What do Amish think about photography?

Amish attitudes to picture-taking vary

amish no photosIt is commonly said that Amish don’t like having their photos taken.  “No photos please” signs are common in Amish communities.  Amish dislike zoo-exhibit treatment, and most avoid picture-seeking tourists and photojournalists seeking to capture their likenesses.   At the same time, there is a variety of thought on picture-taking among Amish.

Posed vs. unposed photos

Some Amish completely refuse to allow themselves to be photographed.  Posed photos in particularly may be seen as a show of pride.  On the other hand, some Amish make a distinction between having one’s photo taken in a natural setting, vs. posing for a photo.  Some have no problem with allowing themselves to be filmed or photographed, as long as it is obvious that they are not posing.

amish worker photo
Unposed photo of an Amish wood worker

This is how documentarians and photographers of the Amish often work.  Dirk Eitzen, in “The Amish and the Media”, explains the idea of “plausible deniability”—if an Amish person can plausibly deny that he was complicit, filming may be acceptable.  This often requires shooting from the side or at a distance but not directly.  Were an Amish person to be captured posing or speaking into a camera, then obviously he would not be able to deny willing participation.

Amish are typically wary of showing one’s face direct on camera.  When Amish do agree to interviews on camera, they are often done from the side or with face obscured.  The reluctance to show one’s face in a photo is also a reason that Amish identification is usually issued without a photograph.  This practice however has been problematic in recent years with new requirements mandating IDs with photos at United States border crossings.  As Amish sometimes travel to settlements in Canada, or to Mexico for cheaper medical treatment, this new mandate has been an obstacle for some.

Aggressive tourists

Despite the well-known reluctance of the Amish to be photographed, some visitors to Amish communities ignore etiquette and may aggressively pursue a photo.  Signage outside of Amish businesses in tourist areas may reflect frustration that comes from being treated as an attraction.  A particularly direct sign on an equestrian shop in the tourist center of Intercourse in Lancaster County unequivocally bans tourists from the premises.

Understandably, no one likes a camera pointed in their face, and in some settlements this behavior is worse than in others.  Eager tourists can sometimes behave recklessly in pursuit of a shot.  A car with a New York license plate was observed coming to a full stop in the middle of a busy county highway, in order to capture a shot of an oncoming buggy.  Such behavior is not uncommon, particularly in heavy Amish tourist areas such as Lancaster County.

Photos of Amish children

Amish often consider photos of their children different than photos of adults.  Opinions vary but many Amish allow photos of children.  One reason is that children are not yet baptized members of the church, and not necessarily bound by the stricture against posing for photos.  Numerous professional photographers have featured photos of Amish children.

amish children photo
Photos of children, or shots taken from the side, are often acceptable to Amish

Children are sometimes even used by the Amish themselves in business advertisements.  At the same time, other Amish do not allow photos of their children to be taken.

Photos of Amish businesses, farms, homes, buggies, etc.

Most Amish have little problem with photos taken of their land, dwellings, businesses, carriages, and so on.  Amish typically feature images of their businesses, products or farms and homes in advertisements for their products.  Calendars produced by Amish businesses, popular among Amish themselves, often feature such images as well.  At Amish America, we stick to shots of farm scenes, buggies, photos taken from a distance or ones that do not directly show the individual’s face.

Changing attitudes to photography?

While the stricture against posed photography generally holds, general attitudes towards photography may be changing, at least among a segment of the Amish population.  This may be due to increased Amish contact with the world, due to an occupational shift that has seen them opening businesses requiring greater contact with outsiders.  As Amish have come under the eye of the media, there have been examples of Amish appearing direct on camera for television shows and news pieces.

Attitudes to photography typically vary among individuals as well as between Amish affiliations.  Amish also acknowledge different approaches to taking photos.  On the whole, the Amish remain wary of picture-taking, but it’s probable that Amish attitudes to photography are softer today than they might have been 50 years ago.

For further information, see:

The Amish and the Media, eds. Diane Zimmerman Umble and David L. Weaver-Zercher, Chapter Two, “Reel Amish: The Amish in Documentaries”, Dirk Eitzen

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    1. Lin

      Doyle Yoder Photography

      Doyle Yoder Photography, Inc. has wonderful photos of Amish Country. His photo catalog can be viewed at http://www.dypinc.com. Doyle has photos of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn in Ohio, plus 219 photos from other states, plus Birds and Blooms, Miscellaneous, and Railroads. It’s a real treat for sore eyes.

