mentioned in the travel agenda.”

Abd. Halim Hadi

6 Photographers on Camera Etiquette Around the World — Accept Local Restrictions

Image by Abd. Halim Hadi. Gear: Canon G9 camera. Settings: Focal length 30mm; exposure 1/320 sec; f9; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind the photo above?

My journey through Turkmenistan and some other countries in Central Asia took me to the most important cities of the old Silk Road and remote places that probably no tourists have ever visited. This oasis, rising on the valley of the desert, is one of the sights from my campsite.

Have you ever photographed in a place where there are unusual rules about taking pictures?

One of my most challenging tasks throughout my thirteen years as a journalist was to photograph Turkmenistan, one of the hardest-to-reach countries in the world. They have many unusual laws, especially for tourists. The Turkmenistan government has a strict law against the use of cameras in public; in fact, they prohibited tourists from photographing government buildings, airports, train stations, city spaces, markets, or even the sidewalk.

6 Photographers on Camera Etiquette Around the World — Follow the Rules

Image by Abd. Halim Hadi.

In the streets of Turkmenbashi and Ashgabat, the two major cities I visited, it was virtually impossible to take pictures because there were policemen everywhere, almost on every street corner. You cannot escape surveillance because every citizen would also be responsible for tourist activity, and they even stop tourists from taking pictures themselves.

Aside from the rules surrounding photography, visitors must get a letter of invitation to get into Turkmenistan. Tourists are also only allowed to visit places that were agreed upon and mentioned in the travel agenda while they were obtaining their visa.

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6. “Great photographs start with your ability to get along with people.”

Jittrapon Kaicome

6 Photographers on Camera Etiquette Around the World — Be Open and Kind

Image by Jittrapon Kaicome. Gear: Nikon D800E camera, 24-70 f2.8 Nano lens. Settings: Focal length 50mm; exposure 1/250 sec; f2.8; ISO 500.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This is a portrait of a Karen tribe girl in traditional dress. This talented girl was born in the Mae Sariang district, which is located at the border of Thailand. In her childhood, she walked for more than four hours with her father to school. After meeting many people, she found questions roaming around in her head: “Why don’t I have a last name?” “Why don’t I have an ID card?” or “Why do I have slurred pronunciation?” She felt disheartened because she realized it was because she is a stateless member of a hill tribe.

But on second thought, she had a dream of becoming a professional writer. Due to her extraordinary talent, she made good grades in school, won many awards for writing, and earned a scholarship to pursue her university studies. She has high hopes that one day she will get Thai citizenship and become a professional writer. She wants to tell stories reflecting her own community and experience.

I was with her while she was covering a story about a teacher who dedicates herself to teaching kids in forgotten areas along the border. This photo was taken through the window in the soft morning light after an overnight stay in the village. What I love most about this photograph is that the beauty of her story is reflected in the beauty of her portrait. I don’t want her to be forgotten in our society.

Pictured: [1] Jittrapon Kaicome [2] Jittrapon Kaicome

What have you learned about camera etiquette throughout your time as a documentary photographer?

I’ve always been on a journey to find stories in many different places. Most of these places are in remote areas, borders, and sometimes restricted areas that are difficult to reach. I have experienced different languages, cultures, and ways of life. You have to remember that wherever you go, you are a stranger in that part of the world.

When you are with different kinds of people, you have to adapt yourself to new situations. More importantly, you have to not only show signs of respect, but you also have to be friendly with people who have different cultures, backgrounds, and ethnicities. Great photographs start with your ability to get along with people.

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Top Image by Jittrapon Kaicome.