Taking pictures of unaware people….is that ok?

3 Jan

When looking at pictures of unaware people one often think “street photography” but it also includes e.g. documentary of a wedding, a party or other things where people are aware that there is someone around taking pictures. The opposite might be standing on a nudist beach or behind bushes and trying to get pictures of film stars or someone like that.

I think that there are several point of view to it. Beginning with the legal one has to be sure what the law says about taking pictures of people without them knowing, not asking and then using them.
Last time I checked in Sweden it was more or less: ” you can shoot people freely when they are in public places, even publish them, as long as you don’t do it on a commercial basis” In case   you want to use them for commercial purposes you have to ask them for their consent. Good to have a contract with you so that you have a save legal position. those can be found all over the internet, model-release might be the word to look for.
Be also aware that that can be totally different from country to country. In Sweden, e.g. people are not allowed to take away you camera or memory card when you have taken pictures of a concert for instance. They have not right what so ever against you, but they can or should call the police to do that for them. Most of the time an open discussion helps to get everyone happy.

Then there is the ethical side of it. When looking again to the three examples, wedding, street photography and paparazzi-photography I think it is clear that people attending a party or wedding consent in having their picture taken to document it. Street photography is I think depending on whether they  see you or not and in the last example most of the times you can guess that the paparazzo is not welcome.

When looking at street photography I have to rely on what I have read and heart about it. All the books say that you should smile at the people once they have seen you, maybe greet them by nicking. Be a nice guy and react to what you see. When they seem to be angry try to make contact with them, explain who you are and see if they go along with you having the picture or if they insist to get it erased.
A special case might be pictures of children and the protective parents seeing you as a potential paedophile. Making contact, showing the picture, offering a copy helps in most cases.

I think everybody has to decide where the border is for what to shoot and what not to shoot. Is it ok to shoot homeless people or thinking of the case, taking picture of a human in front of the tube and shooting a picture in stead of helping him up? You decide what you want to shoot and what you want to use the pictures for.

Even if both persons below are aware that I am taking a picture you might enjoy the picture anyhow, now knowing where Father Christmas really lives and works.

Tomte-taxi a la Åbergstorp


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