Street Photography and the Golden Rule

April 18th, 2011 by John Batdorff

I spent a while chatting it up with this charming guy with the help of an interpreter.

If there’s one thing I was reminded of while in Africa it was my need to “connect in order to create.” That connection may be as simple as an exchange of smiles between me and a young man stacking charcoal or as intricate as an interpreter explaining my every word. As a photographer, my curious nature places me in situations that can be hard to navigate and at times difficult to explain. I found throughout the years that being sincere, respectful and giving a big smile are key ingredients to successfully navigating language barriers.

Here are a few guidelines to try to follow when traveling abroad:

1. Be polite and respectful. Don’t be the ugly tourist with camera.
2. Consider a local guide when traveling abroad. S/he can really help break down the communication barrier.
3. Spend some time getting to know your subject before getting the camera out.
4. If you’re in a town for a few days consider going for a walk without your camera. Scouting an area and connecting with people/shopkeepers can pay dividends when you come back with your camera in tow.
5. Telling a story — Try to tell a story with your images. I avoid shots that simply portray poverty. Taking a keen interest in what a person does for a living or how he or she supports their family is what I’m interested in photographing.
6. Lastly, remember safety is key. I love street photography but it’s very easy to get caught up in a “moment.” Having a travel partner that can watch your back is just common sense.


Selling charcoal in Nairobi

Loading the buckets for sale

Local flavors–grilling meat for sale


At the end of the day, it’s all about following the “Golden Rule” and using common sense. I believe when I make a sincere attempt to connect with people they look beyond the camera and see me for what I am: a harmless, curious guy with a camera :)


Learn more about John, view his images and check out his blog here.



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