Asking Permission to Photograph People - Digital Photography School

Asking Permission to Photograph People

People-Travel

“I’m heading to India next week and am looking forward to using my new DSLR. I’m particularly looking forward to photographing the people I come across but am a bit worried about whether I need to ask permission before photographing them in the street or other public places. Any suggestions?” – question submitted by DPS reader, Graham.

Thanks for the question Graham – you’re not the only person asking it. In fact I’ve written on this topic previously in my series on Travel Photography but I thought I’d go over my approach to asking permission to photograph people, especially in a foreign country.

Keep in mind that this is my own personal approach and that others do it much differently.

1. I always ask for permission if the person will be the main subject of my photo – I figure that I’m a guest in another country and that I want to behave like I’d expect someone to behave if they were in my home – with respect and friendliness.

2. If a person is a minor subject in a larger photo I don’t seek permission – it’s just not logistically possible to ask everyone on a street if you can photograph them!

3. Getting ‘permission’ can mean different things in different situations – often it’s simply a matter of holding up your camera and smiling with a raised eyebrow. Other times you might actually ask but gesturing will usually be sufficient enough to get a nod or a shake of the head. I find that it’s quite rare to get knocked back from a friendly approach.


Travel-People-3

4. If permission is not given or I’m sensing the other person is not comfortable with my actions I always stop and politely move on. I’ve found that in come cultures people say yes just to be polite but don’t really want you to take their shot. If I’m getting these vibes I stop immediately.

5. Before you travel do some research on what is and isn’t acceptable culturally – last time I traveled I was amazed to see how many people in the tour group I was with who had no clues about the culture they were visiting. As a result they often dressed and acted very inappropriately and annoyed a lot of locals by breaking social taboos. While this isn’t directly related to taking photos it does have an impact upon those you meet along the way that you might wish to photograph.

6. Smiling at the person and maintaining strong eye contact before, during and after taking your photo does wonders – for starters it helps with getting permission, then it helps them relax and lastly it shows your appreciation and that you value the person. Show a genuine interest in the other person, their life and what they’re doing and you’ll not only get a great shot but you’ll leave a positive feeling with the person – you might even learn a thing or two and make a new friend.

7. If I’m watching a performance or show where photography is allowed I don’t ask permission of individuals – I figure they’re doing it for some sort of payment and are used to it.

Travel-Photography-3

8. If photographing children I take extra care to get permission from a parent where there is one present. I think photographers need to be particularly careful in this area.

9. I don’t pay or tip people for photographs – I know many photographers do this but it’s something I’m not comfortable with. I do travel with little gifts from home (toys, pens, badges etc) which I like to give to people I meet along the way but don’t use these as ‘payments’ or bribes as such.

10. Don’t travel in a large group – One of the keys that I’ve found to getting good street photos of people is to travel in small groups or (when it’s safe to do so) alone. There’s something about a large group, all carrying cameras, coming up to a person that is very overwhelming. If I am traveling with a larger group I tend to hang back on the edges of the group and look for my own opportunities.

As I’ve written before – “Keep in mind what you’d feel like if a stranger walked up to you in your neighborhood and asked for a photograph and act in a way that you’d want to be treated in that kind of situation.”

Lastly – check out these tips specifically on photographing people when traveling.

portrait-tips.jpg

Update: Get everything You need to Know about Travel Photography in our New Guide

Since publishing this post we’ve put together an eBook specifically on Travel photography called Transcending Travel: a Guide to Captivating Travel Photography.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • L.C.Counts

