Thursday, September 25, 2008


Random shots of people in public places raises interesting questions.

Really this post should be titled Debate and a Rant. That said, I'll start off with the rant: I dislike anonymous commentors. If you have a beef with a picture I've posted or something I've said, don't hide behind "Anonymous." Say what you want to say and do it using your name or don't bother. I'll have a lot more respect for you if you do, then if you snark and don't own it in the open.


And now, to the debate. Yesterday, I had a commentor who thought it was "low" of me and a violation of this gentleman's privacy to post a picture of him without asking his permission. In the overall scheme of things as regards the picture in question, it is thus: I am normally a very outgoing person. Talking to people is not uncomfortable for me. Additionally, I was in close physical proximity to him, as in he was sitting perpendicular to me and we were less than a foot apart. Ergo, I probably should have introduced myself, shown him the picture I took, given him my card, and asked if I could use his photo on my blog. But I didn't.

And how many of us do?

I dare say, very few of us.

In an internet world, privacy is an ongoing debate with no clear answers.

I have no idea who the people are in these pictures, but their presence in the scene makes
the moment more compelling. Have I violated their right to privacy by posting their pictures on my blog?

So, having nothing better to do except edit two resumes and work on a writing project for three clients, I dug through my archives for the pictures you see here today framing this issue. I also took a sample from the blogs in my blogroll and found similar pictures of people that I doubt the photographers who took them sought permission to post. (If any of the bloggers I'm highlighting did, please call me out so I can note that and please share with us how you approach your subjects and get their permission to post their image on your blog.)

Of particular note were these five photo bloggers who I felt had similar content to my post yesterday.

And again, same question: violation of privacy or not?

Their entries left me wondering if my anonymous commentor would think these photo bloggers are also "low" and violating the privacy rights of the people in the pictures they took and posted. Paris Set Me Free is particularly noteworthy because Sab includes a video commentary and tutorial on his series of photos that introspectively asks whether he violated this woman's privacy by taking her picture while she slept on the train.

How about these? In the photo on the left, the gentleman had no clue I took his picture.
On the right, these ladies knew I did. Should I have explained to each of them what I was doing?

Other blog entries to note: Clueless in Boston; Juneau Daily Photo; New York City Daily Photo; NYC Daily Photo; Miss B in NYC; Quincy Daily Photo; San Francisco Daily Photography; San Francisco Daily Photo; Seattle Daily Photo (who is known for her fabulous, candid photographs of every day people); Salt Lake Daily Photo; Fresh Eyes on London; Mindless Mumbai; Monte Carlo Daily Photo; Paris Daily Photo (the father of the city daily photo blog movement); Ramsey Daily Photo; South Shields Daily Photo; Victoria Daily Photo; Jacob Boll Photography; and Thomas Hawk's Digital Connection (the guy with the goal of posting 1 million photos online before he dies.) These aren't the only examples out there. No doubt, out of the more-than-700 city daily photo blogs, I could find innumerable similar posts like the few in my blogroll.

Sometimes, compelling photos are about the moment and the spontaneity.
Is that a privacy violation?

Perhaps what irked my anonymous commentor is that I openly admitted how I obtained the picture I posted yesterday. Maybe, instead of explaining how I snuck a quick pic, I should have simply said, "I took this picture on Metro yesterday. Isn't it neat?" and left it at that.

What say you, fellow city photo bloggers?

Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 09/08

Photo sources were all posted previously in entries on D.C. Confidential. These are but eight of more than three dozen possibilities over the last year and a half of photo blogging: Modern, The Real Deal, Bibliophile, Study in Blue, Pairs, Dinner, Two Things Challenge: People / Watch, and Take My Hand....


Virginia said...

I said most of what was on my mind on your post yesterday, but I will add that unless you were planning to sell said photograph for commercial use (commercials, advertisements etc) , from everything I have read, you are within your rights. As I stated yesterday, your representation of the man in question was in no way demeaning, embarassing or disrespectful. I always think about that when I take photographs when I have not asked for permission beforehand. Maybe some fellow bloggers can come up with the"Photographer's Rights". I know I have read it on someone's blog.

pierre l said...

