When I was at the Dutch Harness Horse auction in Cloverdale, Indiana few weeks back, I noticed the photographer stationed out in the middle of the auction arena. He was the same one whose beautiful photos appeared all over the auction book—Wade Wilcox. It turns out he does more than horse auction photography—he lives and works among the Amish of Holmes County, Ohio, who are closely affiliated with the Amish here in northeastern Indiana. In writing about photography in Amish Country, I will quote heavily from Wade, starting now:
"First things first. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “Isn’t taking photographs of the Amish against their religion?” Answer: ” No, it’s not against their religion to be photographed. The Amish religion does, however, prohibit posing for photographs. If you ask an Amish person for permission to take their picture, they will politely say no, as this could be construed as a willingness to pose."
I would add to what Wade said, that when six of my Amish friends came to my wedding in suburban Chicago a few years ago, one of them went to the wedding photographer before the service and asked him not to take their pictures. Yet I have taken pictures on their farm of scenery, buggies, animals, and buildings, with no issues. They have even suggested a good photo at times.
I would also add, young people who have not yet “joined church” might be seen taking pictures of each other with their cell phones—but that would never happen among church members.
But there are lots of non-offensive photo opportunities in Amish Country! Wade suggests focusing on photos of something other than people, such as this list of special shots for every season, to which I have added my own thoughts:
- Spring: plowing and planting; maple syrup buckets on trees; kids playing softball at school.
- Summer: hay cutting and baling; flower and vegetable gardens; roadside produce stands.
- Fall: colorful trees; field work and harvesting; corn shocks in the fields.
- Winter: snow-covered barns and farms; kids playing in the snow; sunset against the bare trees.
- Any time: baked goods on the shelves; picturesque barns; laundry on the line; buggies on the road; interesting signs; animals in pastures along the road; items in an Amish general store.
I find that when I’m taking shots with my phone, it’s best to stay back, get the shot quickly, and move on! Later, on my computer, I can do the cropping that saves the part of the image I wanted.
Wade has this to say about privacy and respect:
"Try to stay at least 30 feet away from anyone you’re photographing. Don’t go onto private property (including driveways). Don’t be a pest—take a few shots and move along... This is especially true when taking pictures at an Amish school [these days]... A car that drives slowly past a school five or six times could generate a great deal of stress and a call to the county sheriff."
I have taken a few occasional photos of children with their faces in view (from a distance), but never adults. It’s just not worth the chance of being seen as another annoying and intrusive “Englisher” who doesn’t respect their beliefs—especially since I live here now.
Wade has this to say about safety, and I can’t emphasis this enough:
"As you drive along the back roads of Amish country, you’ll come across many wonderful photo opportunities. Please resist the urge to immediately slam on the brakes!... Slow down and look for the widest place to pull over. Don’t stop to park just after passing over a hill—people coming up from behind may not be able to see you until the last second. Turn on your hazard lights, then take your photo (all the while keeping an eye out for traffic)."
You can read Wade’s whole article here.
You can find out more about Wade Wilcox and his photography business here.
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