    David and Peter bring up another point. Do be aware that there are “off-limit” sights as well as people when photographing. It is illegal in virtually every country in the world including the U.S. to photograph military installations, police and emergency buildings, and,all private businesses in the U.S., Britain, France and other western countries . You must ask permission before photographing in front of or inside almost all commercial businesses. Tiffany’s is a good example. Reason: Criminals would love a record of the inventory or the physical set up. Even though open to the public, businesses are privately owned (at least for now) in the U.S. and many other countries. Just because they are in a mall or open to the public on a sidewalk does not give you permission to take a photo of the business or even with it in the background. Ask permission of the manager or owner first. No release is required, but do get his name when you are granted the right to take the picture. Remember even though this law isn’t often enforced, especially in the U.S., it is there and you can pay a price for ignoring it. Barristers and Solicitors (lawyers and their helpers) are everywhere. Often nothing is said when you do it because businesses dislike causing problems in their establishments, but that does not make it legal. I think the discussion here is what is legal, not what we can get by with.

  • L.C.Counts

    One note: The law on personal photography does state that it is illegal if you are publishing it “for personal gain”. I don’t consider web sites, chat rooms, blogs and other “cultural” sites to be commercial. On the other hand if you publish those photos on sites that are selling them for you, you have crossed the line and need a release. Use common sense and let the word “personal gain” be your guide when photographing people. If you aren’t making bucks from what you are doing and if you watch your backgrounds so that you aren’t intruding on security problems for the buildings in the background and you should be fine. There’s a fine line between legal and illegal when taking images of other people. Be safe if you plan to profit.

  • L.C.Counts

    To Dawn: I lived in Hong Kong for 5 years and can tell you absolutely that you do NOT take photos of people if they know about it without permission. My daughter was chased down the street by a lady when her photo was taken. even though my daughter was taking the marketplace she was selling from rather than the lady. Admittedly the U.S. is much stricter on laws that Europe, because of our vast system of law suits. Hong Kong has learned by being a western country as a British Colony, and access to the US media the value of litigation. There used to be no lawyers (or soliciters) there, but there are now, even though they are under the control of China and no longer a free colony. Releases are NOT needed there, but permission definitely is. You can certainly take groups (for example Tai Chi groups exercizing in the park or people on the Star Ferry) since they are also used to “silly tourists” who photograph everything. But if you are taking a single person or small group, ASK first or be sorry later.

  • kris

    Interesting about the woman chasing. I feel this blog has helped me understand a great deal about legal rights of those I’m including in my photos. I have obviously violated tons of people at this point – interesting to note that google street view smudges all the faces of those on the street when their photo truck drives by. I can take this to mean they cannot get everyone to sign off and understand the privacy laws completely.
    In my experience, the only time people have actually complained about being in one of my pictures – and I often take shots of crowds or gatherings – has been due to those people being involved with drug activities of some form or another. I generally don’t argue with any suggestions from these individuals, even though I just took a picture of a hundred people and haven’t singled anyone out. Delete or be deleted, I guess is a good rule of thumb.

  • David Cross

    Great article. One should also be cognizant of what is acceptable legally in a country – for example in one Scandinavian country, one can photograph people for “personal” use but not for publication/professional use without explicit written permission.

  • http://druidworld.deviantart.com/ boris

    Nice article, i like your moral aproach to the subject. It’s good for people to read it because many travelers really don’t know much about their destination and customs there. I act completely the same as you on my travels.

  • http://flickr.com Kim Dove

    i have been photographing people and groups and businesses in my town. I was giving the local museum a CD of the orginals, then got a small grant ($500)to do a couple of books to present to the museum. The president of the Museum told me that I was not commissioned by the Museum to do this work, and that I needed to have written permission of everyone I photographed for any publication. I did get verbal permission of everyone, Over 300 photos now. Is this true do I need to have written permission of everyone? I have had different answers. Thanks Kim

  • David

    The museum (probably) falls within a definition of commercial use rather than journalistic use, hence written permission/release will be required. It’s a fine line. if you took all the photos in a public place, received no fee for doing so and then presented the pictures as editorial work or an exhibition of people in your town you probably would be OK but the museum if they charge an entry fee are probably covering themselves.

  • TK

    The problem with asking people though is they act unnaturally or the most amazing moment is gone, how can you deal with that?