There is a lot of paranoia in the UK at the moment about taking photos, in some cases even of one's own children doing everyday things.
I am not a lawyer, or indeed a photographer, but that yesterday's photo looked great, and it wouldn't have been spontaneous if you'd asked him first.
In the middle right picture, if the you man was married and his wife saw him looking friendly with the young woman she might be upset. But even so, if he has something to hide then he should be more careful.

Paris Set Me Free said...

Hi, it's Sab here from Paris Set Me Free. The pics you mentioned of mine are here. It's funny, but scrolling down to get to those pics from the latest posting, I came across an athlete lying prostrate in front of a few thousand people, and a picture of a photographer too, doing his job (with an impressively big lens to boot), neither of whom were aware that I was taking their pictures but I doubt that they would be very surprised to learn that I had.
An athletics stadium is obviously a very public place where people are putting on a show and expect to be photographed and for those photos to be potentially published. Politicians and stars of entertainment rely on it to stay in the public eye. The question is whether a commuter has the right not to be photographed and published in a not-directly-for-profit forum like a blog. Not directly for profit because if someone likes my pictures and wants to pay me to take them on a photo tour of the city I will say yes.
Like I said in my video tutorial, I am, nevertheless, a bit uneasy both about obviously taking people's pictures and later publishing them. If someone is looking at me I probably won't take a shot, both because artistically I have affected the 'experiment' by becoming part of the subject's consciousness, and because they might hit me and break my camera. Although as someone said France is a bit draconian, it's very rare for anyone other than horrendous paparazzi to be taken to court. I have my limits. I try to picture people in interesting situations or poses, but never humiliating or derogatory situations where they can be recognised. I do take pictures of homeless people, but I will often try to disguise their faces through artistic blur or framing. But then again, they are there on the street for all to see, and sometimes impose themselves upon us asking for money so I don't feel tooooooo bad about taking their pics. And I generally only take a blatant pic of someone who is performing publicly such as a musician or living statue, and I will give them a reasonable contribution to their funds without mentioning the fact that I feel I am morally paying for the right to use their image on my blog. Low? Maybe, but as others have said, we are photographed every day and I constantly use irony or pathos to try and say something about the human condition, commenting on myself as much as anyone else - after all, I 'saw' the picture.
For the girl, I tried to show three different aspects of her character in these pics, as well as say something about the daily dredge into the city that so many of us participate in.
There's something terribly vulnerable or fragile about this simple but gently beautiful girl snoozing on the train. And hey, for all I know she's a ruthless bitch at work that everyone hates... but that's all part of the fun! Somehow I don't think so...

USelaine said...

I think the lawyer who posted yesterday about Americans in public was useful to hear.

I don't ever want to humiliate anyone, and I don't even focus on people's faces very much. But without people in our blogs, the view of depicting lives in our communities of focus would be pretty dry. Since I live in a small town, and all my photos for my blog are taken here, my concern is more subtle: Do they mind if I post their names with their photos? No one will ever find yesterday's picture by Googling that man's name. There's no facial recognition scanner out there among the search engines/web crawlers. I have posted the full name of someone with their picture on my blog exactly once. It was of our city Mayor conducting public office hours in our City Park during the farmer's market.

I also never try to hide my camera or the fact that I'm taking pictures. It's just a personal way to gauge whether someone seems uncomfortable with it. But I don't do that because I have to.

You know, there's another side to all this business of what can be photographed. The question comes up more and more: can you photograph buildings? It sounds odd, but the issue came up in Pasadena not long ago. Then there was my odd experience last June. I went on about it (at length) somewhere else, but the upshot is, I asked if I could take photos in the polling place. It was inside City Hall. Equally weird, the volunteers "didn't think" I could, and when pressed, had to call the Clerk's office to be told it was okay. I just couldn't photograph the actual ballot. But wait. Why did I even feel like I should have to ask in the first place! I blame the Bush regime.

Kitty said...

great point. The subject has come up on my blog as well, though only once, and the person identified himself. It was in response to a photo I took of a man waking from a nap on a stoop in the middle of the day.

you can see the photo here . It's not a flattering situation for the man, so I see the commentator's point, but I was not placing the man sleeping in the afternoon on a busy street.

