Smart selfie-taking isn’t about how to use your camera, or how to compose a nice shot that doesn’t make your nose look huge.
Professional journalists and experienced photographers and camera operators learn safety and ethical guidelines for their work. And those same best practices should be used by everyone taking photos and videos on their trips close to home and around the world.
As a professional journalist, and trained, experienced content creator, here are my top selfie-taking tips to keep you out of trouble and coloring inside ethical lines:
Look Before you Leap
All too often, we hear of tragedies happening as a result of people taking selfies. It’s very easy to literally lose sight of the world around you when you are focused on a screen.
Make a habit of practicing ‘situational awareness.’ Don't get so caught up in that perfect shot that you step into a busy street without looking for traffic. Or back up off a cliff.
If you’re traveling in a group, assign one person the task of ‘spotter’ when you start to take a snap. That person makes sure that everyone is in safe surroundings.
Stay on the Right Side of Mother Nature
In encounters of man vs. nature, nature always wins.
Even recently, we’ve heard of tourists being injured getting too close to the noxious fumes and danger of a volcanic lava flow in Iceland. And of tourists in national parks gored by buffalo or mauled by bears when they – insanely – approach the wild creatures for a photo opp!
Respect the forces of nature and always give wildlife its space, for its sake and for yours.
Obey the Law
That should go without saying – but it’s also true that different countries have different laws. In some places, for example, it’s prohibited to take photos at airports, especially if they also have military applications.
Know before you go, watch for signage, heed the advice of your local guide if you have one, and obviously follow any instructions issued by any authority to avoid having a happy-snap become a legal mess.
Respect Property Rights
You would be shocked and appalled if someone walked into your backyard and started taking photos of your flower garden or family barbecue, wouldn’t you? It’s surprising how many visitors overlook other people’s property rights when they’re traveling.
We hear of farmers’ crops being trampled by herds of selfie-seekers invading fields: sunflowers, tulips in the Netherlands, you name it.
I once had to explain to someone that no, we couldn’t just go into an orchard in the south of France so they could get a photo of themselves picking and eating fruit off the tree. They were shocked when I said, “That would be trespassing. And stealing.” See tip above: Obey the Law.
That applies to any private space. Even if it’s the best vantage point for a shot of the city lit up at night, or your cruise ship picturesquely docked. Just do not enter private land or buildings without permission, even if there’s no barricade keeping you out.
Respect Privacy and Culture
That wizened up old lady in the market in front of her fish stand may be your idea of the perfect photo or backdrop for your selfie – but she may not appreciate her appearance and her way of life being a ‘cute’ photo for you. To her, such a shot may have unpleasant overtones of race, foreigners’ wealth privilege, or ageism.
Your best rule of thumb is to ask permission, using gestures and smiles if there is a language barrier. And respect their wishes.
That’s doubly true when it comes to kids, especially in this day and age when it’s potentially dangerous to even inadvertently reveal children’s locations in your social media in case there are domestic and custody issues. The best rule of thumb is to avoid photos of children, even in the background of your selfie.
Also bear in mind that there are cultures where photo-taking of people is taboo, or where local residents may find your snapping photos or recording video during a cultural or religious ceremony offensive. That includes places like churches in Europe. As above – know before you go.
Selfies should always be of joyous memories and cherished experiences on your travels – and as they say, the first priority is that they do no harm.
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