The Visual Advocate Blog

To Pay or not to pay: Should we pay to take someone’s picture?


If you have traveled probably almost anywhere in developing  countries as photographer you have probably been asked by someone for money to take their picture. If not, then you are either not being bold enough in approaching people or traveling in countries where they have never seen tourists!

Anyway, on my last trip to India I was asked by so many people who I approached to be paid! Having traveled through North India pretty extensively I have just made it a rule that I never give out money, for a picture or otherwise, except on rare occasions. While I have been swarmed by street kids and been chased by a kid who was trying to throw small boulders at me for not giving out money, I still don’t do it today.

Now, as I said there are rare exceptions to this. On my last day in India I was shopping for some family members and I saw an elderly gentleman without legs pulling himself along the street with a stick while he pushed his begging can ahead with one of his arms. As I watched this man for a few seconds, and then looked around to make sure there were no swarming packs of street kids with small boulders in their hands, I bent down and placed the 20 rupees in my hand into his can.

The other time I gave out money on this trip was actually for a photo, which was first for me. Now again as I said, I rarely do this and was even hesitant this time. The story is I was driving from Jodhpur to Udaipur in a taxi with two South Africans and the taxi driver agreed to stop so I could take a picture of this Rajasthani guy that was hanging out on the side of the road.

The Rajasthani shepherd who my taxi driver insisted I pay 10 rupees.

The taxi driver insisted on walking over with me and while we did, he told me I should give the guy 10 rupees. At first I told him I don’t do that and even if I did, I didn’t have 10 rupees. He insisted and even gave me 10 rupees to give the guy. As I walked up and talked the man with the little Hindi I speak, the taxi driver began talking over me, rapidly reeling off some Hindi, which I gathered by the way the man eyed the 10 rupees in my hand, was a push for the man to take the money.

At first the elderly gentleman denied, but finally at the pushing of the taxi driver and his friend, he took the money. I was still uneasy about the whole thing, but since we were out in the middle of no where, I did feel a little safer at least. Whether I should or should not have paid I don’t know, I will leave that to others to decide. Will I pay again in the future? Probably not except in very rare situations.

Should those who are more fortunate pay those who are less fortunate to take their pictures? I don’t know. My gut is that it is not going to make much of a difference in the lives of those who have very little and it could probably cause more problems. But I could be wrong!

I would like to hear what you think. Share some stories of times you paid and it was the right thing to do and times you paid for pictures and it worked out bad. I am just one voice and I would like to know what others out there are experiencing.


Author: The Visual Advocate

Joe Murray, The Visual Advocate, is a Humanitarian and Cultural photographer based in Decatur, Georgia. Joe began his photographic career as an adventure and landscape photographer, but a month-long trip to India in 2009 deeply impacted him and proved to be a turning point in his life and photographic vision. Today, Joe is dedicated to using his craft to create and share compelling images and stories of the lives of the peoples and cultures of the world. While Joe loves and appreciates all the peoples and cultures of the world, he has a particular vision, passion and love for India and South Asia. As both an experienced photographer, public speaker, recruiter and advocate, Joe's goal as a visual artist is not simply to create awareness, but to move people to use their lives and resources to be a blessing to the world's most poor, abused, displaced, stereotyped and overlooked peoples.

8 thoughts on “To Pay or not to pay: Should we pay to take someone’s picture?

  1. Thanks for sharing Joe, interesting thoughts. I tend to agree with you and not give out money for photos. I just got back from Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. I had the most fun taking pictures of locals than any other trip because I was able to give them the photo! I carried a portable printer around with me and had a blast. This solved all of my problems because I wanted to give them something for the photo, and what better way than a photo of themselves?!?!? The best part is, that I get to keep the photos on my camera. This printer hooks up to most cameras. Probably even yours Mr. Fancy Pants.

    I just wrote the blog. You can check it out at:


    • Cameron,
      Thanks for the comments. Is that Pogo Printer? I want to get one of those too. I thought about getting one for this trip but I didn’t get it before I left.

      I will check out your blog, excited to see your pictures!

  2. great blog! something I have been wrestling with for years… we came up with a similar solution as Cam while we were in Thailand and we printed photos for our favorite street kids to keep. They loved it. Without that portable printer, though, I’m not sure what the solution is! I’ve never paid someone for a photo but have regretted it b/c I’ve missed out on some great photo-ops because of it! Your pics from this trip are amazing Joe I can’t wait to look through them more!
    -Jenna Winship

    • Jenna, thanks for the comments. You are right sometimes when you don’t pay you miss out on some very interesting and potentially great shots. Like I said with Cameron, I think the Pogo Printer is a great idea. I need to one one up for my next trip.

  3. Pingback: Creating images and relationships « The humanitarian and cultural photography of Atlanta-based assignment photographer Joe Murray

  4. I NEVER PAY for photos! Its have many negative effects if you do.
    1.teaching the people that they should be payed
    2.teaching the people to look for and agree to be photographed not because they dont mind or they want, but because they can/will get payed
    3.its making it harder for low budget or local photographers. THINK ABOUT THIS! Not all photographers are from western countries and can afford (if they would want to) pay all the photographed people. Recently, I was in Kenya and local photojournalist said that tourists who pay local villagers to get picture made it so hard for him to work.
    4. its changing personal experience to business experience
    5. I think people are posing and acting more if they are paid which lead to more unnatural photographs
    6.(in many cases) its empower stereotype that all white people are rich, because they can pay anybody on the street
    7.(in some cases) its saying to people and mostly kids that is easier just to wear something etno in touristic place to look photogenic and get payed for that, then to work or go to school.
    8. If you as a rich white man offer payment as first, I think it is rude and elitist.

    To be clear. I understand that photographers pay for access, for a fixer (even its make it harder for other notsowellpayed white photographers coming to developing countries) but I cant agree on paying the subject if it is not a model (stock,fashion, commercial photography).
    my 2cents

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