I routinely post candid photos of people. I also post photos of the homeless, often sleeping in the streets. It is not the greatest situation, but it is theirs and their existence is something we should all be aware of. I see my photos more like photojournalism - real slices of real life, driven as much by content as aesthetics.

Not everyone is going to like our photos. It's a fact we have to accept, and we should keep taking pictures regardless.

thanks for bringing up this great point for discussion!

Bernie said...

I wonder about that issue myself. I think from a legal standpoint, there is nothing wrong with this unless you wanted to sell the photos. There is really no expectation of privacy on a public street and these days there are security cameras everywhere anyway. In a perfect world, it is probably better to ask, but in my opinion, there is nothing "low" about not asking. AND it was a great picture!!

LG said...

Debate! Debate! (It sounded better than 'Fight! Fight!')

I have two thoughts on this. On one hand, I was on a webinar the other day where we discussed the reasonable expectation of privacy in such a digital (read: immediate) world. It's different now to be somewhere like a stadium, as Paris said, and expect that you won't show up in a photograph or on the jumbotron, even. Cameras are everywhere - even on phones - and the "reasonable" expectation of privacy has dwindled. I know when I go out that someone could take my picture at any time, and I'm fine with that. Am I fine with it showing up on someone's blog? I don't know.

That being said, I've read that in each picture where someone is easily recognizable, it's customary to get consent of the individual. Is it possible to do that for a crowd shot on a busy street of New York City, for example? Probably not. But for an individual who is featured in a photo? That seems a little fuzzier, even though you're not selling your photos and don't stand to profit from someone else's likeness (the reason for most lawsuits). My gut instinct when I saw the shot was to speculate on how this man would react to seeing himself at the center of a blog post. Maybe he wouldn't care, but maybe he would. Who knows.

I agree that people make a shot more compelling, but where do we as photographers draw the line?

This is why I shoot landscapes and mountain goats.

Devil's Advocate :)

babooshka said...

A subject close to my heart. I studied the photo in question long and hard. What I saw was a wonderful portrait. I did not see anything humiliating, sarcastic, debasing or infringement at any level re his human rights. Like Uselaine, my town is very small my human contributions are limited, but as and when they appear I have so far had no complaints, the opposite a thank you for the 15mins of fame. This photographer's rights issue is ongoing in the UK but really is a veiled covert operation in curtailing free speach and fuelling paranoia. We live in a world where we seem to be quite happy to be spied upon by cctv as potnetial criminals, but shy away from being portrayed going about our law abiding everyday humane life. In a world obsessed with snapping z list celebrities snorting illegal substances and doing illegal acts, surley we need to redress the balance? We should embrass photography of the daily snapper portraying the the normal side of life, ie the man on public transport just going about his daily life.

Aplogisies for taking up so much blog space, but this eventually could curtail my livlihood as a photographer. Worse it could discourage from what I have seen on the daily some potentially excellent snappers from turning professional.

Excellent post.

D.C. Confidential said...

VJ: No plans to sell my people pictures, so that's a non-issue. I hope, when I photograph people, I'm not being demeaning, embarrassing, or disrespectful. I try to treat them like I'd want to be treated if someone else was behind a camera and I was there subject.

Pierre: There is a certain quality to spontaneity that is lost if you first ask to take a picture. If I wanted to sell my people watching pictures, I'd have no problem asking for permission after the fact. As for the young man, I hope he's not hiding anything either!

Sab: You make excellent distinctions between public pictures by amateurs/non-news photographers/non-paparazzi and those taken by the same. If I'm running in the Marine Corps Marathon, I know my picture is going to likely show up in the Washington Post or on the news and there's little I can do about it. Similarly, if someone takes my picture on Metro, I can't exactly worry about where it might show up. (In fact, I'm confident I'm in at least a few dozen vacation scrapbooks of total strangers all over the country who have visited here and caught me in the photos as I was walking by.) Photojournalists and their slimy relatives, the paparazzi, do have an obligation to protect their subjects and seek permission for usage. As for your photos, I thought they were brilliant. The one of the young lady's legs was beautiful, but also disconcerting in that it portrayed such a rare vulnerability.

