Taking someone’s picture when they ask you not to doesn’t make you a photographer with the law on your side, it just makes you selfish.
“Please don’t take my picture.” This is something we have all probably heard before as photographers. Whether the plea comes from a friend or family member that you might be hanging out with, or from a complete stranger that you may pass on the street, it’s a powerful statement, and it is one that should not be taken lightly. Sure, when we are out doing street photography we can indeed take images that include people, and by law we might be covered because it’s a public space, but just what should we do when someone says this? Join us after the break and we will explore this a little more.
A recent thread on Reddit shared a meme/image that shows a young woman with her hands covering her face. The caption reads “We all have those friends who don’t want their picture taken…and so we try even harder to take their picture!” “Maybe because they need to know they are beautiful?” It’s this image and caption that have lead me to write this piece. Just what should you do in these instances where friends ask you not to take their picture? What should you do if you are out and about and a stranger says the same?
This is a hot topic for sure, and if you read through the Reddit thread you’ll see various takes on this issue, some which are actually quite troubling, but for me personally i’m of the firm belief that just because we can do something, it doesn’t mean we always should. I’m also a firm believer in respecting people’s wishes, and their personal boundaries too. We carry cameras that can wield so much power over people, and sometimes I think we lose sight of the fact that they can have an alarming effect on some individuals.
We don’t know a persons state of mind, we don’t know what they are going through on any given day, we might not know what insecurities they have, we don’t know what fears they have (Scopophobia is a fear of being looked or stared at, even in picture form), and yet here we are trying to capture people when they might feel naked and, possibly afraid. There are some photographers who would just say “to hell with it, i’m taking the shot anyway just because I can”, and they may well be within their rights to do that, but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do, and really that just makes them selfish, and definitely not a friend if they do it to someone who trusts them.
It might just be a picture to you, but it can be so much more to someone else. If you then go and post that image online for the world to see when that individual didn’t even want you to see it, that’s a huge issue. If you don’t plan on posting it, then why take it in the first place? I say let it go, put the camera down, perhaps ask if that person is okay instead of trying to exploit them. Is it worth making someone angry, or losing a friend over a few likes on social media? Trust me, there will be plenty of other opportunities for you to take pictures.
So what should you do when someone says don’t take my picture? Well ultimately that is up to you. If you are in a public place you are well within your rights to take any picture you want really so long as you aren’t stalking someone. The decision will come down to your moral character, and your ability to be empathetic towards other people and their feelings. Just remember how powerful the camera in your hands is though. The picture you take might show the person on the outside, but it can also reveal so much more too, and that might not be something a person is comfortable with. Go and take pictures, but be respectful of others too. After all, no means no.