Last meeting we were entertained by Kingswood Club Members Sue and Richard Winkworth and their tales of Myanmar (you may know it as Burma) in a presentation entitled “The Road to Mandalay” and yes after the song. Their trip was undertaken at a time when tourists were rare (it only opened up to Tourism in 2012 after 50 years of a military dictatorship) which presented both opportunities and challenges. 2016 the number of tourist arrivals was around 5 million, in a country of 54 million people. That’s roughly the size of Spain and Portugal combined. Last year Spain had 75 million visitors and Portugal 60 million, to give it some context.
The most striking thing to me was the quality of the light, which was very soft, making things look like the entire enterprise was shot on Kodachrome. The relative lack of industrialisation and the control of population around some of the shrines (limiting wood smoke from cooking and heating) made for lower levels of air pollution beyond the dust that is inevitably kicked up (even though those glorious sunsets are made from reflections of particles in the atmosphere).
The other thing that struck me from the map they showed us was the number of straight lines denoting boarders. Those boarders are entirely artificial, nature, after all abhors a straight line (William Kent circa 1685 – 1748). Well apart from crystals. Many of the pictures Sue and Richard took were in Shan Land, for instance, which boarders Laos and Thailand and the tribal boundaries are certainly different to the political ones. Now these might not be things that trouble the average tourist taking pictures, but a little local knowledge goes a long way.
Travel photography is big business, but it is a big business that is very, very, crowded these days. There was a distinction at one time between the professional and the amateur that could easily be defined by the fact that the professional took for and sold to the print media and when established made a regular income from commissions. Then the World Wide Web and traditional print industries got a pounding from which they are still diminishing. This coincided with the world opening up, air travel in particular became a lot cheaper and more opportunities arose. These days travel photographers make money from a wide variety of sources, indeed have to as revenue streams tend to be small and varied.
Most of us though are not in the business of travel photography. Yes we travel (and that can mean going to the next town or village) and yes we take photographs. Yes we combine the two. When we are photographing in our own region then the general way people behave when there is a camera is about is generally accepted and generally adhered to. Travel just the other side of the channel to France and the privacy laws, even in public places, are a lot more complicated.
So what amateurs and professionals alike do have in common is the attitude towards the subject. You can buy photographic workshops in exotic places by run by professional photographers (just because they are doesn’t mean they can) and the better ones do a lot to make sure that you come back with those iconic shots. That takes a lot of time, knowledge and investment and that is what you are paying, usually quite large amounts for. I have experience of one of these with French Photographic Holidays a couple of years back and it was enormous fun, the food was excellent and I learned a lot. A good experience. In France, it is relatively easy to take pictures of people and places, despite what I wrote above unless and until someone decides you have breached their privacy, which it is almost impossible not to.
Basically you are required to get someone’s permission before you take their picture. Then, if you want to publish it in any way you have to ask their permission for each specific usage. Any object that is created by or is the copyright of an artist, or designer, similarly requires permissions to be published in each specific context. Anyone who owns a property can assert rights of ownership of property and the photographer needs permission to publish. There is no “Freedom of panorama” as such, though that is coming under EU law, so it does not matter if you took that photograph from public or private property.
Then there is the situation in general. If someone objects you delete the image. It is not practical to get the permission of every architect of every building in shot permission. Generally people don’t and the architects don’t sue. But they could and you have to be mindful.
In Saudi Arabia you do not take pictures of women in the street. Full stop. Other pictures depend on where you are. Jeddah, for instance, is more easy going about these things than say Riyadh. In Dubai, which is much, much more western tourist oriented, along the picturesque creek there is a Naval base on the wall of which, in letter about six feet high, it says No Photography. Upsetting men with guns is never a good idea. You do not take photographs of the Naval base. The rest of the creek, fine.
These are examples of the conditions imposed. Then there are the conditions we as photographers impose. The attitude you give dictates the attitude you get back. A simple nod with the camera usually will tell you if your intended subject accepts having their photo taken. A smile and a thank you afterwards also helps. You will see trains of photographers in the more common tourist destinations on photographic tours and it is interesting, even when the scene has been deliberately set up with models, how many bother to say thank you, as if the fact that they have paid to be here yields entitlement.
You can draw up your own list of Do’s and Don’ts from yours and others experiences, both behavioural and technical. Personally I always learn how to say three things in the local language. The first is “Please”. The second is “Thank you”. The third is “I am not mad, I am British”. They all work.