To kick off spring photo season, here’s another tip from my The Photographer’s Eye Series of e-books, this one about photographing people. This is a question I get often, during workshops that I offer, during Q&A in lectures, even in casual conversation with other photographers. Do you get permission from people before photographing them?
As pros we have it drilled into our heads that we need permission to use an image of a person for commercial purposes. But for the amateur the situation is different. Or is it?
I firmly believe that it is a matter of civility, pure and simple, to ask someone you do not know for permission to photograph him or her. One of my pet peeves is the rude tourist who shoves a camera in the face of someone from a different culture. Of course, if the person is street performing that is a different story. But people have a right to privacy, and as a professional photographer I abide by that belief.
Permission does not have to be a signed release form. It can be a gesture- holding up your camera, pointing to it and to the subject and shrugging your shoulders as if to ask the question. Or, if you speak the language, just ask.
In some countries, I’m thinking of Muslim countries in particular, photographing women without permission can get you in serious trouble. At the very least you owe it to your subject to give her a chance to cover her face.
Sometimes I admit to having photographed a subject surreptitiously, to catch a special moment or expression, usually at an event during which I cannot stop shooting or I will not come back with my assignment nailed. However, in that case I always go up to them afterwards, show them the images and ask if it is okay with them. Usually their smiling faces are their answer. If not, I delete the images right in front of them.
In The Photographer’s Eye: People, I have selected ten dramatic people images, explain how I captured them and offer suggestions for improving your people travel photography. I also have a section of ten tips that will bring your people photography to the next level.