Your Opinion – Taking Photos Of People In Public Places

Topic – Taking photos of random people in public places. You may extend to buildings and animals, in fact any photos of anything in public places.

When is this not acceptable ? When is this not allowed or one is breaking the law ?

Your opinions and experiences please.

Background – Yesterday Ray raised an interesting point about legal and ethical/moral considerations being separate. Personally I don’t agree, they are different but often inherently linked. People do often do the right thing because the law says so. Other times people do do the right thing even though they aren’t restricted by law.

I’ve been in many public places and often been photographed by both still and video cameras. Personally I don’t mind that much, but does perhaps feel a little bit of a liberty, especially if I don’t know what footage is going to be used for. I’ve seen how cuts can be made so the meaning of words can be completely changed. Contexts can be changed and words can be spun, this is a harsh reality. And I know how powerful editing software is in terms altering photos that are very unflattering, at best, a complete lie, at worst.

Please correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t the native Americans believe it was something like “having their soul stolen” if their picture was taken.

Celebrities and people who are currently famous or infamous, spend their whole day and night, every public moment with cameras thrust in the faces, zoom lenses taking photos from miles away.

I recently asked to take a photo of a man’s parrot and the conversation quickly moved to one of a commercial nature. So I withdrew. A photographer reader advised that he’s often experienced that people often want to whore themselves for their photos. Chequebook journalism he called it. Just one of those things he said. Paying money to take photos seem a little unethical to me, especially since I’ve given my own photos for free.

I’ve been forcibly prevented taking photographs of my previous employer’s building in Stamford Connecticut (UBS). The security guard came running up and told me to stop, which I did, as I didn’t want to lose my job. I’ve since found out that buildings can be copyright. But the reason in this case was they were worried about terrorists scoping up their buildings. I am not a terrorist by the way.

And another incident I was taking pictures of a group of tourists, and a very aggressive female member of the group came right up in my face and basically told me to F off. Then started taking picture of me, the very thing she’d asked me not to do!

Also in the UK I believe we have the most CCTV cameras per capita of anywhere in the world. Some may say this intrudes into privacy. The loss of privacy may be worth the benefits in security.

I’m interested in the legal, moral and ethical considerations, so happy for answers that relate to any. I’ve found that your opinions broaden my knowledge, they don’t necessarily change my beliefs, but they do enhance my knowledge. There’s also the random Google’r and WordPress users who’ll find this later on. I’m also a keen photographer myself, as most of you know.

Thankyou in advance for contributing. Opinion Graphic Opinion Graphic

Please note: Good manners are a mark of a charismatic person – so please keep comments civil, constructive and related to the topic, or they will be moderated. Thank you for your co-operation on this. 

Sometimes I do not read comments straight away, and not always able to reply to every comment. I do read ALL comments, and will comment if I think there’s something that I want to add.

Warm regards, Don Charisma

55 thoughts on “Your Opinion – Taking Photos Of People In Public Places

  1. I’m a keen photographer. When I take pictures of people, I’d rather catch them unawares, acting naturally, not posing. Not that I am against people posing for photos, and sometimes have them pose, depending on the occasion.

    Nevertheless, I still feel I’m intruding when I try to take photos of people undetected, even though I’ve been doing it for years, and my partner is a portrait artist. There are times I have to take photos of people for her commissions.

    And, as most people know, it’s almost impossible to take a photo without people in it if you live in a busy town or city. When I lived in the Notting Hill area of London, which swarms with tourists, I probably had my photo taken dozens of times a day over weekends, mostly without knowing.

    It isn;t just some more traditional Native Americans who don’t like their photos being taken, a lot of very devout Muslims also consider their souls might by stolen by copying their image, and consider it a sin for images of humans to be used in any art. That’s why so many statues and picture get destroyed by extremists.

    Fortunately for me, having travelled extensively over Turkey during the 1980s, I can report it’s far from all Muslims, who feel that way. Most oblige with a happy smile.

    Those interested can see my photos of Spain, where I now live, here:

    1. Hey Bryan, thanks for info. And yes definitely see the argument about getting a “natural” shot, rather than a pose. Some people are very photogenic when they pose, other look self-concious and would get a better shot perhaps if they weren’t posing.

      There’s been a lot of feedback, and I just filter that back into my own equation, perhaps there will be some portrait photos finding their way onto Don Charisma’s blog soon.