      Erik, I used the “Amish America sitemap to View all posts” in the left sidebar, between “Most Commented Posts” and “Categories,” to find this post.

      1. Great way to check out old posts Lin, there are 1000+ there. I’ve enjoyed Doyle Yoder’s Ohio photos.

      2. Lin, the pix are in Ohio (where I live) that’s why they’re so beautiful. LOL Eric, I read this post with great interest. Thank you.

    2. Rose (AmishInWisconsin.com)

      Thank you for this post Eric. As always, I now have a clearer understanding on this subject thanks to your knowledge. I attended an Amish auction yesterday and they did not seem to mind the photographs we took.

    3. Linda

      Donald Reese Photography

      Donald Reese Photography has quite a few photos in the Amish category, mostly from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. You can remember his name better if you think of Reese’s candy!


    4. Mark - Holmes Co.

      I was once stopped at a stop sign in town with my daughter with me on the buggy. A lady motioned with her camera and I figured she was asking if it would be okay to take our picture. I smiled as I shook my head no. Another woman with her told her friend “I never ask, I just take it,” and she did. The first lady is what we think of as a visitor — the second is what we think of as a tourist. 🙂

    5. Naomi Wilson

      Mark, my dad spent his working career as a gunsmith at Colonial Williamsburg, and I got to work there too, as I was growing up. It was often hard to remember to be polite to “tourists,” even when that was exactly what we were paid to do! And the horror stories were numerous, although I can’t remember any of them now.

    6. Mark - Holmes Co.

      I can imagine you have stories! Where I work we keep a notebook to write interesting tourist stories, questions, or comments in. Once it’s full, I think we should publish it. There are some winners in there! 🙂

      1. Naomi – wow, what a fascinating and unique upbringing 🙂
        Mark – I agree your book of stories would be wonderful. I’d read it.

        Our first “adopted” ex-Amish son Moses told me he got used to being stared at when Amish. He just took it in stride. (but, it’d probably bug me to be stared at).

    7. Naomi Wilson

      That sounds quite fun and interesting, and like a great gift for my dad and others!

    8. Jennifer

      Not the reason I thought

      This is interesting. I was always told that the Amish did not approve of having their photos taken or of their dolls having faces because of the verse in the bible Exodus 20:4 – Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

      1. Yes it is a bit more complicated than that 🙂 Amish have varying opinions on photography and discouraging self-pride is probably as much or more a relevant reason to avoid posing for photos as the Exodus verse. Some Amish don’t have many qualms about photos, I have posed with an Amish friend for photos before (with the understanding it’s not for publication). You can also find other photos of Amish fully aware of the camera and even saying “cheese”, so to speak, online. Most Amish don’t do that however.

    9. How did I miss this post?

      Wow, all these months on AmishAmerica, and I’m just now finding this. This dovetails with my experience. I may start pointing people to this page instead of hammering out a response every time that the subject comes up.

      I notice that this post originally debuted three years ago. I’m curious to know if you’ve seen any change in that amount of time.

      1. Examples of Amish on camera

        I’ve probably noticed more examples of Amish popping up on camera in the media.

        I don’t think that means things have necessarily changed from what’s written above, just either that I’ve simply noticed more, or in some cases those are Amish who are simply more comfortable in front of the lens, like the New Order Amish business owner who posed for the article on his store:


        Or this one:


        Perhaps Amish are viewing photos for business purposes as less objectionable in general. We did a video on Amish businesses in conjunction with my business book release in 2010, and a number of Amish appeared and spoke on camera for that.

        However there are also examples of plainer groups allowing the camera, sometimes posing sometimes not, or not business-related, as in these two examples:



        It’s interesting how many examples you see that go against the conventional wisdom of “Amish object to photography”.

    10. Linda

      Dennis Hughes Amish Photographer, Amish Conference

      -Dennis Hughes, A local photographer donated 18,000 photos of the #Amish to Elizabethtown College! A 4:19 video interview is at:

      -Some of Dennis Hughes’ Amish photos can be seen at

      -Some excerpts from an article, “Hughes donates collection of photographs on Amish life”:

      “One idea Hughes covered within his presentation is something that he has dealt with throughout his experience as a photographer of the Amish and Mennonite communities. After being asked a question about the faith’s permissions toward exposure to photographs or other media, Hughes decided that he did not have a conclusive answer about the correctness of the consenting Amish parties. Through his experience, he has generally found that most Amish people would not allow or prohibit him from taking their pictures, but rather left it up to him. A common response he would receive when asking for approval was “I must say no.” According to the belief system, modesty is very important to Hughes’s subjects, and despite these factors, the Amish would generally not take action to stop him. What he was doing was believed to be a sin, yet Hughes said that sin was “on me.” Thus, there had been few problems for him.

