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Food photography etiquette: Do you ask? Do you pay?

rworange Feb 28, 2011 08:15 PM

Do you ask a street vendor permission to take a photo of the wares, and would you give them a Thank you tip?

While I know the answer is "it depends" when do you feel it is correct to ask to take a photo? Have you ever paid to take a photo?

This issue first came up for me a few months ago.

I was at a little. mainly-outdoor, seafood joint when a couple of tourists breezed by and started snapping away at the fish. Not only did they not ask, they didn't even acknowledge the people who were cooking the fish existed.

It just struck me as rude.

I thought they should have asked ... smile and ask "Ok?".

Even better would have then been to buy a coke or something if they didn't want the fish. This was a really tiny joint selling whole fish dinners for $3. It wouldn't have killed anyone to spend 50 cents for a Coke

If I buy a meal, as long as I'm not annoying others with the camera, I have no problem snapping photos of food I now own. It's mine.

However, street, produce and other food purveyors I feel it is best to ask if not purchasing anything ... and even when I'm paying, I'll ask.

For a really small-time vendor, I'll either buy something or give them a little something if I want to take a photo but not the product.

Yesterday at the beach there were ladies with selling ceviche for about $1. They walk up and down the beach with the trays balanced on their heads. I just don't think eating unrefrigerated fish that has had the sun beating down on it is wise. But I thought it looked cool, so gave the woman the buck to take the photo.

I never do close up photos of vendors, servers, etc without asking first. However, from a dishtance I feel it is ok.

Food shops, such as bakeries, groceries, etc ... well, I'm more of the opinion it is better to ask forgiveness than permission. If I'm not buying anything, I definately ask permission.

Drive-bys? Well, they are just that. What are you gonna do? Stop the car and ask?

What is your personal code of conduct?

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  1. monku RE: rworange Feb 28, 2011 08:48 PM

    If I were a professional photographer I may ask permission and/or get a release.

    I'm not, so taking pictures of food, sights or scenery is all the same. If it's in public view it should be free for the "taking".

    14 Replies
    1. re: monku
      rworange RE: monku Feb 28, 2011 09:21 PM


      What about other countries? Doesn't if make us ugly Americans for intruding on someone's culture?

      I'vve rarely been turned down shooting food.Often a vendor will play along, rearranging the display so I get a prettier photo. In that case, asking helps.

      However, half of the vendors I've asked didn't want their photos taken.

      A store has the right to ask not to take photos. It is a private business. That is most often where I put the "forgiveness factor" to work. I'd say at least 10 - 20 percent of stores have asked not to take photos when I did so without asking.

      For some I think it is worry about the competition. For others, security. I was taking photos at a place I was eating in an area with a lot of bombings and other violence and it made them jittery to have someone taking photos of the joint.

      1. re: rworange
        monku RE: rworange Feb 28, 2011 09:28 PM

        What about other countries? Doesn't if make us ugly Americans?

        Makes me a tourist.

        I said if it's in "public view" that's different than in a store which prohibits photography and I'll respect their wishes.

        1. re: rworange
          monku RE: rworange Feb 28, 2011 09:36 PM

          You "edited" your post after I replied.

          Doesn't if make us ugly Americans for intruding on someone's culture?

          I don't think I'm intruding if I've been "sold" a trip to a country that promotes tourism.

          1. re: monku
            rworange RE: monku Feb 28, 2011 09:48 PM

            Sorry, edited it as you were replying. It always takes me a few tries.

            I don't have problems taking photos in tourists spots. At Fisherman's Wharf in SF, all is fair game.

            Central Market in Antigua ... not really a problem ... though I did ask a few meat vendors whose shops I entered if it was ok.

            The Mayan market at Lake Atitlan where tourists don't usually tread and I got dark looks by the locals ... I usually asked. I did pay one woman to take a photo of the live fish she had because I wanted to spend some time to take the shot and the other Mayans were being snarky and this woman was nice. Some Mayans really have a mouth on them. I'm not talking about wads of cash .. only what one small fish would cost. These are poor people and it brightens someone's day.

            1. re: rworange
              Veggo RE: rworange Jul 5, 2011 12:30 AM

              I'm a foot taller or more than most Mayans, with white hair, and despite my Castillian and their dialect, we connect for love of country. Frequently in the Atitlan markets a mayan lady will ask for my assistance reaching produce, usually tomatoes or avocados, good ones nobody else can reach, way back in the bins, and I am happy to oblige. I'm not much of a shutterbug, and they are more likely to photograph me, and the little tykes stare up at me as if I'm some freak of nature who belongs in a zoo.

