Law and Ethics in Street Photography

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In this video I interview Nick Dunmur, who is a member of the legal team at the AOP (Association of Photographers) to talk about the laws surrounding street photography and photographing people in public. I also offer some thoughts on putting together your own moral code for your work, because sometimes asking if you ‘can’ take a photograph isn’t enough, you also need to ask yourself whether you ‘should’.

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#streetphotography #law #ethics

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47 responses to “Law and Ethics in Street Photography”

  1. A lot of 'street photography' is invasive – you see youtubes of packs of so-called street photographers prowling city streets, making their subjects really uncomfortable. If they watch this video, they might be less comfortable with what they do. The very idea of a pack of street photographers is totally at odds with the genre as I see it, which is to wander solo, alert to interesting spacial relationshhips and moments of activity. Thank you Sean Tucker for an excellent video.

  2. For film users, who can't delete or show an image: carry a small thin book/zine with some examples of your 'intentions' or; photographs to show if anyone needs to know why you just took their picture.

    This video was very useful, thank you.

  3. Thank you for taking time to make this. Very useful. I am interested to know about the metadata aspect and GDPR, as was raised. So I understand that if I post an image of, say, a bridal couple without any info, then that is OK. But if I add their name to the title, or include it in the accompanying text, for example "I had the pleasure of photographing Peter and Claire at Kensington Gardens….", then, by my understanding now, that COULD be a GDPR issue, unless I get a consent from them as part of the hire contract. I think?

  4. If it weren't for all those amazing photographers both professional and amateur, who have captured life on our streets over the decades. Think how much social history would have been lost had they not had the freedom to photograph, kids playing in the streets or on old bomb sites, teenagers enjoying life and adults doing their daily jobs.
    How sad is it, that we have created such a paranoid society today. Everything has to be politically correct, to comment on another person's colour you are a racist, you can't speak your mind without offending someone.
    Perhaps we have gone too far? Society has become too possessive and greedy, we have turned innocent photographers into perverts if taking pictures of kids, anyone with a camera is seen as suspicious. No one trusts anyone, and no one talks to each except via social media.
    It will be a sad day when the law restricts the use of cameras in our towns and cities, a sad day when being able to record the way we live and work for others to see in the future is taken away from us. We maybe not there yet, but the possibility is it could happen. Food for thought!

  5. i am american living in costa rica and i have questions about this there was once a thriving mall that is now abandond almost no one goes to and this 18 19 year old kid guard is like its illegal to take photos am like brah its a dead mall

  6. I have been stopped by police at a public event for taking photography as children present. This is in the state of Victoria in Australia also photos of people on beaches are not considered appropriate in Australia but this was very helpful for someone who is about to visit The UK

  7. this is so helpful and well thought out.
    Specially seeing this after the Fuji street photographer issue that happened a couple of days ago, it shines a new light into the whole public space/privcey issue.
    Again, thanks for this video, advice to go by

  8. This is such an amazing and valuable video. Thank you so much! ☺️

    I wanted to ask a question about Instagram. Instagram is an obvious place where you can make money if you have the right following. Would it still be classed as commercial if you’re getting paid by Instagram. I mean by posting street style images, just because the photographer wants to share their work not because they have the intention of being paid.

  9. EVERY photograph of ANY person is a potential intrusion, if they did not in advance give you permission, and particularly so if they are the exclusive person in a given shot. This makes street photography a subject which implies a very heightened sense of responsibility. Take for instance the now utterly cliched shot of a craggy-faced shepherd or street seller in the third world. Somehow most photographers suspend their normal rules about intrusion, yet the invasion of that person's privacy and space is every bit as serious as if they'd snapped a shot of some diva in their private space who then threatens to sue.

    The linking of this subject with model "releases" or contractual considerations is a mistake. The two scenarios are ENTIRELY different. The salient subject is the INVASION of the privacy of a person who never invited you, nor elected to be represented in some ambitious photographer's portfolio. The yardstick to consider includes whether YOU, the photographer, would ever consent to be a similar subject in similar circumstances. I'll give another example. You are at a PRIVATE party where you can be yourself and not feel restricted, and find that days later your movements, speech, and possibly temporary inebriation, is suddenly published worldwide without your permission on a video on facebook. The currently accepted notion is that because it happens globally it is of no consequence. That's wrong.