  • http://www.sayaberjalan.co.cc Nando Tampubolon

    Thats right,,you should ask for permission. But lucky for all you guys from america or europe (not always but mostly) … if you guys come to Asia (most asian country) and then you ask them for capturing pictures..they will happily say ‘yes .. with a smile (a tru of smile)’ ..we asian always love american/europe tourist. Believe me, most of us will considering you guys as hollywood star. So, I think its not too difficult to get permission from us asian..

  • http://www.sayaberjalan.co.cc Nando Tampubolon

    @tk..you can go capturing the them first then you ask permission later..if they say yes,,you are lucky,,,when they say no..it mean you have to delete the photo..

  • kris

    Many years ago, on a horseback trip up the mountain in Jamaica some man came out of a hut trying to sell us Ganja, in big bud form. I took a picture of him and he sort of freaked out. I and the guide assured him I was just a tourist and the picture was not to incriminate him, and he was OK with that. The next guy we passed was also a very interesting local who might have been quite a photo capture. Long dreads, many dogs, and this really huge machete he was carrying. I elected not to try and upset him by taking a photo this time. You have to be really wary of the people who are in your shots, or you need to be completely stealthy I think.
    I take an insane number of photos of just about anything. Once I took a picture of a buddy of mine at the local pub and some guy next to me said that if he were in that picture he’d have to kill me. I thought that was strange and asked him why he was so worried, etc. After talking a while, we were good buddies, but I have to say it’s amazing some peoples reaction to a snap shot. Beware.

  • Bradley

    As an anthropologist studying Indigenous people I must add:
    -In indigenous settings, NEVER keep (and sometimes even take) a photo unless you have asked permission
    -Study a few words in the language in order to communicate that
    1) You would like to show them the photo that you took and
    2) That if they would like a copy of the photo you can mail / email / fax the photo to them when you return home and
    3) Tell them the only things you will use the photo for

    Offering photos to the people I photograph not only has gotten me photos of people in settings where others have been kicked out of town form photographing, but has built long-term beautiful relationships, and is the least we can do for capturing someone’s image for our own personal use or some sort of social or economic gain.

    I always operate under the assumption that people own their own images and if they are gracious enough to let me capture any of it, that the least I can do is email them a copy.

    This has worked two ways- my subjects not only enjoy photos they would never have otherwise had and are forever thankful (celebratory dinners upon returning to a village not entirely because of the photos but because my generosity was enhanced by sharing them) but I have also gotten amazing photos of myself by asking a photographer if I can have a picture they just took of me.

    When I operate as though people own their own image (which I believe they do) photographic ethics have never been a concern of mine.

  • sinjan jana

    Remember India is a photographic paradise not for its poverty. Its a photographic paradise, for its color, its cultures, its festivals, its food, and people interaction. If you really want to be a good travel photographer, You have to be a good traveler first. That is only possible if you try to be one of us(Indians).

    Surrounding situation surviving: Show them your photo. Try to engage yourself with some activities with them. Say hello. Smile at them. ask them what their names are. Play with them and move on.

    India is photographed best at low light conditions. Get out at 4 am and you’ll be surprised to see that life has already begun in these cities. People are not harsh. Treat them like the way you want to be treated.

    Beauty of India lies in its insanity and colors.

    Final pointer: Don’t call India a 3rd world country. There is poverty everywhere. Where there is crime, there is poverty. You can call it a developing nation though.

  • sinjan jana

    And don’t forget that you are not going for any social work. You are going to capture. Incredible India!!!

  • Cat

    Thanks, Darren, just read the tips for travel photography. Very informative and felt as though I was being coached by a friend ;) I love to shoot, but get self conscious very easy…I like to be “invisible” but you make it sound easier, befriending someone is the key. Thanks again, love following your blog…Cat

  • Nancy McPeak

    I always ask anyone…even in this country. I take a lot of photos for activities at my church and I always ask permission before I take a photo of someone. I think it is just good manners. Good article.