USElaine: I try to do the same. Even though I snuck my picture of this guy, my camera was out in the open and I have no doubt he was aware of it. As for photographing buildings, I'm starting to run into problems with that, too. We can thank the current administration for that one.

Kitty: As your photo of the man sleeping on the stoop illustrates, our photographic circumstances may not always be ideal, but that shouldn't stop us for capturing life in the moment.

Bernie: You make a good point about how we might approach things in a perfect world. In said world, I wouldn't be as uncharacteristically shy. That aside, I agree with your assessment that it's a great picture.

LG (aka Devil!): Maybe I should switch to landscapes and mountain goats. Only problem is, all the goats in this town have been used as scapesgoats such that we're running low on goats! :-) Seriously, though, you ask good questions. If the tables were turned, would I want to see my likeness on a random blog/web site? A year or two ago, I might have been bothered, but now... Probably not so much. As long as the picture isn't demeaning, embarrassing, or disrespectful, that is!

Babooshka: I'm afraid if I lived in the U.K., I'd be on a first name basis with the folks at MI-5. Any government/regime that restricts the creative outlets of its people is weak and ineffectual. 99% of us who are out snapping pictures here, and on your side of the pond, are by my estimation just looking to capture the moment and life as it is happening around them. I know, as I've engaged in more and more photography, my mind's eye has changed and I see more and more things as potential subjects. That includes people. It's a shame when government regulations leave us fearful of retribution for something as simple as taking a picture. So much for not letting the terrorists win, eh?

marley said...

Time for Marleys two penny worth!

From my comment yesterday you know my opinion of Anon (notice no sign of them today!)

I think what you have done has opened a real can of worms. And it is brilliant! I recently posted a photo of a bride and groom taken through the doorway of a walled garden. I didn't mention anything about how I came to take the photo and I received nothing but positive comments. A month or so before Petrea at Pasadena DP posted a photo of a bride and groom in the street and asked whether she had violated their privacy. She received all sorts of comments, some saying she was out of order.

I really do think people are only bothered about invasions of privacy if they know the subject had no clue. This shows people are just jumping on a moral band wagon. Is it really what they believe? More than likely not. I think they just think they are being politically correct.

As a foot note to your post - the UK has 20% of the worlds CCTV cameras! Our image is being taken everyday, hundreads of times, and know one is asking our permission.

I'm so pleased you have brought this debate to the fore. Great job.

Capt. Ben said...

By definition, there can be no expectation of privacy in a public place. Therefore, photos of people in public places cannot be invasions of privacy.

If they are in a public place, they are fair game, whether or not you are using your photo for commercial purposes or not. If I see Britney Spears puking in a gutter on a public street, you bet I'm gonna take some snaps.

On the Metro, however, you may be subject to rules and conditions... imposed by DC Metro, however, not the guy next to you on the train.

I rode the DC Metro the first day it was open to the public (three stops, no fare!) and I remember being disappointed that there was a rule that you could not take pictures down there. I don't know if that still exists, but it might... It is not really a public place, since you have to pay to go in.

Realistically, though, it is not a very private place... that is why people wear shades, headphones and push their face into a book or newspaper; to gain some inner sense of privacy in a place you know full well a hundred wierdos are watching you.

When folks ask me why I'm taking a picture, though, I don't tell them to buzz off... I will tell them, and if it is a photo that I might blog, I do carry around cards, and will hand one over, explaining I might post it. Never had any objection yet, but if I do, I'm ready for angry offended reactions... walk away is first option, but I'm prepared to debate the point until they get tired of me and walk away themselves.

D.C. Confidential said...

Marley: Thanks for your two pence! I think the bottom line we're arriving at here is, if you're in public, there's the potential you'll end up being photographed. (And esp. if you live in Britain! I read somewhere that there is one CCTV camera for every 17 citizens! That's outrageous!! However, I'll bet your crime rates are falling, because you literally can be traced from point A to point B.)

Capt. Ben: Now there's an interesting twist vis-a-vis Metro that I hadn't thought of. If I pay to ride, is photography prohibited because I'm now on private/government property? Hm.

In the case of Metro, though, I think they've resigned themselves to the fact that Metro is a phenomenon many visitors--esp. Americans--do not experience in their own towns and it's a novelty that must be photographed as part of the visit-to-DC experience. Frankly, I'm surprised they still allow photography post 9/11. I'm sure it's just a matter of time or a terrorist attack before all that ends.