      Thank you, merry Christmas, Don Charisma

  2. Interesting topic. I don’t ask. It’s generally pretty obvious that I’m taking pictures, but the pictures that I like to take aren’t posed, and if I stopped and asked that interesting man chewing on his cigar on the beach if I could take his picture I would have missed the fascinating candid shot that I took. I’ve had street performers ask to be paid, and then I don’t take their picture.

    I’m also a very shy person, and find it very difficult to approach people to ask about photos, this is probably the real reason why I don’t ask.

    1. That’s a good point too, that the asking could mean the missing of the moment. I think the pros who are doing it all the time like Ray above, probably “make” the moment, and are used to “getting the most” out of the people they are photographing.

      And definitely hear you on the shy thing, some people seem to find it easy to approach strangers and others very difficult. I guess if one wants to be taking lots of photos of people that might need permission, one may have to take steps to overcome shyness. Practice makes perfect they say. Easier said than done, I understand that !

      Thanks very useful input 🙂

  3. Thank you for opening the forum for discussion about such a timely topic. Two hundred years ago no one thought about this, a hundred years ago it would have been less a worry, but with the Internet making everything a click away and an item in your home, there’s a great deal more to consider.

    I’m not much of a photographer but when I want to photo people, I ask permission. I do not exploit them. (Neither do you, I wasn’t trying to imply that.) But I’ve seen pics of people on the web (and other places) who are identifiable and not attractive, of children who cannot give their permission, and of people in tragic circumstances. No one has the right to add a stupid hat or a mustache or an insulting caption, and to post those images just so the rest of the world can laugh and make fun of them.

    People cry in public, they scream, they fall, they faint, they clutch in sudden pain, almost none of it intentional or meant to be seen by anyone else. We have lost all privacy with cameras everywhere but we’ve also lost our sense of decency. People are entitled to their privacy even when in public. We should all respect that. Those who use cameras in public places should still respect everything and everyone and think about whether or not that photo is one that everyone else in the world needs to see. Sometimes even a photo can remain private in one’s own camera and sometimes it should.

    Sensible thoughtful discretion should be the norm.

    1. Thanks Sharon, our rights to privacy, dignity and to be treated with respect, certainly feed into decisions about taking photos in public. They are the moral and ethical consideration.

      However, and not that I’m advocate, often people seem to operate in complete contravention to anything decent or virtuous in these respects. Paps do stalk celebs with ultra long lenses and get the most unflattering shots. People that through no fault of their own are physically repulsive to others do get photographed and humiliated. I’ve seen a photo of a dead baby left on a road by a kerb on Facebook, I “unfriendly” that person. And so on …

      Discretion is the better part of valour, they say.

      Thank you for sharing that Sharon, that was very useful and thoughtful.

      Warm regards


  4. It’s not so much taking the pictures as where they end up. If it’s for my personal scrapbook, I don’t worry about anything. But if I’m using a picture on my blog I make sure that everyone I don’t know is anonymous, even if that means blurring the faces. As to taking the pictures, I wouldn’t pay anyone and if they want my picture, snap away. My momma told me not to do anything in public that you minded the world seeing, so it’s going to be pretty boring. What kills me is folks who post things on the internet and then want to sue you for using them. Back when I was new to blogging I made the mistake of using a photo I shouldn’t have – not maliciously, I just didn’t know. You don’t exactly have to get a licence for blogging. As soon as they contacted me, I immediately took it down, but it was quickly apparent that they were more interested in suing me than protecting their artistic spark. If he had really been interested in protecting his photo, he could have embedded it on his page it in a way that kept if from being used by casual goggle searchers.

    1. Yes that’s an interesting point that these copyright images are all over google images, where the website can tell google not to index them. And the suing is definitely more about money than anything else.

      Good point about doing things in public, people would do well to remember that, easy to forget and then hard to do anything about.

      Warm regards


  5. For me, if picture will be displayed, like on my blog, I ask (unless it’s family), and if there are private gardens with beautiful flowers or trees, I ask, and am usually treated to a lot more than I ever expected. If with family in a public place and others inadvertently get caught in the photo, tough luck on their part. Usually they are not in focus, so it doesn’t really matter anyway. Public gardens are just what they advertise, public. So, unless there’s a sign posting “no photos” I say shoot away. And I have taken some photos that could be called an invasion of privacy at concerts where cameras are usually confiscated. Women have more hiding places than men.