  • glen

    here in the Philippines, common people love camera specially if they are the ones being photographed..just ask for a permission and they will gladly pose for you..they usually know how to pose and give their best smile..you don’t have to give a tip..they treat being subject of the photograph an honor..plus the culture is rich and diverse..

  • Isabella

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/bella-dilo/4958623555/' title='A Fairgoer ' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4139/4958623555_af119d0f05.jpg']

    I did ask the grandmother to take this adorable baby’s photo. She was literally smiling at me the entire time, and I just decided to ask and see what would happen. She was so happy to do that.

    Generally, a nice smile while holding the camera lets people know they’re willing to pose. But it’s also neat to get them when they’re not looking, such as the one below. I was in Puerto Rico, and I had permission to photograph him earlier, but I loved how spontaneous this looked.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/bella-dilo/4260780250/' title='Las Palomas' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4013/4260780250_5d223aac58.jpg']

    I’m also only 16, which helps, because people aren’t scared of teenagers when they’re friendly; :P

    Also, if the person is a musician or performer, I will usually tip to pay for my photo, since it is a performance.

    In Italy, I had a wonderful experience to get a spontaneous portrait from a photographer in Italy. Man, I wish I could see how it turned out.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/bella-dilo/4552562169/' title='The Photographer.' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4052/4552562169_7cea4163bd_z.jpg']

  • April

    Hello,
    I just got back from the Colombian jungles and would like t make a book and sell it. DO I need to get a release form from all the indigenous people (Kogi tribe) that I took photos of? Because that would be impossible. :(

  • Dan

    L.C.
    I have heard contradicting info concerning the legality of “for profit” photos. I have been told that people often confuse or equate the term “for profit” with the term “commercial use”. My understanding is that you can in fact sell photos of people as long as they are in a public place and the subject is not a minor or part an organization that has rules about use of their images (NCAA Sports, etc…). The way I have come to understand the need for a model release is that you only need it if the photo will be used for “commercial purposes” which is specifically different than simply selling a photo “for profit”. Commercial use is illegal without a release because you are using someones likeness to promote something, not to mention that they may not want to be associated with what is being advertised. But I have come to understand that simply selling an image does not mean it is “commercial use”, if you are not advertising or promoting a product, brand, etc, and you are presenting the person/people in a fair (true to the circumstances of the situation) light and are not presenting them in a way that is negative or damaging to their reputation, then you can sell the image. Examples are selling photos to a newspaper for editorial use, as an artistic image. In these examples I have generally understood that you can sell an image without a release, as long as the use cannot be considered “commercial/promotional”, “for profit” is not a consideration that affects the legality in and of itself. This is my understanding after much research and sifting through all of the contradictory answers that has been given all over the Internet. I am not a lawyer, I just wondered if you have any insight as to whether I am mistaken. Do you have experience that has shown that simply selling a photo, regardless of it’s use, is illegal without a release? I am certainly willing to believe that I am mistaken, but I am hoping that someone who clearly knows the law and has experience with specific examples can help to clear up the widespread ambiguity and contradictory explanations which are out there. Our very different understanding of the law is prime example of the lack of consistency that I am referring to. I would appreciate anyone who can speak definitively and from long experience as to the true legal language, and meaning of that language in regards to selling photos of people with or without the need for a model release. If that is you, then I respectfully defer to your expertise.

  • Dan

    Oh, and my apologies for not adding that I am writing from the US. I realize and appreciate that this is an international community and that laws and understanding may differ depending on country and location.

