Renowned the world over for its decorated tribes, the Omo Valley is a stop on many a tourist route in Ethiopia. But visits to the area can cross ethical boundaries, and few tourists are allowed the pleasure of a genuine experience with local people. Here, Rough Guides photographer Tim Draper tells us about his experience photographing some of southern Ethiopia’s most fascinating tribes. 

As a travel photographer I desperately wanted to capture creative and authentic portraits in the Omo Valley, whilst hoping to avoid the negative experiences told in tourists tales of ‘zoo-like’ excursions.

After spending almost a week researching tour companies in Addis I carefully chose my driver, and together we planned our trip around the Omo villages.

We stayed overnight in most villages, camping or sleeping in huts. It was a good way to get to know the tribes, spending long afternoons with them while tourists came and went, barely getting out of their vehicles before they were whisked away.

If you don’t want a zoo-like experience in Omo, you’d do well to keep your camera in your pocket for a little while longer, try to connect with the people on a deeper level than that of a fifteen-minute whistle-stop photo opportunity.

I took my pictures methodically and slowly, with good humour and in a relaxed atmosphere. After all, good travel portraits – like good travel experiences – require time, care and trust.

Arbore children

Arbore Children of the Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Two women on market day

Market day in the Omo valley, Ethiopia

Hamer tribeswoman

Hamer tribeswoman, Ethiopia

Mursi girl holding gun

Mursi girl holding gun

A painted Karo tribesman

Painted Karo tribesman

Karo tribes people by the Omo river

Karo tribes people by the Omo river, Ethiopia

A painted Karo tribesman

Painted Karo tribesman

Mursi tribeswoman with lip plate

Mursi tribeswoman with lip plate

A painted Karo tribesman poses with his gun

Painted Karo tribesman with gun

A Hamer girl with red ochre hair

Hamer girl, Ethiopia

Painted Karo tribesman with gun

Painted Karo tribesman with gun

Hamer tribe, mother and child

Omo Valley Hamer tribe, mother and child

Young child in the Mursi village

Young child in the Mursi village

A tribal ceremony in the Bena village

Tribal ceremony in the Bena village

Bena tribe, mother with her children

Bena tribe, mother with her children

A Bena family sit outside their home

Bena family sit outdside their home

Hamer tribe girls

Hamer tribe girls, Omo valley, Ethiopia.

See more of Tim’s photography here. Explore more of Ethiopia with the Rough Guide to EthiopiaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.