22 March 2011 by Julienne du Toit

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Taking a photograph of someone can be a touchy thing to do. In Zanzibar, they’ll duck their heads and hide. In Kenya, you’re taking your life in your hands (well, it feels like it) if you raise a camera to snap a Maasai tribesman without permission and payment.  In South Africa, people will typically grin and pose for nothing - for the pleasure of seeing their image on the viewer afterwards.

So do you also pay them? It’s a quandary my husband Chris and I often encounter in our job as travelling photojournalists. We’ve read all the books saying you should never pay for pictures. The reasons they give are logical and probably sound.

They say it creates problems and expectations, and to some degree, they are right. Perhaps.

We’ve often stopped people atop a donkey cart travelling from one farm to another, and asked them if we could take a picture. And then the nagging issue of money pops up at the back of our heads, even though not a single person has ever asked us for money. But the fact that we are professional photographers means that we stand a chance of making money from their image.

So we first engage with them a little, as one always should. Hello, where are you going? Where have you come from? We introduce ourselves. We ask their names. Sometimes we ask the names of the donkeys (but only after we’ve asked after the people.)

Never once have we been refused a picture. People are generally honoured that you have seen them and acknowledged them. But often these are poor people, so we pay them something for their trouble.

I do think the ideal thing, though, is to send these people the picture you have taken of them. Take the trouble - because they don’t generally have pictures of themselves. It will be something they will always treasure.

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