  6. I spent several months attempting to get a few pictures accepted on iStock. It was a difficult challenge. One picture that I love was rejected because they thought the persons under the bridge in my Carriage Ride in Central Park were recognizable. I didn’t think they were but who was I to argue. I finally had two pictures accepted for commercial purposes but found it wasn’t work the trouble. If used commercially, the subject needs to give a model release. I’m not sure about the legal side if just for personal use.

    1. Thanks that’s interesting, and useful. I guess for people taking photos of not-people iStock might be worth it, especially if they’ve lots of photos. But I have no experience, and you do. I think personally I’d prefer to try to sell my own photos myself or put together a website to do it, if that was of interest.

      So all photos used commercially that contain a recognisable human subject need a release signed ? or that’s just for iStock ?

      1. You don’t specifically need a release form for personal use but I would definitely get one for any commercial use. Whoever purchases the image could get sued for using a likeness without authorization. So this goes beyond just iStock. It is a liability issue. You may be able to get a model release form online. The other subject that you need to approach with caution is to have a business name somewhere visible in the image. I would somehow mask out the business name or logo so that its not visible. Again, this is more or commercial versus personal or just fun blogging.

        I don’t really do business with iStock or other sites like this anymore. Not worth the time or effort. No real money to be made as you get lost in the millions of images.

        Great article!

  7. I read an article in a photography magazine about the legal implications of taking photos of children here in Australia. This is something you should be very careful of. Some local swimming pools will not allow photos and taking photos on the beaches can be stopped by the lifeguards if they believe you are doing more than taking photos of your family or the scenery.
    I have taken photos at markets but always asked the stall holders if they minded me taking photos of their things. Many people who make hand made items will not allow you to photograph them as they have developed the patterns etc themselves and don’t want others ripping them off. I know of people who take streetscape photos and there are obviously people in these shots. I guess it would all depend on whether the people in the street were readily identifiable.
    My SIL travelled to South America and I asked her why she didn’t take photos of a lot of the people there in their beautiful colours. She told me that the people there are more than happy for you to take their photo but it comes with a pricetag.
    Overall, I think it is just commonsense and courtesy when taking photos.

    1. I’m glad you brought that up, as a lady safer for you to raise the topic. And yes I reckon a lot of people have said ask for permission, so if one wanted to photograph children for a legitimate reason, then presumably need to ask parents permission. This would cover you as much as the children. And I seem to remember swimming pools in UK having no photos signs.

      And what about on the beach, where people are often semi-dressed, swimming gear only.

      Thanks Suz, very useful 🙂

      1. I have taken countless photos at school swimming carnivals and school events (along with all of the other parents) however when it comes to sharing some of those photos on FB or elsewhere then I tend to avoid sharing photos that have anyone else rather than the Tween in them. Those photos are for the albums at home so that the Tween can still have her memories.

      2. So as a parent at an official function, permission might well not be needed, but these days parents might want to make sure. And makes sense not to share publicly.

  8. this made me think of surveillance photos taken by hired private detectives. what are the legal issues here? i don’t know. i just see this in the movies.

    i have snapped pics of strangers doing something i found fascinating. i didn’t as for permission, though, in retrospect, i should’ve. i had no specific purpose for these photos. it was the moment i wanted to capture for its own sake

    1. I don’t know about CCTV. They have them everywhere in London, and also businesses have private ones. As for surveillance by private firms, I reckon that might be illegal, Police could do it in the correct circumstances. But honestly I don’t know, all conjecture on my part.

      Me too, often like to photograph the photographer. Also an angle I just thought of, didn’t mention before, but once people’s permission asked, do then they stop being “natural” and start posing ?

  9. Thanks for asking this. Even though I’m just an amateur I had wondered the same thing. Looks like there’s a lot of consensus on the issue.