    All photographers, whether professional or amateur, and whether the medium is a video or a still, really need to think carefully about how THEY would feel if some random shot of themselves appeared, usually out of context, in a video or shot about which they had no prior knowledge.

    For all these reasons, I am no longer a street photographer, unless I can satisfy myself that I am not using another person in an intrusive way. The only exception is where people are seeking political power and are subject to a reasonably higher degree of scrutiny, but even then, privacy lines get blurred.

  10. An important subject Sean that you have covered thoughtfully. A street subject's mental health is also a factor. We simply don't know the 'story behind the face' we photograph. One in four of us is suffering a mental health issue at any one time. Most people mask it in public and would probably show little sign of upset if photographed. But we still might ruin their day unintentionally (we might make their day too!). It's a difficult one to resolve, though I struggle to justify the 'in your face' approach that some street photographers persist in pursuing.

  11. What aperture do you guys reckon he used for the photo at 2:48? I'm new to photography and trying to work out which aperture is best. I've seen f/16 but I feel like having a bit of background blur is nice in order to isolate subjects and tell a better story but also don't want it to end up looking like a portrait.

  12. Sean, this is s very useful information, but even more importantly, it made me think about issues in advance, and your comments on intent were a great catalyst for me to think through these issues and set some boundaries for myself. Thank you.

  13. In the US photography is one of the only professions that is constitutionally protected. It's called the 1st amendment! Anything you can see in public, you can legally photograph. You don't need anyone's permission.

  14. Stumbled upon your video and I am impressed by how honest this message was to me. I am a beginner in the art form of photography and I always feel shy to take pictures in public even if I'm not even trying to capture people. Thanks taking the time to explain all this and being to authentic and just in your ethics.

  15. The laws are very similar in most countries with a free press. People tend to overestimate their rights to privacy, and underestimate the practical realities of life. They don’t realise if people cannot be photographed without permission in public places then news footage of events would be extinguished. Selfies would become rare, shots of family enjoying a roller coaster ride become impossible, the shot of mum blowing out the candles on her birthday cake at a restaurant become non-existent (yes I know its a private business and the business can ask you not to, but I am talking about the people in the background who do not have a say in the matter.) And these private photo situations are relevant because once published on Instagram etc, those photos are subject to the same legalities as professional shots.

    Without the ability to take photographs of people in public and semi-public places without permission, a very high portion of normal photography would cease to exist and Facebook would have a problem. A street photographer is different only in the intent of their work and that is why laws specifically talk about commercial and artistic purposes, but ultimately everyone is affected by the constraints of the law, and the freedom to take reasonable photos that are not deliberate attempts at surveillance or invasion of legally defined privacy.

  16. The change to modern digital cameras being able to record sound and video totally changes the legal opinion re just stills. Taking videos of political speakers often gets challenged and l seek or get asked by the organisers of a rally, meet candidates night for permission prior when it is held on private or leased premesis and despite challenges their support has proven appropriate as long as l am doing it clearly openly ie large camera held to eye not secretly which is considered illegal in some jurisdictions.

  17. Taking photographs at funerals is an interesting task. You can often be confronted but with the right words and approach l find l have been successful in turning any questions around and in all cases those involved have enjoyed the work l have done. No l have always had support from a close family member to undertake in the first place. For years l had the task of photographing at the Woodford children’s festival and the question of taking pictures of unknown children usually becomes a question once or twice during the week when l point out to any questioners the conditions of the entry that they may be photographed but have once confirmed l would not let the image be published by a personal request and immediately they said no if the organisers want to use it we would love to be on next years program or other so the outcome depends a bit on your response.

  18. I never felt comfortable with the idea of photographing strangers. Yeah, I've clearly got social anxiety, but taking pictures of strangers just isn't my thing. It goes against the mood I want for my pictures and plus I genuinely don't like bothering others. This is why if someone enters my shot I just point the lens upward or downward to let them know that they aren't being photographed. If someone is approaching me and it's clear that they're going to walk right into my shot, I just take as many shots as I can before choosing a different angle.

    Either way, just remember to respect the space of others y'all.

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