  • http://snapshotofberry.webs.com/ Kim Dove

    Hi A few years ago, I asked about getting permission to photograph people for my book(a visual historic journal of my town). Just an update, apparently (in Australia) you don’t need permission to photograph people on the street (a street scene). I did however retrace my steps and got written permission of everyone I photographed for my last book, and felt happier about the fact that I covered myself and family in the future of any law suits, or trauma. I have started on the next book and carry around a form for people to sign. When I explain I can’t use their photo in the next book they are happy to sign. Kim Dove

  • gart

    Hi ! And what about the U.S. ? Is it appropriate to make a picture of someone without his permission ? Actually I took a picture of a parent who lives in the US, without his permission. I wanted to have something spontaneous, not posing, not smiling at the camera or anything, and as it was a parent and not a complete stranger I thought it was correct. I showed him the picture later and he was quite offended and erased the pictures from my camera. I’d like to know what people usually think about that in the US. Are there “strict rules” about that ?

  • kris

    There are some people who just seem to get their butt in a bind over having their picture taken. Cameras are everywhere, grocery, drug store, ATMs, etc. – so you know just by existing you are having your picture taken. I am not sure how it started, but it seems the more cameras/videos out there the more paranoid people become. Perhaps it’s the personal photos that lend themselves to mischievous deeds. I know someone who, upon just seeing that I have a camera, will tell me outright that I cannot take their picture without their signed permission. I wouldn’t have taken a picture of them anyway – there is much better subject material around – but I found it to be startling.

  • Al Christenson

    Nice article, but I still had a question at the end: when you get back from traveling and want to post or sell your pictures, aren’t you going to be asked for model releases on all the people photographed? Do you get model releases on people in foreign countries? Many may not even speak English, let alone understand the detail of rights given in a model release …???

  • Dan Scheirer

    Al, this is where there is a lot of confusion. You do not need a model release simply to sell prints of people. Simply selling a photo of someone is not considered commercial use. Commercial in this sense does not refer to the fact that you are making money from a photo, it refers to the licensing of an image for use in advertising a commercial product, business, industry. A model release is designed to gain permission from a subject to use their likeness to promote something, depending on the terms of the release, whether they actually like or agree with what is being advertised. People own the right to how their likeness is portrayed, so in general, taking a photo of somebody doing something that they actually did, portraying reality, is considered editorial, even if you sell the image. But you cannot sell the image of someone to an advertising company who will use the photo you took of them, say, drinking a can of Pepsi, to advertise Pepsi unless the subject is aware and has agree to having their image used to promote commercial products, such as Pepsi, or yeast infection cream. You can see why people are sensitive and why there are laws governing how you can use a strangers image. You wouldn’t want to be seen promoting some sleazy nightclub if you had not agreed to it or somebody misused your photo to imply or portray you promoting it. That is what commercial use means and that is when you need to be careful. Normally you don’t have to worry about candid shots as long as you are selling te photo strictly for personal use and for its artistic merit alone. This applies to the USA because, I cannot speak to other countries. Exception include certain circumstances involving Division 1 NCAA and Pro Sports, but ofte you can even sell those too, but you might be risking you access to events if you shoot with a media pass that is issued by the school or team, which likes to retain the profits from its athletes photos, even though there is no state or federal law that allows them to prevent you from selling images from a sporting event. However it is always better to ere on the side of caution and not burn any bridges. For travel/candid photos, just don’t advertise anything and you should be fine. Again this applies to the US only and public spaces.

  • http://www.Yucelphoto.com Yucel

    Dan, great comment…

    Here is the thing… for all the folks saying they have signed model releases… A model release requires consideration and maybe ID, in the USA…

    So, just having it signed, ain’t worth squat…

    What do we need a release for if we would like unlimited rights? And, what does that release require… a poloroid? A Dollar?

    ID?

    And, what can we do w/o a release?

    Thanks,….

  • Nicholas

    Hi, I read the entire thread, but I still am a little unsure about my specific case. If anyone out there knows the answer, I’d be very thankful!

    Other commenters mentions “publishing” on free photo sites and blogs – some said this required a release if you featured a single (stranger, presumably) person as the subject of the photo, no matter what. But others said that a release would not be necessary unless you were using the image to promote a company or brand, commercially.