As I emailed Virginia this morning, if you're in public, you're fair game. I think, however, in settings where there is an expectation of safety, a photographer then has an obligation to be courteous and ask. Case in point: homeless shelters, churches, private homes, and office settings. People who are in those places go with a reasonable expectation of being out of harms' way and not being intruded upon.

Otherwise, if you're out and about, it's anyone's game.

Not that I expect to the conversation to stop, but I want to say a huge thanks to those bloggers who were gracious about my links and inclusion of their blogs in this debate. And I want to say thank you to everyone who has weighed in. It's obviously an issue we're all aware of and, while none of us are seeking to be paparazzo, we're also trying to be respectful of the people and places we photograph while bringing the same to a wider audience.

Frances said...

I didn't visit the last post - so I got here first - wondered - and then went back to the previous post to see what had sparked it.
Do you think the fact that you're responding as you are to anonymous's remark shows that you aren't feeling entirely comfortable about it yourself? Maybe you actually went a little way outside your own comfort zone with the picture on the train and were really hoping for support in what you said about it and how you said it.
Otherwise, I'm not sure why anonymous's response to your post worried you at all. It was a possible answer and one you did seem to anticipate. I presume they may have chosen to be anonymous to point up the anonymity of the subject of the picture?
There is a difference between what we feel about photographs of ourselves and our loved ones and pictures of anonymous strangers. We don't mind seeing pictures of people we don't know - embracing, sleeping on the street, picking their noses, strangely dressed, but we are defensive about our own dignity and that of people we know.
It is too easy for us to say that if a person is doing something secret, such as sitting in a restaurant all day because he hasn't told his wife he's lost his job, then he's in public and has to take the chance... We are fascinated by pictures of hoboes and alcoholics - but would be upset if one of them turned out to be our dad or brother - or maybe a picture of us in some long past bad time of life.
It is a choice the artist has to make, and in the case of the photographer, has to live with after a split second decision.
I say this having recently seen a fascinating photography exhibition in London - Street and Studio. One of the issues addressed by the exhibition was this very thing - looking at people choosing to have their picture taken and those taken unawares.
When we left the exhibition, we walked past a man fast asleep/passed out on the grass and my daughter said, 'a photo opportunity'
Hope you resolve your feelings. You take beautiful pictures, you just have to do it the way you feel comfortable.
The issue may be the publicising of the picture, so if you feel unhappy about that, why not ask the subject after you have taken the picture - if it's a beautiful picture as your man on the train, I am sure the subject would be happy, maybe even flattered.

Just Roaming The Cities said...

Wow, did I pick a great day to stop by your blog. First, I want to say I did because I'm from the Twin Cities in Minnesota and a fan of Dusty Lens (Robs ) work and finally got to meet him the other day for our Foshay Tower walkabout. (sounds Austrailian!) so thats how I got here today. But what a subject you have debating!
It's so good to see a blogger who is blunt and forward and able to express their opinion like you have. I have done this very thing, just tipped my camera in my hand and taken a shot and not sure if someone saw. I think as photographers we are all careful to not put a stranger in a compromising position by showing a bad photo on our blogs, but rather seeking ones of interest in the human race.

Being in public you are fair game, in my opinion. Just the other day me and my boyfriend were in a park relaxing on a blanket reading. A young girl (with a nicer camera than me, dammit!) was walking by us and stopped and took a shot of us. It was 12 feet away, and she didn't ask our permission. And she wasnt right in our face blatently. Now my ex-husb would have gotten up and screamed, "hey! what are you gonna do with that picture?!" and embarrassed the hell out of me. But my sweet boyfriend says, "kiss me, love, she's taking a picture of two young lovers on a blanket."
Now thats a good line from a 42-year old, huh?
Love the Blog, I'll be back!
And yes, you should come to the Cities and go on a walkabout with us all.

D.C. Confidential said...

Frances: You ask an open and honest question. In truth, when I took the picture, I felt a twinge of guilt for being so clandestine about it. That feeling, however, didn't carry over when I got home and downloaded the photos. When I found I'd captured what I thought was a compelling portrait, I decided to post it.

