By Megan Begley, Senior Manager of Social Impact Journeys
These days, nearly everyone has a camera. They’re in our phones and our pockets and all the latest apps and digital technology make photography easier than ever. This extreme accessibility has a profound impact on travel destinations and the local communities that are visited, especially on donor trips.
As a group of foreigners traveling to a community, particularly communities where your organization is working to improve lives, it’s extremely important to consider the impact of photography. Photography is an important piece of a donor trip. Your donors want to be able to capture photos to remember their unique experience. And you want to capture photos to showcase your travel program or to use in your fundraising materials. So how can you manage photography on a trip in a way that will protect the communities you visit while still capturing striking images and meaningful memories?
The following points will help you begin to develop a thoughtful photography policy for your donor trips that will create a sense of respect and trust with communities and generate a positive experience for all.
Why Are We Here in the First Place?
It’s incredibly important to determine the purpose of your trip and that travelers understand the reason they are there to begin with. Stating the “why” of your trip in your photography policy will help you and your travelers frame how you plan on showing up in a community. If you are there in solidarity and hoping for developing a deeper understanding of the community hosting you then how does the camera fit into this process? What images connect to this goal?
Determining the purpose of your trip can also minimize over-photographing and help everyone focus on capturing the moments that will go beyond pretty pictures and actually further your goals.
The Community Decides
The local communities that you’ll be visiting should have the authority to set any boundaries on photography. There are many cultural sensitivities around photography in addition to certain topics or issue areas where photography would not be appropriate or even allowed. Do the communities understand why people want to take photos? Do they feel comfortable in how the photos might be used? Are their children there? If so, is there a need for a child protective policy to be signed by travelers in advance of arrival?
If the community agrees to allowing photography, remind your donors in your policy that it is respectful to ask if they can take someone’s picture. This can be done with gestures if language is a barrier. In some cases, locals will expect a tip or request a fee for their photo to be taken. Always be considerate of someone’s desire to be compensated or not to be photographed.
How your group presents itself to a community is incredibly impactful. Many site visits include visits to people’s schools, gathering places, and even homes. Ask your travelers to take a moment to think about spaces in their life that you would not want to be photographed: eating, crying, praying, having a private conversation, etc. Not everyone likes to have their photo taken and everyone has boundaries on their privacy. Invading that privacy just because you are in a place that is different does not excuse the negative impact that might have on those you are visiting.
Your photography policy should remind travelers that they will be going into people’s daily lives and sometimes personal spaces and to be respectful. Invite them to put their cameras down and be present in the moment. To observe and engage with the lenses of their eyes instead of the lenses of their cameras.
Designate a Photographer
Consider allowing only one person to photograph the community visits. This not only helps to minimize a paparazzi effect but also allows your donors to leave their cameras behind and focus on the purpose of the trip. In addition, it makes for better photos because the people in the photos will be engaging with each other and not taking pictures themselves. You can take this one step further and reserve a specific time during the visit when photos are to be taken. It should be well into the visit so connections have started to occur.
You could also turn the tables and ask if the organization you are visiting has a camera and invite the people you’re visiting to photograph the event. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the visit through their eyes?
Designating one photographer and coordinating a time for photography are both great ways to generate more authentic interactions and to capture more meaningful images.
Before the trip, set up a way for people to share photos with you and with each other. There are many platforms out there for storing and sharing photos such as Google Photos, Flickr, DropBox, or SmugMug. Some of our clients create a WhatsApp group with all the travelers so people can share photos with each other throughout the trip. Whatever method you go with, be sure to determine what happens with photos that are shared. Will you have permission to use them in your materials, your website, or on social media? Or are they meant to be shared only within the group?
If you want to be able to use other people’s photos for promotion, be sure to first get permission considering copyright laws and second, credit the photographer appropriately. Before something is shared online, organizations must be very clear no risk exists to those in the photos. Many organizations deal with sensitive subjects and that means protective measures must be in place around sharing photos publicly.
Find out what capabilities communities have to access photos online so that you know how to best share the photos with them. Some organizations create a beautiful photo book for travelers, which should be given to the communities you visit as well. Another fun idea is to bring a Polaroid camera so you can leave a few prints behind for the people in the community.
Making a plan for photo sharing ahead of time will save a lot of time and energy collecting and organizing photos after the trip. And it will allow the communities you visit to benefit from having access to the photos as well.
These are just a few points to help you to develop a thoughtful photography policy for your donor trips. Creating a photography policy will protect the communities where you work and allow your donors to be more fully present during the visit. Help make photography a useful tool on your donor trips that will connect your organization’s communities more deeply and capture meaningful memories that last a lifetime.
If you have other suggestions for responsible photography, we would love to hear them! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Megan Begley is the Senior Manager of Social Impact Journeys and a former professional photographer. Visit www.elevatedestinations.com/donor-travel to learn more about our Social Impact Journeys.