      Hughes’s donation will help Etown greatly in research and education regarding the Amish population, as well as expand on the established Ernest Hess collection. With the international 2016 Amish Conference coming up in June, an even larger audience will get a chance to share the sentimentality that Hughes had last week.

      As he clicked through the different pictures, Hughes seemed to have a story to tell about each image. His sense of humor could be seen upon stopping on a photograph of an Amish teenage boy who was sitting on a stump and facing away from the camera. While mostly dressed traditionally, it was quickly obvious that he was wearing only a single suspender. “I asked him, ‘why do you have one suspender?’” Hughes recalled. “He said, ‘to hold my pants up.’” Hughes noted he had learned from his time in the field that “it is all a matter of perception.”


    11. Tolga

      Google Street View?

      Hi i was curious what would the Amish thaughts be on the photos taken by the Google Street View car? I’ve been “Touring” around places like Lancaster County and Holmes County with Google Street View and i have found multiple times where photos were taken of the Amish during their every day life. This was untill i came across one set of photo’s however.

      The set i am worried about begins like as the car is approaching an Amish man is mowing his lawn, the next few photos as it gets closer, he appears to be looking directly at the camera, as the car drives past he has stoped mowing and now completely looking at the car, and the last few frames as the car has driven past, he’s completely turned his body around watching the car drive off. My thaughts however were the last few photo’s as he seems to be posing for the camera.

      Now i doubt very much that these pictures will be seen by anybody in his community but if they were, what would happen to this man such as would it be considered he has broken the rules or would he be punished all because of Google’s incompetance. This modern era with camera’s everywhere (Dashcams, Google, Sattelite Imagery) worry’s me alot.

    12. Mark -- Holmes Co.

      Tolga, that is very kind of you to be concerned, especially since so many people just take their photos and don’t seem to care if the person photographed minds it or not. (Sometimes it makes me think of zoo animals.)

      A few thoughts — it’s hard to tell (without me seeing it) what kind of Amish group the man belongs to and some groups allow photographs, some under certain circumstances, some merely discourage it, some forbid it, and there is always varying individual opinions, too. Was he posing or standing there in annoyance, amusement, or curiosity? In any case, it’s difficult to imagine any group punishing him under such a circumstance, even for the strictest groups. Most groups recognize the ridiculousness of trying to escape the camera in today’s world. “Posing” is more apt to be the idea of getting a formal portrait taken, in some cases even passport photos, or deliberately posing a photo opportunity.

      Another though is how many moderate to liberal Amish DO you Google earth at a library or business. If you were to visit our local library in Walnut Creek, there are almost always at least a few Amish there either looking things up or making on-line purchases. Though I haven’t used it myself, I’ve seen what others have found and got a kick out of seeing our home neighborhood through the eyes of Google.

      We live in changing times, even the Amish. Anymore we just assume our taxi driver will have GPS. We are used to looking at the screen when our driver backs up to double-check he’s not backing over anyone (or a pet), and we use Google for bus-schedules and advance ticket purchases or to check to see the hours etc. of a place we want to visit on a trip. Of course not all groups or individuals in our community do this, but it’s safe to say many do.

      1. Tolga


        Hi Mark, thanks for the reply. Judging by your name and the fact you told me you local to Walnut Creek im guessing your from Holmes County, well the photo which had me concerned i believe is in Holmes County, or possibly just on the outskirts(im not really sure how the USA works with counties and such). I wont post a link to the actual photo itself due to the man’s privacy but i will say the road is quite long in a North-South direction and the start of the road is slightly south east of a place called Fredericksburg and heads north.

        As for the pose you were asking about, i went back and took a real close look, and had a good think about the pose in the final set of pictures, he has his hands on his hips and it sort of seems like confusion possibly due to the car looking simmilar to this:


        Your correct when you say we are living in changing times. I guess none of us are really safe from being spied on with all these cameras around everywhere, every move we make being monitored on cctf, sattelite imagery, google etc. A funny thing is just looked up my work place, even my boss has been caught red handed on a cigarette break, where as if any of us tried to he’d throw the book at us.

