4 Tips on how to take Authentic Photos of African people

If you are to do an online search on any stock agency of an “African Family”, you will more often than not get images of ‘African American Family” if you were to add a country specific caption for example ‘Kenya’ you will get photos of wildlife and in some instances randomly shot photos of the Maasai people.

African kid playing with bubbles

How about the rest of Africa, the 1.3 billion Africans, living in villages, cities and small towns from Cairo to Cape town, living their normal - day to day lives, neither sick,hungry poverty stricken nor embroiled in a civil war? Where are their images?

Authentic images that capture Africa’s diversity and show a healthy, progressive, hardworking Africa. Positive Images of Africa are missing.

For years photographers have shot “poverty and suffering” images of Africa. These images served Donors and human right groups well, besides they helped sell tons of newspapers. It was good business for everyone, however with African economies rapidly growing, coupled with political stability in many African countries, the goal posts are slowly shifting.

African children from Kenya running in a mock race

African images that show day to day African lifestyle, are in demand, magazines, websites, book publishers, and newspapers are ready buyers of these images, why is it then that, most photographers are unable to shoot authentic African lifestyle images?

Two reasons:

1. Foreign Photographers who more often than not have better equipment do not have the confidence, patience and tenacity to interact, penetrate, and shoot natural true African Photos- In most cases cultural differences act as a barrier.

2. Over the years most Africans have grown wary of their photos being taken and used wrongly. Photographers are out rightly rejected or asked to pay hefty compensation.

From a marketing and branding point of view people correspond better with images that portray their self identity. The new generation of Africans are attracted to brands that portray authentic African images.

Do you want to take advantage of this unique photographic opportunity? Let me share with you 4 Tips of how to shoot authentic photos in natural African settings.

1.How to Interact with the people

2.Understand the people’s mindset

3.Know the rules and laws

4.Offer compensation for model releases

Lifestyle people concept: diverse nation children playing together, caucasian boy with african little girl holding candy

1.How to interact with the people

Everybody loves making friends, more so friends from distant lands. This is more true in Africa, however in many African languages, the word ‘friend’ has a loose meaning,more often it refers to the English equivalent of the word ‘acquaintance’. ‘Brother’ or ‘Sister’ connotes a stronger interpersonal bond.

‘A brother’ or ‘Sister’ is a person you have hosted, shared meals with, shared experiences, had adventures together and generally got to know more about each other.

Willingness to befriend, bond and genuinely get to know the people, - move from an acquaintance to a friend,- in an African context from friend to ‘Brother’ or ‘Sister’- is guaranteed to get you fantastic photos.

2. Understand the people’s mindset

There is a Swahili saying, that loosely translated says, “he who who has been bitten by a snake is watchful of any stirring in the grass.” Years of being taken advantage of by rogue photographers, have hard wired most African people to resist photographers whose intentions they do not understand.

Tourists carry cameras, and are allowed to shoot images of wildlife, landscape and whatever else that they fancy.However, pointing a camera at people without their consent will always be met with hostility. Your rapport and genuine interest in the people breaks, allows you into their inner space, gives you an opportunity to shoot authentic true photos of their day to day life.

A person's language is sweet to their ears, an effort to learn a few words of the local dialect will always throw their doors wide open to you.

Playing African children from the tribe Samburu

3.Know the rules and laws

Different African countries have different rules about photography, especially by foreigners. Get to know the rules of the country you intend to have a people photo shoot.

Some African communities have a rigid system of communication and interaction, when interacting with strangers. This is prevalent in remote marginalized communities, for example many communities in the northern part of Kenya do not allow strangers to interact with their women and children.

To shoot photos of women or children from this communities, you must first obtain permission from the head of the family, - a father or grandfather. A misdemeanor to this rule leads to the offender paying a hefty fine of goats, cows, or camels converted into cash.

4.Offer compensation for model releases

“To pay or not to pay” the dilemma of photographers who want to secure model releases, more so when dealing with “ignorant” people.

If you intend to sell the images,in good conscience, - pay. Offer some form of monetary compensation for the photos that stand out. shooting and skulking back home with the intention of selling the images, while forgetting your subject is tantamount to “theft.”

African child playing with fruits from his parents farm on a street in Kampala

As I close, here are some words of wisdom from an African proverb - “He/she who extends his hand to you is a friend, he/she who shares a meal is a neighbor, he/she who covers your “nakedness”(put differently -who scratches your back) is a brother/sister.”

Become a brother/sister to any African person, and you have a lifetime pass to visit their homes, communities and countries and to shoot as many photos as you please.

Photo credits: Augustine Masiga, Rawpixelimages, Rafał Cichawa, Tatsiana Hendzel, Yunuli123.

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March 20, 2019


Thanks Zaed, welcome you to Kenya, come see the 7th wonder of the world the great wildbeeste migration! I will introduce you to Kenya's hidden gem its people.

March 19, 2019


True! Some how I used some of these tips while I was in the Philippines. I hope one day I can visit Kenya and who knows we might meet there! :D

February 26, 2019


Thank you William! Always encouraged by your comments.

February 25, 2019


Great tips! "Offer compensation" is a universal language and I bet works in any nation! Thanks for writing. William

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