Should You Take That Street Photograph? A Discussion on Ethics and Social Norms

You, yes you, are a banana. For today, and only on this day, you have chosen to go about your business dressed up as a banana. You’re going to brunch, doing your laundry, hanging out with friends, commuting, etc. But the entire time, you’ve chosen to do so while dressed as a banana. Out of the blue, someone decides to come take your picture in public without asking you for permission. You get angry. You tell them to stop taking pictures of you and to leave you in peace, totally alone to enjoy your ripening process.

But does that person have to right legally and ethically to take your photo?

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Many street photographers would say no. If you asked them to delete the image, they probably will but they don’t legally have to. You’re in public; and depending on the laws for your state, city or nation, you’re allowed to take photos of whatever you want on public grounds. It’s what’s made NYC and other large cities so great for street photographers.

Legally, no matter what, you have the right to take a photo in public unless you’re disobeying a police officer’s orders. Then things get complicated, but even then your rights aren’t really taken away. So that means that you can go about photographing people in their daily lives with no issues honestly. But many street photographers tend to stick to codes of ethics. Often that requires you to not take images of homeless people, disabled people, sick people, and sometimes even children. Overall though, it’s emphasized that you have good intentions when you take an image. If there is no harm to come, then snap away.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer VSCO film pack 3 street (1 of 1)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 2.8

So then what if someone is doing something to really draw attention to themselves out of the social norm? Is it okay to assume they are drawing attention to themselves? Absolutely. Sometimes, people could be doing something to draw attention to themselves in public for commercial intent. Other times they’re not and they just feel like doing something that doesn’t go along with the rest of society–like laying out in their underwear on a lawn chair in public.

Can the person then be photographed? Absolutely. Even further, what the person is actually doing is illegal. They’re obstructing an area of the sidewalk and sort of doing something to disturb the peace. It was their decision to do so.

Just remember: if it’s out of a social norm within reason, it’s fine. If it’s in public, it’s generally fine. Is it ethical? That’s debatable.