        (Busted you Brucie)https://www.google.com.au/maps/@-33.8392341,150.9306078,3a,15y,324.56h,86.2t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sEoJ551nu0CdxceCZKn5dLA!2e0!5s20160501T000000!7i13312!8i6656

        1. Mark -- Holmes Co.

          Hi, Tolga. Yes, I live in Holmes Co., Ohio. I’m pretty sure I know which road you are talking about. We know quite a few people living along that road (if it’s the same one) and I’ll have to figure the mapping system out to see what I can see. It would be funny if the man you were writing about would turn out to be someone we know? 🙂

          The image of Busted Brucie reminds me of the phrase “Be sure your sins will find you out.” 🙂

          1. Tolga


            Hi Mark, thanks again for the reply. Yes the road in question does appear to be full of Amish houses, with the odd couple of non Amish houses mixed inbetween(im guessing non Amish due to the fact they have cars parked on their driveways). There also appears to be two schools along the same stretch of road aswell, one seems to be hidden behind some bushes, however much further up(even past the man in the photo i mentioned’s home) there appears to be a single room school building on the western side of the road, which to me looks very quaint. Ive enjoyed learning about the Amish and i’ve found your reply’s quite interesting.

    13. Mark -- Holmes Co.

      Hi Tolga,
      That has got to be the same road I’m thinking of. 🙂 A car parked in the driveway could still be Amish — a non-Amish friend or relative visiting or a young boy or girl not yet baptized who has a license & a vehicle. But on the road I am thinking of, there are several Mennonite & Beachy homes as well.

      If it is indeed the same road, the “quaint” school on the west side is a Swartzentruber Amish school.

    14. Tolga


      Hi Mark, the quaint school i mentioned is a timber built school white in color, there also appears to be some timber utility shed built closer to the entrance and a set of play swings in the yard. The name is pretty blurry in the picture but it looks like it reads something like “Woodland School” or something simmilar i really cant make it out.

      Oh i also found a video on Youtube, somebody was driving along the road recording the surroundings and mentioned what he believes to be a 150 year old barn on somebody’s property which is quite amazing. I found this out basically the next day after i did my Google tour.

    15. Janet

      Thank you for this information. Today I saw a group of Amish who were touring our area on the west coast and I couldn’t resist taking a couple of photographs, but they were from behind off to the side a little. One gentleman turned and gave me a very unhappy look, so I asked him if it was okay to take photos. He replied rather sternly, “Do as you will,” and walked away. I asked another woman who I spoke with if it was okay and she said it was fine. They were in a public place, out of their home environment, where I would normally take photos of any group I saw who were all dressed the same. From what I gather, you are saying that they would object to my posting these pictures on line. As much as I would love to submit them to a photography website that I belong to, I would rather know that I am not being disrespectful. I would appreciate any thoughts. Thank you.

    16. Dave Shaffer

      Opportunity to photograph an Amish couples in horse drawn buggies.

      I wanted to apologize to the Amish

      1. Dave Shaffer

        Photograph continued

        I somehow posted my note before I had writte n it…sorry. I wanted to say that as I was out taking photos in SE KY this afternoon I came upon a group of horse drawn Amish families traveling on a backroad in Casey County. I have always pulled my vehicle over and stopped as they passed out of respect and fear of scaring their horses. Today after I had pulled off to allow them to pass I had my camera and the opportunity for some good photographs, however as I exited my vehicle an began to frame a buggy mounted family I noticed both occupants lowering their heads and that they were very uncomfortable. I did not take any photos of the groups as I did not want to offend their beliefs. I tried to apologize as I removed my camera as I had no knowledge of the Amish feelings about being photographed. It is my prayer that they know I did not take any photographs. Thank you.

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      That seems fascinating and enjoyable; this may be the first time I’ve read about such great People. Because I reside in Bangladesh, witnessing Amish-like folks is very natural for me. I forget they are not ubiquitous.

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    24. Amish Photography and My thinking of Photography

      After reading the whole content, I get stuck on one line ‘the Amish remain wary of picture-taking, but it’s probable that Amish attitudes to photography are softer today than they might have been 50 years ago. Photography is a work of patience. Firstly it may be bad, not suit but gradually it will be a part of your life. Keep it up.

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    31. Truly emphasizes

      I appreciate how it took into account the nuances of different Amish communities, as it truly emphasizes their diversity in beliefs and practices. The notion of graven images and humility certainly adds a unique perspective to their leaning against photographs. It’s a good reminder that cultural norms and beliefs can strongly influence technology adoption.

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