It could certainly be argued that in posting this debate, I'm seeking validation that I made an okay choice and shouldn't feel bad about posting this guy's pic. Perhaps, subconsciously, there is some truth to that. In this case, though, the bigger issue raised by the anonymous commenter was whether I violated this man's right to privacy by posting his photo.

In that case, I feel the answer is no and the consensus seems to bear that out. As I said earlier, my sense is that Anon was probably more chaffed about my admission regarding how I came to take the picture--which was an open and honest admission; i.e. I snuck the photo--and less about actually posting a picture of a total stranger.

The exhibit you just saw in London sounds fascinating and no doubt could be staged in any city and explore the same question. As your daughter's comment shows, everything is a potential subject--whether animate or inanimate.

I don't feel bad about taking and posting the young man's picture and it won't stop me from doing it again. That said, I do feel that I wasn't open with him after I took it. That's a situation I'm making a concerted effort to remedy.

JRTC: Thanks for stopping by! Sounds like you had an interesting experience with a photographer the other day. I find the juxtaposition amusing, as well. I was less than a foot from my subject and trying to be clandestine. Your photographer was 12' from you and doing nothing to hide the fact she was taking your picture. While the methods are different, the outcome is the same.

The next time I'm in Minneapolis, I'll look you all up! No doubt we'll have a good time snapping pics and talking about the ethics of photography in public places!

2sweetnsaxy said...

I always hesitate to take pictures of people. I agree that sometimes people make a photo and they're very interesting subjects. Still, if I post any I will blot out their faces using Photoshop. I've even created a personal business card so that the next time I want to take a photo of someone I will ask and hand them a card showing where it will post with their approval.
I haven't a clue what the laws are but I sure don't want anyone suing me either so I just don't risk it. That's just me. We all do what we are comfortable doing. But to me, children should always be off limits without permission.

Lara said...

I say that maybe I am myself in thousands pictures from the Harley Davidson parade, for example. And without my helmet :)), so you can clearly see who I am - and I am proud of that!... The obvious thing here is thou an artistic point of view: say you went and talked to that gentleman whose photo triggered this "debate". oh, well, what a shame, the feeling of the moment would have been gone, because we are just normal people, not supermodels, posing for magazines. this is the beauty of it: portraits at random, in the streets, are pure art. and if by chance, those people see their photos online, there are only 2 possibilities: they like it or not. if they don't, they might ask you to remove their picture, but my guess is that we all like to have our fifteen minutes of fame (oh, Andy Warhol...).

D.C. Confidential said...

2Sweet: I recently had cards printed up as well and, in situations similar to the one I was in the other day, I'm going to make an effort to be better about giving them out. As for children, I agree!

Lara: There is definitely a lot to be said about pictures of people that are spontaneous. For all of the pictures I use as examples in this entry, I think if I had said something to the subjects beforehand, the results would have been very different and wouldn't have looked as natural or in-the-moment. And, as you point out, if the person doesn't like their picture online, they can say so. I know in the case of my blog, if someone contacted me and asked me to take down their picture, I'd oblige.

Eric Salsbery said...

DCC, I share your sentiments.
Thanks for posting your thoughts on a very important topic and allowing the debate.
Great job, keep it up.

Lisa Sarsfield said...

I think that these photos are great because there are people in them. I don;t think there are any violations in these examples. I actually posted people photos today too...and I didn't ask permission because the said people are in public places and I don't intend to profit from taking photos they are in. I think photos with people in public places fall in the 'editorial' catergory. I am willing to bet that the winning 'people' photos in the world press photography competition arn't accompanied by model releases. They are editorial and are part of a story. Then there's the issue of property releases for buildings...but again common sense must prevail.
You have nothing to loose sleep over!

Dusty Lens said...

Excellent discussion post; I thank you for this post, it's been interesting to read. Not violations in my opinion. i looked back on our photoalbums from Italy and France, there are so many people in them that I don't know. Now I wonder how many photos I made in other people's vacation slide shows. Yikes, I hope I was presentable.

Ironically, the one thing my blog lacks is people in my photos. This is done on purpose on my part for many reasons. First, I wish to remain soewhat anonymouse, as with my family and friends.

