Photography Etiquette in Nepal: Dos and Dont's

Visiting Nepal can be both exciting and overwhelming as a photographer. Due to its geographic location, you’ll be exposed to a plethora of cultures, beliefs, and environments. Our Insider Casey shows you how to be respectful of the local culture while chasing that perfect shot.

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The fragrant smoke of incense and turmeric swirl in the air around you. A monk crosses the dusty road in his saffron robe.

In Nepal, the sensations around you are overwhelming to say the least – and finding yourself in such a visually inspiring environment can be incredibly exciting for photographers of all levels.

But before you hit the shutter button, be mindful and respectful of the local culture.

Photography and Dress Codes in Nepal’s Religious Centers

Photo credit: Casey Horan

Nepal has a population of both Buddhists and Hindus. When visiting any temple, it’s important to adhere to the dress code.

As a rule of thumb, no tank tops, skirts, or revealing clothing should be worn. I always bring a sarong in my pack just in case I need to drape it around my legs or arms.

As far as photography goes, always pay attention to the signage. Though it may not be in English, there will usually be tourist-friendly signs, as we are the ones who photograph most.

In some parts of Nepal, photography is completely prohibited. In some places, this is allowed (for a fee) and in others it is freely permitted.

When in doubt, ask a local or ticket person beforehand and always keep in mind that these are places of worship.

Make sure you have your sound turned off so you don’t distract those in prayer.

Be Respectful

Photo credit: Casey Horan

Nepalis are a truly fascinating and friendly people. Undoubtedly, you’ll want to take photos of everything.

But remember that you’re a guest in their country, and it’s important to show respect to all people. Don’t cross any personal boundaries just to get that good photo.

In some areas like Dunbar Square, the elaborately adorned Hindu Swamis will – without hesitation – pose for your photo (though they may ask you for money).

In the Himalayan region on the other hand, a porter carrying a load twice his weight up the mountain – though remarkable to see – is just trying to work and doesn’t want to be photographed each time he passes a trekker.

Protect your Equipment

Photo credit: Casey Horan

Whether you’re in the busy unpaved streets of Kathmandu, or trekking among the snow-capped Himalayas, there’s no denying that Nepal can be a rugged environment for your camera.

Many travelers have claims of permanently damaging electronics in the high altitude. Most commonly-reported is unusual battery draining.

There's no worse feeling than getting your first glimpse of Mount Everest, only to discover your battery has gone flat.

Pack extra batteries and if possible, get insurance on your camera and treat it with extra care in the cold.

Don’t forget a travel adapter for your charger and remember to clean your gear frequently – you’ll often be around dust and smoke here in Nepal.

Finally, don’t forget to pack extra memory cards, because you’re going to be in photo heaven.

How to Approach Subjects

Photo credit: Casey Horan

Photographing people is fully dependent on your personality and photographic approach. Personally, I prefer the art of a sly, non-obtrusive, candid photos.

Otherwise, my advice is to ask the subject. Try a universally-understood, non-verbal gesture at your camera, or a simply ask: “can I take your photo?”.

Being upfront and polite can clear up any miscommunication or awkward situations.

Case in point: while trekking through a small village, a Nepali woman passed me with her Yak. She was wearing beautiful traditional attire, Mount Everest posed as the perfect background, and in that exact moment, it was picturesque.

I motioned to my camera and asked if I could take her photo. I received an unexpected and very clear “NO” as she covered her face.

Though embarrassed, I was glad I asked – rather than disrespect or ruin this woman’s day.

Lesson learned: Tread lightly.

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