Everything feels new when you travel. Even things that you have at home seem a little more special on the road. With countless subjects and digital cameras, you can take pics all day or at least until your memory card is full.
Those that know me almost expect to see my finger always hovering over a plastic button. From pictures of my food to mundane street life, I love capturing "now". But there are also occasions to put the lens cap on or turn off the power. These are the top five times to not take a travel photo.
1. Objectifying people. I'm all about candid photos and street photography. With that said, if you ever feel guilty for taking a picture of somebody or something, then just don't. Instagram doesn't need to know. Depending on the type of traveler you are, you may find yourself in a remote village in a third world country where the lifestyle is so drastically different than your own that you are besides yourself. I assure you that feeling won’t escape you. You may not remember every detail in five years, but you will remember that experience whether you have a camera or not. Remember, some cultures believe that if a person is photographed that part of their soul has been forever stolen. I don't consider myself a soul thief, but I do respect their belief. However, if you do want to take a picture of or with a person, then do ask permission as a sign of respect. Keep in mind though that you may be opening a can of worms by doing so. They may want/demand money for that shot.
2. Annoying your company. Unexpected photos of your friends and photos of food can annoy people just as spending extended periods of time on your phone around company will. Maybe you can snap off a quick one, but this is not time to be a perfectionist or you’ll piss your company off. They saw your food in real life. They don't need to see it again on Facebook. Out of politeness, many will wait to eat until everyone is ready. That will change quickly with this behavior and nothing angers people more than expensive cold food. I've taken most of my food photography dining solo. Yes, I've eaten alone a lot.
3. Tourist attractions. We all want to take a selfie with the Eiffel Tower and other famous landmarks as proof that we were there. And let's not lie. We want to create some envy among our friends and family as well. But these monuments have been photographed a million times. Just Google what you're staring at. My advice is get your "proof" and be done. The more you play at your camera/phone to capture your surroundings, the bigger and bigger target you become to get pick pocketed. Dodgy characters linger all day around tourist attractions because tourists get so awestruck by their new surroundings that they don't realized that their wallets were lifted. Staring at your camera cuts down on your peripheral vision too which you need the most when you are around crowds.
4. When your camera doesn't stand a chance. There are some sights that are so awesome in the true sense of the word that a camera won't do it justice. So don't bother. Live in the moment. Breathe it in. Write down your emotions or how that setting made you feel in a journal or on a napkin so you can retell the experience sincerely. Resist the urge to publish. Take a mental snapshot instead. Travel author Paul Theroux said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that he never takes photos because it prohibits his ability to really observe his surroundings. "Without a camera, you study a thing more carefully and remember it better. Taking a picture is a way of forgetting."
On a nature related note, be kind to nocturnal animals. Don’t use your flash. One, you may cause temporarily blindness to the animal. Two, your photo will probably look crappy anyway because of the darkness. (The shots you see online of nocturnal creatures have been taken with large aperture camera lenses and special lighting.)
5. To feel liberated. As much as I love photography, I hate carrying things. I like both hands free. Many times I'll take a backpack but on hot days that makes my back sweaty. I prefer taking whatever can fit in just my pockets. If it doesn't fit, I don’t bring it. That's not always practical, but it does often work for me. However, many travelers like myself have DSLR camera for travel photography. Great for photos but cumbersome to carry.
My solution: Decide before going out if today's a shooting day or enjoy my surroundings day. It sounds silly, but it’s hard to do both. No DSLR camera means less to carry and more to take in. It allows me to take in my surrounding using all five senses. Carrying a camera subconsciously channels all that energy just into my vision. I feel obligated to take photos because I have it. I'm always thinking about composing a picture and forget the rest. If that's not the purpose of the outing, then I ditch the camera. On a nature walk, I want to hear the chirping of the birds, feel the soft texture of the moss, and taste the moisture in the air. Not asking myself if this low light shot with 800 ISO will look too grainy enlarged.
If you think of other situations of when not to shoot, please share them in the comments below :)