  10. Good topic.
    I personally try not to take pictures of others.
    If I do and I know I will want to use them… on my blog or as a competition shot… I will ask for permission, which sometimes is very complicated but I rather ask. I never had person saying no to me… so far at least

  11. It is really complicated! but talking about this kind of photos where you can see a few persons walking in a big street, or I don’t know, in a park, and you take a photo and there is this person reading… This type of photos for me should be the “not ask their permission photo type”, because this people, they are in the street, so they are exposing themselves. The thing is… Keep it simple… Wouldn’t be the same if I am trying to do a photo of The person, and not a photo of the park. I mean if I like what I see and I want to do a photo, and you are in my way, well… you will be in the picture, that’s it. But I won’t try to make a forefront of you, because for that yes, I should ask you first. And about structures or shops or something, I hate when they say to me “no photos”. I really hate it and as tourist I never understand that, I am not from a magazine you know, it is just for memories! Shouldn’t be like this.
    PS: I have this friend, she wanted to do this App with the capacity of recognize faces in all the internet, you put your photo and the App will search all over the internet photos with you in it. jajajaja

    1. Thanks. So basically use one’s brain and try to make the best decision possible. And yes I’ve taken other people’s photos when they’ve been posing in front of something I want to photograph. Perhaps I’ll use that as an excuse if I’m photographing randoms again without their permission LOL

      Scary stuff an app that trawls the internet face matching … might sound a bit stalker’ish, and maybe that’s why such an app doesn’t exist ?

      1. hahahahaha yeah, but living in a city like barcelona, it’s normal to walk and be photographed over and over because there is a lot of tourist here so would be really interesting to know where your face is you know 🙂 And yes you totally get understand me! Almost for everything my answer is… Use your brain. I really like you! jajajaja

  12. That’s an interesting question. I would hope that the photographer indented to use a photograph for good, and not evil. I would hate to suddenly become the poster child for some shady cause. However, in this day and age I believe that one should expect that their image will be caught and stored in a stranger’s device. How the photographer uses those images, now that the real issue.

    1. Totally Kat, that’s a big worry for all of us. I’ve had a camera stolen with memory card of my photos, and if someone will steal a camera then who knows what they would do with the photos !

  13. I think we all might as well get used to a surveillance society because it’s here to stay.

  14. There are in many countries legal restrictions on taking pictures of certain structures, and it behooves the traveling photographer to know the rules. As for people, the rule I use is if they can be identified in the photo, even if I don’t plan to make commercial use of it, I ask their permission. If they are part of a mass crowd, though, and not easily identifiable, I often go ahead and shoot. If I plan to use a photo commercially, I will sometimes ask the person to sign a release – if they ask for money I weight the potential gain to me and either take the photo or not. If they refuse to sign the release I delete the photo. If I’m shooting a single individual or small group, I always ask out of common courtesy. In most countries I’ve had no problems.

    1. Thanks Charlie, very useful 🙂 … the release means they are not entitled later to make a financial claim ? And are there generic releases in public domain, that I could download and use myself ? warm regards DC

  15. Interesting topic, and my photography class this past semester had this discussion as well. Our teacher, a professional photographer who does teaching part time, basically said this, “when you step out side, you are in a public place. Once you are out in public, it is implied that you concent to certain things, such as your photo being taken.” She went on to say that you have to put the awareness out there that you are photographer and that you are there to take pictures. Her way of doing this was to spend the first hour meandering the area, camera in hand. Also if someone came up to her and asked not to have her picture taken, she would avoid taking their picture. Although many may think this is an invasion to privacy, it’s hard to really say. You are in a public space, you aren’t at home, and (hopefully) in most cases the photographer isn’t someone trying to stalk you. However, you do have the right to refuse… It’s a blury line.

    As for the people asking to be paid for their portrait, that’s no way for a photographer to make money. It would be like “give me money to do my books, accountant.” I mean, come on now… That’s when a photographer polietely says, “alright, well thank you for your time.”

    As for the Native American idea of photography, I believe that is most definitely the Aboriginies from Australia belief about photography. Though I am a Native American myself, I do not know if this holds true for all tribes. But as I said ealier, it is their right to refuse, and unconcent from having their photos taken in public.

    1. Blury line for sure, and fascinating input, thanks for sharing and correcting the “stealing soul” thing.

      I’m still trying to form a better picture, so when I’m out there in the moment, I’m better equipped to deal with each situation, so everyone’s opinions are really helpful 🙂

      1. 🙂 I guess monitor the thread as responses come in, and then you’ll have a better plan when you’re out “in the field”. Well that’s what I’m doing 😎

  16. Interesting question.
    Specially from my travellings, I have learned to ask people for permission to photograph them. In many countries it is like you write with the native americans, that they believe, you steal their souls. So for me no photos without persmission.
    Also peoples things for sale in markets, flower etc. demands their permission. Then I don’t risk any problems.
    Personally I don’t like to be photographed at all, so strangers may ask me too. Only for parties or so, it is okay to be photographed for me.

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