Travel without camera

travel without camera

How a day without taking photos can change your worldview

During our two weeks in India I took 621 photos and videos. Or let’s say: within 12 days I took 621 photos and videos. Once a week I deliberately took a day off and didn’t take photos.

Why once in a week I refrained from taking photos

The reason is simple: mindfulness. On a day without photos I don’t feel forced to capture certain moments, situations or view. I recognize everything. Even the images that don’t really qualify to be photographed.

For instance, I look at cars that look just the same as in Germany. Or beautifully boring bus stops. I become aware of the structure of the pathways, the sneakers of the people in the park, print shops, street lights, the sky. During my photo-free day I am more perceptive than ever.

And the best about it: I become aware again of the fact that all these impressions are mine alone. Now, in this very moment, I see and experience this very part of the world. Nobody has ever seen it like this before, and nobody will experience it again like this – not even I myself. Actually it is this way in every second.

But with my camera hanging around my neck I wrongly imagine to be able to capture and keep the moment. However, people who look at my photos often see totally different things from the once that are important to me. And the vibe of a moment can hardly be captured on a photograph anyway.

More advantages of travelling without a camera for one day

  • Less luggage. Without a camera I have to carry less.
  • Hands free. I can pick up a leaf, tickle my baby’s foot and eat food from a street stand, without worrying about my camera.
  • Walking flow without interruption. I don’t have to stop all the time – my companions neither.
  • No worries about security. For everyone with the unpleasant feeling of attracting thieves with a camera, a day without it is pure relaxation.
  • Less digital baggage. With my average I’d have 100 photos more on the memory card. 100 photos more to sort, print, save, …

How I organise a day of travel without camera

  1. Clear resolution. I irrevocably decide: On Sunday I won’t take any photos. No matter where we’ll go or what will happen.
  1. Hide cameras. In order to avoid any temptation, I pack all devices that are able to take photos into their bags and covers and then to the back and bottom of the closet, suitcase or backpack.
  1. Enjoy the day. It’s hard but I try not to think the whole time: Oh what a pity, this would have been a great shot. Instead, I become recognize my surroundings with all my senses.
  1. Question your actions. I ask myself: Why do I actually take photos? For whom do I take photos? Who will see them later? What do I show and what not? What would be the alternatives?

Why are there no photos on this blog?

This blog isn’t a travel blog in that sense. It’s about something bigger than my personal travel experiences. I want to inspire you to travel responsibly and aware. It’s hard to express that with holiday snapshots. That’s why you won’t find them here. Most of the images are from Unsplash.

The ultimate guide to taking pictures in Africa

I wrote an article about how to take photos in Africa. Beyond shutter speed and angle there are hints on using a camera mindfully.

How to take photos in Africa

travel photos africa

A guide to responsible travel photography

Preparation

Type the name of your destination in a search engine and look at the pictures. Question those travel photos! Can you find others beyond exotic wildlife and romanticised poverty? How do photographers from your country of destination portray their country?
Use this free worksheet to go deeper.

responsible travel photography
I searched for Kenya in Google pictures and this is what I got:

travel photos kenya

 

Yet some Kenyan photographers give a very different perspective (click on the photos to get to their awesome websites!):

responsible travel photography kenya
(c) Cedi Mungai

 

responsible ravel photography kenya
(c) Mutua Matheka

 

responsible ravel photography kenya
(c) Mwangi Kirubi
responsible ravel photography kenya
(c) Victor Peace

The reason for taking pictures

If there are millions of photos of giraffes in sunsets already – why do you take them again? What do you want to proof with your photos? Why do you hunt “perfect moments” like trophies? We often unknowingly reproduce the photos – and the stereotypes coming with them – which we have already seen many times before.

Landscape

There is more to Africa than the savannah. There are urban areas and skyscrapers, lush green suburbs, highways, semi-urban centres and malls. Do you only take pictures of rural areas, because they are so exotic, so different from what you know? If you leave out the urban areas and all the zones in between, you will portray an unbalanced picture.

People

Always ask for permission. Always. And don’t take that permission for granted. Some people will agree because you took them by surprise and they don’t want to appear impolite. That is not a free ticket to publication.

Take respectful photos of people. Avoid a higher angle forcing them to look up because that makes them look small. When taking photos together with them, how are you positioned? In the middle of decorative black children? Standing, while other people are sitting down? Don’t make objects out of the others.

Editing

When digitally editing your photos, consider what you exclude for aesthetic reasons and why. Why do you chose this frame, and what are you leaving out? A slight change in contrast can make a flat landscape look hostile or sharp, and other adjustments can lighten or darken peoples’ skin colours. The border between ethical enhancement and manipulation is extremely blurred, so be careful.

Sharing and Publication

Again, you need permission from the people in your photos for publication. It is not easy, but here on this website we ask the parents of the children before we publish the photos. Social media is a form of publication, too. What would you think if you one day found a photo of you online portraying you as poor or exotic?

If you take photos with or of people, they also have a right to have a copy of them. Make sure to develop them and give them out before you leave, or share them online.

Captions

Name everyone in the photo or nobody. “Me and some kids” is a caption that makes the white person the hero, the main subject, and the children become mere props. What about “First-graders of Garden School on their last day before the holidays”?

Also, try to avoid stressing stereotypes in the captions or downgrade people or situations.

Safety

Big cameras and equipment as well as expensive phones may present attractive opportunities to thieves. If you neither want to lose your expensive equipment, nor feel like being constantly on the run from possible pick-pocketers, just leave your equipment in the hotel or the house and enjoy the walk through the city. It will be much more stress-free.

Ask your friend or guide whether it is okay to take the camera along and also whether you may take photos in certain areas or situations.

Law

In Nairobi, like in other places, it is forbidden to take photos of some government buildings. If you want to avoid trouble with the authorities, respect these rules.

Not taking photos is also an option!

In the beginning you might be uncomfortable and over-aware or over-sensitive about many things, including taking photos. That is a good thing! You don’t have to get rid of this sensitivity. Your intuitive shyness about taking photos is a sign that you are aware of the complex process behind taking photos. Not taking photos is just as well an expression of a responsible attitude.

What are your best tips for taking photos responsibly? Share them in the comments below!