Candid Travel Photography: Hanoi, Vietnam - Intentional Travelers

17 Apr Candid Travel Photography: Hanoi, Vietnam

One of my favorite things to do when we travel is to take photos of people. I am a people-watcher in general but I also love capturing images that I hope reflect the culture and an authentic sense of place. But there are some ethical issues when taking pictures of people and an important cultural sensitivity that must be respected.

Imagine someone pointing a camera at you right now

I wonder if what I am doing is right or wrong. I’m not exactly sure. On one hand, I want to capture these moments to preserve the experience. On the other hand, would I be comfortable with someone capturing an image of me? I think about this whenever I pull out my camera to take a picture. Ultimately, I think of it in two specific ways:

1. What am I using the image for? Should I ask for permission?
2. If I stop to ask for permission, will the moment pass or the photo no longer be genuine?

(Note: Here’s a great article about the ethical issues of travel photography)

I remember speaking to some good friends who are professional photographers, and they speak of the need to get people’s permission as much as possible whenever taking photos. Yes, it may be uncomfortable to ask someone, but it’s important for all of us to respect others. Otherwise, we view people as property – or worse, we disregard a person’s right of choice. This is something we should always be conscious of. Are we respecting others when we travel? Are we respecting people’s right to choose?

I know I would want someone to ask me for my permission as much as possible, but I also understand sometimes this is not possible. I don’t think there is a black and white answer. However, I believe that informed decisions, made intentionally and out of respect for others, might be the best possible way. This goes not just for taking pictures, but for anything we do related to travel.

Travel-Candids-Intentional-Travelers-08Children on an excursion leave a temple.
Travel-Candids-Intentional-Travelers-14A street vendor in Mai Châu makes her daily grilled pork.


Travel-Candids-Intentional-Travelers-01MCC has freshly made, daily staff meals.

Travel-Candids-Intentional-Travelers-09A typical street scene of make shift restaurants and cafes.

Travel-Candids-Intentional-Travelers-07A bike vendor and her fresh fruit.

Need a place to nap?

This Cafe had it going on.

Travel-Candids-Intentional-Travelers-05One of Hanoi’s many neat cafes.

Travel-Candids-Intentional-Travelers-04We were amazed by the resourcefulness and creativity of vendors.

Travel-Candids-Intentional-Travelers-10A couple does an engagement shoot at one of the many lakes.

Travel-Candids-Intentional-Travelers-06A man tells a moped taxi driver where he wants to go.

Travel-Candids-Intentional-Travelers-12A common scene to see food vendors displaying their goods in glass exhibits on the street.

Travel-Candids-Intentional-Travelers-11.jpgI loved the traditional hats with these young hip guys.

Travel-Candids-Intentional-Travelers-03What are your thoughts about taking candid travel photography? Is it acceptable to take photos without permission? We’d love to hear from you.

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  • michelecherie
    Posted at 00:35h, 18 April

    I think it was National Geographic photographer Annie Griffiths who said snap first, then ask permission if it’s a fleeting moment that you want to grab. (She said it much more eloquently though!) Most people won’t mind, and you can always delete the photo if they did.

    • Jedd
      Posted at 17:09h, 20 April

      Good point Michele. Thanks!

  • wanderessoftheworld
    Posted at 09:29h, 20 April

    I visited Hanoi, two years ago. Thank you for the beautiful photos. Happy Monday and happy traveling!

    • Jedd
      Posted at 17:10h, 20 April

      Thanks and glad you enjoyed the photos.

  • Dorene
    Posted at 01:55h, 21 April

    This is a great question. Out of respect, ask first, but that great photo moment has likely passed by. I’ve caught myself snapping away, then realize its the right thing to ask after. I go over to the person and make a game of it – show them the picture, do a thumbs up and say good in their language to get buy in that they are ok with it! Great pics from Vietnam! Cheers

    • Jedd
      Posted at 20:57h, 22 April

      Thanks Dorene. Traveling through Asia there have been a couple of times when people have deliberately taken pictures of us and I was uncomfortable with it. That experience has made me rethink taking some of these candid photos.

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