Secondly, my people portrait photos are usually terrible. I see so many bloggers post beautiful people shots, mine loook staged, campy and well, lousy. It's a weakness that I shy away from. Perhaps this is the wrong thinking.

D.C. Confidential said...

Eric: I'm never shy about sharing my opinions or hosting a debate! Glad you weighed in. Thanks!

Lisa: You make an excellent distinction between photojournalism and commercial photography, I think. (As I'm neither, though, I'm willing to be corrected. If any out there is a photojournalist [i.e. works for a newspaper or newsmagazine] or is a commercial photographer, please weigh in.) I really doubt, as photojournalists are shooting "human interest" photos for a news story that they're running up to the subjects with a release waiver, particularly in war zones or disaster situations. Regardless, as you also point out, people in public are potential subjects, plain and simple.

Rob: It's been an interesting discussion. I'm glad you're weighing in. As you mention, at some point in life, all of us are going to show up somewhere in someone else's random photos. If I felt ending up on someone's blog or in their scrapbook was going to be a violation of my privacy, I wouldn't go outside. By the same token, if I waited for all the people who could possibly show up in my pictures to disappear, I'd either have to wait for a nuclear attack or Super Bowl Sunday. (Seriously, SBS is the best day of the year to take pictures around here sans tourists!)

As for your ability to take people shots, don't start with portraits. Try crowd shots first and work your way in. Or, stand against that building near the Mary Tyler Moore statue, hold your camera at mid-chest, rest it on your empty arm, and just take pictures of people as they walk by. I think you'll be surprised by the outcome! I know I have been.

Maya said...

I have this inner turmoil all the time about posting shots of people that are unaware that I am doing so. I know the law is on my side, so I'm still doing it. I keep wondering if someday one of these people will discover themselves on my blog and how they will feel about it.

LG said...

Ladies and gentlemen, once again - the Devil's Advocate!

So has it come down to a legal vs. ethical discussion? It's certainly not illegal to do this (unless you're profiting from it without consent), but how do you feel about it from a moral perspective?

I guess I lean toward the opinion that if a picture has to be obtained surreptitiously, then maybe it shouldn't be taken. While most people probably wouldn't mind having their picture taken, I think they should also be given the opportunity to make that decision.

Leaving before I get lynched,

Maya said...

jrtc: What a great boyfriend you have! I'd sure like to go on a walkabout with you, dusty, and d.c.!

D.C. Confidential said...

Maya: It's a valid question. If someone sees themselves on my blog and they don't like it, I hope they'll email me and say so. I don't want this blog to be a negative for folks who visit. That said, this weekend, I proactively made a point of giving people my card at the book festival if I snapped their picture specifically. (If it was a larger crowd shot, I didn't.) Without exception, all of them were receptive to the idea of potentially being on my blog. I'm sure one day I'll have someone object. If/when that happens, I think I'll delete their photo right there so it isn't even an option when I get home.

LG (aka DA): No lynching here, even if I thought you were terribly wrong. Which I don't, so all's well! The ethics of sneaking pictures were certainly a part of this debate. For my part, I'm taking steps to be more honest in my picture taking by letting potential, spontaneous portrait subjects know I've taken and could potentially post their picture. As for everyone else, it is, as you point out, a case-by-case personal issue.

Rebecca said...

I'm not an expert, and I don't really do photography, but I remember reading about just these issues a while back, so I looked up the facts. For future reference on legalities:


As you can read in those articles, a metro would be considered a public place, even if you have to pay to enter.

As for selling a photo, you actually CAN sell it without consent of the subject IF it's for editorial usage (news or art) - but NOT if it's for commercial purposes:

As for the ethics...meh. If a people go out in public they have to expect that they HAVE NO PRIVACY. Which would be why it's called PUBLIC. I, for one, would hate to find my photo on a blog - but it's the price I pay for leaving the house.

D.C. Confidential said...

Rebecca: Thanks of the links! All of the information is very useful and apropos to this discussion. I love this sentence in your comment: If a people go out in public they have to expect that they HAVE NO PRIVACY. Which would be why it's called PUBLIC. That pretty much captures everything perfectly!