Photographing Native Kenyans

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There are beautiful photographs of Native Americans and various tribes from remote areas of the world that amaze us and inspire us to photograph them ourselves. But how does one do that without getting in trouble?

Let’s take the example of the Masai in Kenya. When you are on a
photographic safari in the Masai Mara you will very likely have encounters with the local people and in this case with the Masai people. They live there and their cattle herds are roaming in the Mara, guarded by children. Now imagine a game drive vehicle with a wildlife photography course on it with all lenses pointing on the child. How must that feel? Most likely this feels very unpleasant for the child.

If the distance is big enough a photograph can be taken without disturbing and that is also in general a good solution for e.g. street photography. It worked in the past quite well until the Masai understood the people’s passion for photography and the money involved. Nowadays even when they see you from far pointing a camera on them they approach immediately, making clear that you have to pay to take a photo and you better do it or don’t take the photo.

It’s somehow a pity that it has changed to that, but for the Masai has also changed a lot. As tourism took off, especially during high season thousands of people are visiting the Masai Mara and Mara River crossing points can look like a
team building photo safari event when seeing the number of vehicles gathering there. All these people also love to see and photograph the Masai and now imagine yourself what that did to them.

In general ask before you take a photo. You will have to pay them some money and it will not be as spontaneous as we would like it, but it’s nowadays reality. If you have a big zoom lens you might get away with a snap shot and these natural shots are always the prettiest.
Happy photo snapping!

Ute Sonnenberg for