We get asked this question a lot at Amish365, or various forms of it: Can we take pictures of the Amish? Will an Amish person get upset if we take their photo?
Well, first of all, there is the issue of respect and politeness. I personally wouldn't take a photo of anyone - whether they were Amish or not - without asking. There are some situations where I am, for example, taking pictures of my kids on a crowded ice skating rink where I might inadvertently get others in the photo. But consider politeness, it's simply not polite, in most circumstances, to take photographs without the person knowing.
🎞️ Why do The Amish Not Allow Photographs?
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”
The above passage from Exodus is the Biblical basis that most Amish use for rejecting photography. So when asking: "Do The Amish Allow Photographs?", think to that passage.
Fifty years ago, the answer to whether the Amish allowed photographs of themselves would be: absolutely not. But as technology has changed and Amish ideology has evolved, the answer is no longer as clear cut.
In fact, when I first began studying Amish culture in the early 1990s, there were tales of Amish men that would get so angry if they saw tourists pull out a camera that they would grab the camera, throw it on the ground, and run over it with their buggy. Whether that actually happened or is just a legend, isn’t clear. But you rarely hear such stories today.
📷 Cameras Everywhere
The reality is that cameras are everywhere now. And the Amish are more places too. The original objection to photography is based on a biblical passage about forbidding the “graven image." Most Amish interpreted that as making photography taboo. And some Amish objected to photography feeling it was vanity. That posing for a photograph was frivolous.
Even some conservative Amish don't have an issue with being photographed from behind or if the photos are captured in a documentary setting. For instance, an Amish man out milking his cows might be perfectly OK (ask for permission first) having his photo taken if he is just in the course of doing his normal work, but he'd not be OK with stopping to pose for a picture. That would be vain.
Some of the most conservative Amish want nothing to do with cameras. One Amish woman in ultra-conservative Ethridge, Tennessee's Swartzentruber Amish settlement didn't even want me to take photos of her tomato plants.
❓ Amish and Cameras FAQ
In most cases, I think photographing a buggy is fine. Buggies are an iconic image and if they are a public road or a parking lot, there's really no reason not to. If the buggy is sitting in someone's private driveway, I always ask and it's almost always an appreciated courtesy.
Some photographers have worked really hard to forge close friendships and trust with the Amish and are able to gain better access. Also, Amish children are technically not church members since they haven't been baptized, so parents will be more lenient sometimes when it comes to photographing their kids. But always ask before taking photos of Amish children!
Today, you find a wide range of views among the Amish. New Ordeer Amish mostly allow camera ownership and personal photography. Even in some Old Order, Amish will keep a camera squirreled away somewhere and have some family photographs. They may be more low-key about it. Though, still, others, generally old timers and ultra conservative Amish, hang onto the taboo against photography.
There are some Amish communities, generally New Order and a few progressive Old Order, where photographs are considered acceptable. I have seen Old Order Amish with photographs of themselves and their children, but they keep them hidden away from fear of ostracization by others. The Amish are just like any other religious group, not every person follows every rule in the privacy of their own space.
📽️ Amish Communities Where Photography is More Accepted
Even with more permissive photography views, though, general politeness should come before anything else. This list is not to be meant to be all-inclusive, just a general guide.