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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Paying for photos

Let's face it. As a photo this is pretty damn ordinary. Wrong time of day, subject's face is half in shadow juxtaposed against a pure white stupa which is nearly blown out. But there are sometimes when you just see something that is so out of this world that you have to take a photo. Even if you know it's not going to be a masterpiece and even if it costs you money.

If you look at this Sadhu's left hand he is holding it out for some baksheesh - some Nepali rupees to cross his palm for a photo.

One thing that has really increased in the last few years is people, particularly in developing countries, asking for money for you to take their photo. So what do you do?

Of course there are no hard and fast rules but this is what I try to do. Firstly I tip my hat to those entrepreneurs who go to famous sites every day and offer to pose for the camera in traditional clothes. Sari-clad women in front of the Taj Mahal, Maasai at the entrance to Ngorongoro Crater and of course Sadhus in Durbar Square, Kathmandu. In countries with no unemployment benefits and little chance for work I think this is a great idea and I pay these people with no hesitation whatsoever. I think they deserve money just for coming up with a great idea. If I thought I could make a living standing around wearing a singlet, cork hat and thongs I'd be there in a flash.

In situations other than this I avoid paying. With money that is. For me travel portrait photography has always been about interaction. I really do love the chance to get to know people, even if it is only fleetingly and superficially. I find that by taking the time to break down barriers and perhaps show a little bit about yourself, as well as find a little bit about them, it really does cut down on the number of times people ask for payment for a picture.

As I've mentioned before I carry a little photo album with pictures of friends, family and where I live which I unashamedly get out at every opportunity! I want to be seen as somebody more than a white guy with a big camera.

Of course that's for adults. Often with kids they're so giggly that you can't make conversation anyway. Digital has made people photography a lot easier though because you can show them the LCD screen straight away and that really helps to break the ice. For me permission is really important so if I can get my subjects to co-operate and enjoy a photo session by showing them the result then that is fantastic. If they still want something (which they often do!) I carry little trinkets like clip-on koalas, balloons and ball pens which go down a treat and, I hope, don't encourage begging or tooth decay!

And when neither the photo album or the LCD work? I simply don't take the photo. For every one person who doesn't want their photo taken I can find a hundred others just around the corner who would thrill at the chance. I've always thought that being allowed to photograph someone is an honour, not a right. So I'm never upset at being rejected. Hell I feel uncomfortable enough in front of the camera to understand their feelings perfectly.

So in a nutshell I pay those who make a living posing for pictures. For regular folks I try to break down the barriers so that payment is never something that I'm asked for. And if I am I just smile, give them a laugh and keep on walking.

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