            2. re: monku
              JungMann RE: monku Mar 1, 2011 06:21 AM

              Not everyone wants to be a part of another person's tourist experience. I do find it somewhat grating on my nerves when tourists block the aisles at the market to snap the perfectly framed picture when I am in a rush to put dinner on the table or even worse, when they snap pictures of me doing something "exotic" like purchasing squid or smelling a piece of fish.

              The whole food photography craze is starting to turn into a farce that intrudes on my culinary experience as much as it captures a moment in time for the photographer. During last week's brunch, my dining partners noted that the overwhelming majority of diners in the restaurant were snapping pictures of each other's food. I should perhaps be better-natured and ignore the din of shutter clicks, but I couldn't help but feel ridiculous sitting in a restaurant where no one was eating because they were posing each other's plates!

              1. re: JungMann
                sunshine842 RE: JungMann Mar 1, 2011 07:10 AM


                1. re: JungMann
                  monku RE: JungMann Mar 1, 2011 07:30 AM

                  When I'm taking pictures of any kind I'm conscious of not violating anyone's personal space or inconveniencing someone like yourself.
                  If people want to photograph their food it's not bothering me-flash or no flash.

                  Somehow I'm not as charitable as the OP "paying or being shaken down" to take a picture of their wares. Sure there are people who make their living selling you photo ops with their birds or lizards or in their costumes, I guess they'd be exempt.

                  If I can see it why can't I shoot it?

                  1. re: JungMann
                    uwsister RE: JungMann Mar 1, 2011 05:07 PM

                    I agree that you should ask, especially a person's face (vendor or whoever it might be) would be included in the photo. I hate, absolutely hate it when people take pictures of me without asking me first. I know it's legal, but that doesn't mean it's polite.

                    People photographing their own food at restaurants don't usually bother me unless it's excessive. Some people photographs EVERY single course, flash included - that gets to be a little annoying. And I hate it when my dining companion insists on taking a bunch of pictures of my food - which means I have to wait to eat it and my food is getting cold every second!

                    1. re: uwsister
                      sunshine842 RE: uwsister Mar 1, 2011 09:37 PM

                      in other countries, taking a photo and publishing it is illegal, and they CAN sue you.

                      Always ask if you're taking photos of people.

                      1. re: sunshine842
                        rworange RE: sunshine842 Mar 2, 2011 06:39 AM

                        Do you know what countries it would be illegal and under what circumstances?

                        I don't know the laws in Guatemala, but I generally don't photograph anything military or having to do with the police ... or anything official, even American.

                        I was waiting to get in the American Embassy yesterday and despite the vibrant street food scene I didn't think using my camera in this area would be wise.

                        Not food ... but I really would hae liked to catch a photo of the Mayan guys in full native dress. The woman always have the native dress, but unless you get into remote areas ... the men usually don't dress that way.

                        Had I taken it, it would have been one of the discreet photos where I wasn't obvious ... to me that would be a statement of "don't you look odd ... I gotta get a photo off this" Still, I didn't want to bring a camera out of my purse, especially in an area with a lot of bombings and street violence.

                        However, I can't imagine any country that says to leave your cameras at the door. It wold be like saying they didn't want tourists in the country.

                        1. re: rworange
                          sunshine842 RE: rworange Mar 2, 2011 09:03 AM

                          If you publish an identifiable photo of any person in France without their express written consent, you can be sued.

                          Most people don't, but it exists.

                2. re: rworange
                  Maximilien RE: rworange Mar 1, 2011 02:46 AM

                  "What about other countries?"

                  Same thing applies to the US:

                  Take the picture, if individual people ask you not to take them in picture, do not, stay polite and civil.
                  If you really want to take a picture, ask before, tell them it's only the food you are interested in.

                  and if you really, really, really want to take that particular picture, get a 500mm telephoto lense, a good tripod and place yourself 2 block away!!! ( kind of a joke here, but I've seen it done)

                  or take the picture and run!!! :-)

                  1. re: Maximilien
                    BamiaWruz RE: Maximilien Jul 2, 2011 01:47 AM

                    OMG I would do that, haha, with my awesome zoom lens!

