Arriving in Peru, our guide instructed that if taking photos of locals, payment is expected and the courteous thing to do. Explaining about the poverty in much of Peru, posing for tourists keen to capture the perfect photograph of Peruvians in traditional dress, has become a way for those in need to make a living.
In all honesty I never gave it another thought. Like many travelers in Peru, I became focused, if not slightly obsessed, on capturing the perfect photo. Handing out Peruvian soles (about 39 cents Canadian), paying for images, I was filled with a sense of doing good while filling my digital camera with photos of women and children of Peru.
Not until I returned home and began reviewing the images did my eyes and mind open enough to see the forced smiles or even stone faced submission. The fact is these are not authentic interactions at all. Each travel photo in this post has been posed for and purchased.
So what’s wrong with paying for photos when you travel?
Possibly nothing. I’m still in a quandary on the subject. I console myself with an optimistic hope of the money going to buy healthy food, pooled to support a family making ends meet, another branch of tourism benefitting a country.
On the flip side I see a perpetuation of keeping children on the streets by reinforcing the cycle with a constant flow of money. Did I once think to myself, ‘Why aren’t these kids in school?’ or “What will happen to these kids when they are teens and not so cute anymore?” Does giving money to children encourage future exploitation?
At home I would have been seeking out credible non profit groups working with children to donate money to or at the least offering food rather than cash.
Special tips for street photography in Peru
Never take photos without permission or you may have the subject chasing after you. If that happens my suggestion is either offer to delete the photo and show them that you have or pay for it.
If you were using a telephoto lens and trying to be discreet but were caught, give your sincere apologies and deal with the situation calmly.
If you are approaching people to take photos carry Peruvian soles with you. Each person in the photo will expect one sole. Should you insist on posing the group or taking multiple photos you may be asked to pay more.
Your turn to weigh in. Is it helpful or harmful to pay for photographs when traveling?