Photographing the Amish

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The purpose of this website is to promote Lancaster County as a great place to live and a fascinating place to visit. In doing that, we share a lot of information about the local Amish and their culture.

When we cover the Amish, our desire is to do so in a respectful way that honors their culture and their beliefs. The difficulty comes in taking pictures of the Amish.  They, or at least baptized Amish adults, don’t approve of having their photographs taken. The Amish believe that posing for photographs, or even willingly allowing them to be taken, can be considered vain or self-indulgent and a contradiction to a society that promotes humility and community before self.

Therefore, we try to be subtle and unobtrusive when taking pictures or video.  I feel that I’m stealing something from them if I’m too blatant or too obvious in taking their pictures. Guilt is a terrible thing! I’d prefer to be considered a photojournalist, not a paparazzi.

On my way to work each day, I drive along a picturesque road through the Lancaster countryside and I often pass Amish buggies along the way. Driving through the farmlands can be very peaceful, but it seems especially so when passing a buggy.

Well, the other day on my drive to work I came up behind a buggy that had two Amish women riding behind it on roller blades.  They were holding on to the back window of the buggy talking to someone inside. It would have made a great picture – except that I had left my camera at work, which was just a mile up ahead.

Once traffic cleared, I passed the buggy and hurried to work.  I ran into the office, grabbed my camera, and ran outside. But the buggy had already passed and turned onto a different road, so I could only get a shot from the distance – no time to switch to my telephoto lens.

Amish Rollerblading Behind Buggy

Well, I wanted to get a better shot – I’m not one that gives up easily. So, I ran back to the car and headed out in pursuit.

I caught up with them a mile or so down the next road.  I passed their buggy and drove until I found a side street that would give me time to get out and try again.  I didn’t want to be too conspicuous, so I stood behind a storage structure at the intersection and waited for them. I did get a couple pictures as they passed in front of an Amish farm.

Amish Rollerblading Behind a Buggy

Amish Rollerblading Behind a Buggy

But in reviewing the pictures, I wasn’t wowed with the shots.  So, I thought I’d try one more time.

While I was driving, I recalled an incident years ago when one of our videographers was getting some scenic farmland shots and set up his tripod right on the road instead of on the shoulder. While he was recording, he saw an Amish buggy coming down the same side of the road toward him.  Well, he turned the camera toward the buggy and kept taping. He shouldn’t have – it was far too blatant pointing the camera right in the Amish man’s face. The Amish man was not too pleased. The buggy almost took out the camera and tripod as it raced past! (No, we didn’t use that footage.)

The younger Amish generation seems to respond differently to cameras. One time I was out in the country and came across an Amish school while the kids were outside at recess.  I was a couple hundred yards away when I got out of my car to take a picture. I tried to be inconspicuous, but they saw me right away and started waving at the camera.  Kids are kids.
Amish School Kids Waving

Back to the girls roller-blading behind the buggy. I pulled ahead to another intersection and hopped out of the car. As I got in position I could hear the creaking of the buggy coming down the road. It was hidden from view by an old barn on my right.

As the buggy and the girls came into view, I focused my camera and started shooting.  Well, right away the girls saw me and started hamming it up for the camera.  I would have loved to have heard what they were saying as they drove past.

Learn more about the Amish and their faith.

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