Have you ever been reflecting on what footprint you leave behind as a photographer? If not, then maybe it’s high time. Whether you are a beginner, experienced or professional photographer, and no matter how many pictures you make a year, it is relevant to consider your conduct as a photographer.
This blog post is my views on the ethics which are in play, every time we as a photographer are shooting, and it is meant as input for a debate on the topic, remarks are most welcomed.
Every time we are photographing people we are stepping into a classic dilemma; should I ask for permission before photographing or should I not? Often you get clearly the best pictures by making the image first and ask permission later – or even refrain from asking permission. The problem is that some people may feel offended to be photographed without having given their commitments. The dilemma by asking for permission first is that people usually then cease to behave naturally, which can ruin an otherwise good motive.
Another classic problem is religious ceremonies, such as weddings, christenings and communions. Which implications exist here, we might have the approval from the pair being wed, but what about the clergyman and the guest at the event? Keep in mind that many find it disturbing with a photographer who rushes around the church.
As a nature photographer, when sneaking around I order to get that picture of a deer in its natural habitat. Besides being placing ourselves in harm’s way, we might scare away the game, upsetting property owners and hunters.
When shooting pictures of artwork such as statues and paintings, are we then not reproducing an artwork?
When shooting out kids in the kinder garden, at the beach, and the pool or kinder garden what are the considerations here?
Part of the area is obviously covered by laws; photography tends to be protected by the law through copyright and moral rights. Photography tends to be restricted by the law through miscellaneous criminal offenses. Publishing certain photographs can be restricted by privacy law. Photography of certain subject matter can be generally restricted in the interests of public morality and the protection of children.
Still there are heaps of areas which fall outside the domain of these laws, and it is here we as photographers got a common responsibility. It is up to our individual perception of right and wrong if we are crossing unwritten laws. Some people do not give this any thought at all, while others consider their conduct carefully.
My considerations on photography ethics
When shooting ceremonies in churches I pay a lot of attention to the rule sets set for that community. Often it is simple rules about not using flashes, at other times it is regulations of movement under the ceremony, personally I try to get permission beforehand, and it is generally possible to get a bit bigger elbowroom when having sought permission first. Remember at situations like weddings it is not about shooting heaps of photos, it about shooting that image which will make the couples recall their joy at the ceremony.
When shooting people in the public, in such situations common sense really applies. How are people dressed, what situation are they in, are they alone or in groups. If we are in doubt as to whether it is ok to photograph or not, we create brief eye contact with the subject, promises camera and sends a small smile. It used to be enough. I recall once shooting at the Borough Market, the market is motive on top of motives, and I could have been shooting there all week, but I didn’t while I received several harsh remarks from people working there. We have to beware of cultural differences, what would have been perfectly ok at a Spanish market, was obviously not at a London Christmas market.
When shooting nature, my considerations goes two ways, first and foremost we are stepping into and disturbing animals in their habitats. We need to take care not to destroy what we are photographing. We might stress a mother away from their young ones. We might carry apples and goodies for the animals to get them closer to our lens, yet harm them with the food. Secondly, what about hunters and property owners, how are we impacting them? Are we trespassing, are we ruining their hunt, and are we placing ourselves in danger due to ongoing hunt?
When taking photographs of kids, you are stepping into an area of photography that it is really tough to navigate. It is almost topic by itself with its own ruleset both written as well as unwritten. As a rule of thumb I don’t take pictures of kids without having strict and sometimes even written acceptance from their parents. What for some is an entirely innocent situation; is for others a harsh violation of privacy. For me this applies for photos of individual children as well as for groups.
A shared responsibility
It is important to be aware that people do not differentiate between whether you are a photographer or not, a camera in public will make you a photographer in the public eye. What you do impact, every photographer out there. It is key that we consider how we behave and what footprint we leave behind. Consider the ethics and keep ponder the private zone of your motive any by that reduce the risk of boring experiences.