                    Most of the time I don't take pictures of food on stalls and such because I don't want to be rude, I know not to take my camera into any asian store/mall because they really dislike photos and for some reason they think I'm comparing merchandise with other shops and what not. It's just too stressful.

                    On vacation I love to take pics of my food and people seem more tolerant because I'm a tourist.

              2. sunshine842 RE: rworange Mar 1, 2011 03:04 AM

                asking permission is always appreciated, even if they don't care...and if they do care, they'll doubly appreciate your asking and giving them the opportunity to be out of the photo.

                A storefront because I like the storefront, I wouldn't ask -- it's the public facade seen by hundreds of people. The displays *IN* that window, either ask or be discreet.

                Photos IN a store must have permission - you're now on private property.

                Do keep in mind that other countries' privacy laws may very well be different than what you are accustomed to...asking just might keep you out of legal trouble you didn't even know you were in.

                Also...giving someone money to take a photo just might be taken as a condescending handout by a rich Yanqui throwing his money around...not saying it IS...just saying that it could be taken that way -- especially if you're in a developed, rather than a developing, country.

                1. b
                  beevod RE: rworange Mar 1, 2011 06:12 AM

                  How do you get the food to pose?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: beevod
                    monku RE: beevod Mar 1, 2011 07:44 AM

                    I don't know, but a friend who was a photographer for Bon Appetite said it took hours to set up and shoot food.

                    1. re: monku
                      Quine RE: monku Mar 1, 2011 01:56 PM

                      It does and it is not easy. Food Styling.

                      FWIW, Pics don't bother me a nano as much as people on cell phones. I have no idea which is worst, them not eating and talking too much and/or too loudly. Or eat while talking too much.

                  2. JoanN RE: rworange Mar 5, 2011 10:40 AM

                    A few years back as I neared the marketplace in Nebaj, a few women approached me and made it very clear that the camera that was hanging around my neck was to be put in my backpack. Didn’t matter that I wasn’t holding it up to my eye; they weren’t taking any chances. They didn’t even want the damn thing visible.

                    In many countries taking pictures of people without asking them first is considered offensive. Although I don’t know that to be specifically true in Guatemala, I have been told that it is customary to ask permission first and I nearly always do. If it’s a market vendor, I will usually buy something first, express my pleasure and enjoyment, and then ask if I may take a photo. If they say no or demur, I will sometimes try to explain that all I want is a picture of the food, not of them. More often than not, that is acceptable to them.

                    I always swore that one day I would get a camera with a 90-degree-angle lens. But that’s a big hunk of expensive equipment. With all this in mind, though, I did just buy a very small point-and-shoot with an unusually large telephoto lens (for a point-and-shoot, at least) for my upcoming stay in Antigua. I’m hoping that perhaps if I’m far enough away, they won’t notice.

                    1. v
                      Valabar RE: rworange Jun 26, 2011 12:55 AM

                      i worked on many jobs for food and wine and travel magazines. If your intent is to publish the pictures. Asking permission. Getting releases, and always paying for the food you shoot is mandatory. Talking to people earnestly about your intentions always works no matter what country your in. You will be surprised at how cooperative some people will be.

                      1. e
                        escondido123 RE: rworange Jul 2, 2011 07:23 PM

                        I think whatever you would, or wouldn't, do in your native country should be the same in other countries. If you're photographing somebody who tries to get by on a dollar a day and you're on a nice vacation, give them a buck or two. Really, they need it more than you do.

                        1. Bill Hunt RE: rworange Jul 4, 2011 09:24 PM

                          For me, the restaurant, or their ad agency, is paying me.


                          1. m
                            Muchlove RE: rworange Jul 4, 2011 10:12 PM

                            I'm highly surprised that anyone here would consider taking a photo of someone (that they don't know) without asking for permission. I think that's really rude, and in some cases could get you in a lot of trouble.

                            1. h
                              hsk RE: rworange Jul 4, 2011 10:43 PM

                              I don't ask and I don't pay, but I rarely take close-up shots of food (other than my own or SO's and not that often either). I've often had people, including food vendors, ask me to take pictures of them when they see me with a camera (most recently in India). Which I find weird - it's not like they get a copy, they just like to see it on the digital display.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: hsk
                                rworange RE: hsk Jul 4, 2011 11:29 PM

                                They are probably hoping you'll slip them a coin when they ask to be inluded in the photo ... or buy something if you haven't.

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