Taking Pictures in Public

Written by:

Last weekend I went to our area Farmer’s Market. As is my habit, I took my camera along with me. There’s just something about the rows of baskets and piles of produce that make me want to capture the color and just plain goodness of fresh fruits and vegetables.

A couple of times I got some strange looks from people – I swear I could read their minds, “Why on EARTH is that woman taking pictures of tomatoes???” One of the booth vendors even asked my why I was taking pictures of his stand, and wanted to know what the pictures were going to be used for. I happily explained that the pictures were primarily for my personal use, but that I might put them up on the photography website that I write for. He was happy to hear that and gave me a free sample (perks of the job!).

This exchange got me thinking about something that I read recently on a blog that I visit, Unphotographable. The author of Unphotographable writes short stories and descriptions of the pictures that he didn’t take. In his words, “Unphotographable is a catalog of exceptional mistakes. Photos never taken that weren’t meant to be forgotten. Opportunities missed. Simple failures. Occasions when I wished I’d taken the picture, or not forgotten the camera, or had been brave enough to click the shutter.” In one of his recent posts, he describes watching a photographer on the streets of London who was taking pictures of the urban scene, and was yelled at by a passerby for taking pictures of people without their permission (the entry is here, if you’re interested).

It’s just good manners, if you’re taking pictures of someone’s establishment, place of business, products, and the like, to ask permission to do so before snapping away. But what about in public places? What about crowds, and public streets, and sporting arenas or other events? When you’re taking a picture of such places, people that you don’t know and who aren’t the intended subject of your photo are bound to get in the shot. I myself would be quite surprised to find a photo of myself somewhere out there, belonging to a complete stranger and taken without my knowledge. But I understand things like that happen all the time.

Now, if you’re concerned about the legalities of it all, it is the photographer’s right to take pictures in public of what they see, as long as they respect a “reasonable expectation of privacy”. Here is a good resource that explains a photographer’s legal right to take public photographs, and Photo Secrets also has a good article on the law for photographers.

I thought I would start up the discussion here. How do you feel about taking pictures of people you don’t know? How would you feel if you found a picture of yourself you didn’t know about? Join the discussion in the comments!

Photo credits (all): Tiffany Joyce.

Previous Post:

Comments are closed.