Filming the Amish


People often wonder about the Amish and photography.  Documentarian and film & media professor Dirk Eitzen has an interesting chapter on filming the Amish in the exceptional Amish and the Media.

Eitzen describes three methods used by those wishing to visually document the Amish:  pushiness, poaching, and focusing on children and young adults.

I suppose if I had to confess, I would qualify as a poacher.  Eitzen states that this is “an approach the Amish prefer, and, at least to some degree, accommodate.”

The above is a photo I ‘poached’ in February of this year in Lancaster County.  The original came out a bit blurry so I decided to try to salvage it somehow.  I’m not sure if I succeeded.  Effects courtesy of

I highly recommend watching the two short excerpts of Eitzen’s film The Amish and Us at the link above.  They are both amusing and revealing.  The film itself, as The Amish and the Media co-editor David Weaver-Zercher describes it, is in fact “more about “us” than it is about the Amish.”

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    1. Helen Parnell-Berry

      When I visited the Swiss Amish in Switzerland County, Indiana, I didn’t take a camera with me as I didn’t want to risk offending anyone. However, we did take a lap top to show them our home here in the UK and the country side in the region of England that we live. The whole family gathered round to view the pictures and were asking a lot of questions about farming in our region and the style of houses.
      I was uncomfortable with even trying to sneak a photo; I’m not sure what other people think or feel about that.

    2. Bill

      I don’t take many pictures of anything, mainly because I’m awful behind the lens. When I do get a photo in “Amish Country” it is usually taken from the car, and usually taken by my wife. The “poaching” approach mentioned above should be the order of the day for all who visit an Amish community and want a photo. “Rick” and “Cindy” have both shared many excellent photos with us here that I’d bet no one knew were being taken.

      Thanks again for the links to the video Erik. They could make for a topic of discussion on their own, and your photo looks good though it would would have been a really great shot had it come out clearer.

    3. Helen I have done the same with Poland photos–always fun to share a piece of an exotic faraway place. On that note, I’ve remembered that I have another post in the back of my mind, but first I need to snap a few photos of the tourist carriages traversing this city of Krakow. Plain ‘n’ simple they are not.

      Bill I used a feature to give it sort of a fuzzy painting effect–unfortunately there was some shaking in the original and couldn’t stand alone unaltered, so decided to have fun with it–in the end I sort of though it looks like an image that could end up on an embroidered pillow or something in a Lancaster knick-knack shop.

      Interestingly all the discussion focuses on Amish on only one side of the lens–I should note I’ve had Amish friends and acquaintances take my photo on numerous times–sometimes with nice results (using my camera of course–ownership vs. usage!)

    4. Erik,

      Over at my blog I once told about a Amish man who suggested I come to his kids’ school to talk about Native Americans who lived in his area. In the same conversation he asked if I had seen the photo in the newspaper where some Amish men were using chain saws to clear a place where an apartment complex would be built. “That was me!” he said in describing one of the people in the photo. A while later I asked if I could take a photo of him working on the house he was working on that day — the house I had come to see. But he demurred, saying they don’t like to be photographed. He also had his young children standing around him at that point. I thought of explaining that I didn’t mean the photo to be mainly of him, just that he could be somewhere in the photo, with his back turned if he preferred. But I held my tongue — we had other things to talk about and I didn’t want to get the conversation sidetracked. I took photos of the house that didn’t include him. I also realized it should perhaps have been done in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” fashion, but I had already blabbed about it.

    5. Bill

      “…I sort of thought it looks like an image that could end up on an embroidered pillow or something in a Lancaster knick-knack shop.”

      Yes, it very well could. But Erk, Isn’t that the sort of thing we want to discourage? 🙂

      Took a little trip this past Friday – and to borrow from a well known TV commercial –

      1 oak bentback rocker $100
      2 hand loomed rugs $24
      1 dozen peanut butter & 1 dozen snickerdoodle cookies $8
      Assorted produce $12
      The oppurtunity to do commerce with and chat a spell with some nice, good, down to earth people… PRICELESS!

      Leave the tourist traps to the tourists and the backroads to me…and my wallet! 🙂

    6. Rick

      I like the effect, Erik. Certainly an effective way to turn an otherwise blurry photo into something decent. The biggest value of digital photography is being able to take enough pix to assure something usable, obviously easier on a still subject tho. I took 78 shots of “Gideon Stoltzfus” to make sure I was covered. Erik knows this, but I just did a dress-up presentation on the Amish.

      As far as real Amish pix, I’ve not experienced any hostility in Lancaster, even on the closer group shots I took of cornerball. Certainly I believe in being inconspicuous. I expect the Amish in the touristy areas are more tolerant – I would take pix in Lancaster I would never think of taking in New Wilmington.

    7. Bill

      I’d add anywhere there is an Amish settlement you will find “tourist trap” type places. It’s just that Lancaster County is to “Amish” what “Niagara Falls” is to waterfalls.

      Rick, I think you could “inconspicuosly” get away with more than you think in NW, at least at public gatherings like the auctions.

    8. Bill

      Forgive my misplaced qoutation marks in my post above. 🙂 I received a phone call while typing that and wasn’t paying close enough attention.

    9. Kim

      I have been a few times to Kalona and now Jamesport, MO. I really try to avoid people, but will take a pic of a parked buggy and whatnot. I would not want people to take pictures of me, but I am sure they do based on how our family dresses. I did take a far off pic of school children, but it came out horrid and I felt so guilty.

    10. Hey Bill-point taken!! I guess I am just fairly amazed at what you can do with some of these photo-edit programs. I usually post only unretouched photos but can be fun to play around with some of the effects in terms of the lighting, sharpness, etc.

      And I can vouch for Rick–he was spot on as Gideon–I’ve seen the proof!

    11. Kim I think I know what you mean. I typically try to stick to further-off photos of farms and buggies and so on, and in the occasional case of people, I try to do photos where faces aren’t distinguishable.

      I maybe ought to clarify sth in the post–I admit to ‘poaching’, but also would add that I of course ask permission for example when photoing some of the interior barn shots, and if I sense someone is unwilling of course do not. I’ve never taken photos of someone’s house interior and don’t know if I’d be comfortable asking, so probably wouldn’t, even with friends I know well.

      It is interesting in that I am thinking of two friends that live close to one another–one practically encouraged his unbaptized kids to get in some shots I took in his barn, while the other family was more conservative in their attitude to photos. Attitudes vary.

    12. Bill

      All kidding aside, I do like the shot. The tree, blue skies, puffy clouds, green fields contrasting with the plowed fields, the cow in the forefront and the horse and buggy in the distance, both in the same direction…good stuff!

      The wheat is cut and in shocks in NW. The wheat fields and the green fields would make for a really good photo, but I had no camera, and I’d have probably blown it anyway. 🙂

    13. Hey thanks Bill–I am a hobby photographer and won’t ever make claims to doing pro work…digital cameras with their unlimited shot-taking have magically bestowed upon me the ability to occasionally come up with a half-decent photo.

    14. (Only saying this as the experience a former Amish)
      I have met very few Amish that don’t enjoy seeing a picture of themselves in a newspaper or elsewhere. When asked permission most will deny but secretly hope there will be some poached pictures.
      Communities do vary in this aspect.