    I’m trying to start a (totally non-profit) fashion-based blog for my town, St. Louis, Missouri, similar to ones that already exist for New York City, Italy, Tokyo, etc. The blog would consist mostly of photos of interesting (probably well-dressed) people I see in public. In places like Manhattan and Milan, it’s easy to imagine there being many people who *want* to have their photo taken. In St. Louis, it’s less common to be approached by a stranger for any reason, just because life here has become less public since the good old days. So getting the photo in the first place is a challenge, but if I need a release for every single photo, then I have to say, my passion for this blog has already lost significant speed!

    There are plenty of street fashion blogs out there. Are the photographers all getting signed releases for their photos? I originally thought that using photos of persons in public for a blog (especially a not-for-profit blog) fell under the category of “journalism,” (my apologies to professional photojournalists!).

  • Cheezman

    I was recently in Morocco and was at first taken aback at how aggressively people did NOT want to be photographed. I’ve got photos of crowded scenes where several people are holding their hands up to block when the general scene and no individual is the subject. Hiking through rural villages in the Atlas mountains, children who speak no english did know how to say “no photo, no photo.” This was frustrating because of course the people are colorful and interesting travel photos need people. I learned rather quickly though that most people would agree to a photo if you paid them; many in fact initiated the negotiation. I did often pay people. I understand completely Darren’s reticence on this, but in Morocco it felt different and a completely reasonable thing to do. The amount was never very much: 50 Euro cents for most, maybe up to 2 Euro in a high tourist spot. In fact, if you want to photograph the Snake Charmers or the colorful Water Bearers in the main tourist squares, shots that you’ll definitely want, you will have no choice but to pay and that’s ok b/c this is how these people make a living. I learned quickly also that if I immediately agreed to pay, many people became immediately friendly. The price, btw, was sometimes not negotiated until after the photo. Moroccans are tough negotiators. That’s fine. On one occasion a snake charmer wanted way too much for the photo. I wouldn’t agree and he acted upset. I said ok, no problem, I’ll just delete the photo. He came down on his price immediately. This comment is specific to Morocco, and if you go there, you must be prepared for these encounters and have a plan for handling them. Here’s a snake charmer pic that cost me 2 euro that I’m glad I have. http://www.flickr.com/photos/zilavy/10351461465/

  • AntZant

    For me asking permission is a vital part of street photography. I like the connection; the interaction. Last Saturday (30/11/13) I did a one day street project to help celebrate Movember here in Manchester, UK.
    I don’t normally do shameless self promotion but everyone in this set was asked and agreed to having their portrait taken, 106 portraits in 3 hours! (only 12 people refused to have their picture taken). Feel free to delete this if it is not appropriate.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/49278457@N03/sets/72157638384261956/

  • Geoff Naylor

    This approach is fine, Darren, if it’s posed photo’s you want. But if it’s capturing someone about their business (or leisure) unposed that you desire, then asking permission beforehand is a non-starter. For a spontaneous shared glance or a convincing look into the distance, you can’t approach the subject in advance to check whether it’s okay.
    As for children, my general attitude is ‘don’t do it’. Adults might be upset that you’ve taken a photo of them, but they can go ballistic if it’s something to do with their kids. Not that I’ve ever experienced the extreme reaction; I’m just aware that it’s a possibility… So, no photo’s of kids!

Some older comments

  • Nicholas

    August 18, 2012 11:07 am

    Hi, I read the entire thread, but I still am a little unsure about my specific case. If anyone out there knows the answer, I'd be very thankful!

    Other commenters mentions "publishing" on free photo sites and blogs - some said this required a release if you featured a single (stranger, presumably) person as the subject of the photo, no matter what. But others said that a release would not be necessary unless you were using the image to promote a company or brand, commercially.

    I'm trying to start a (totally non-profit) fashion-based blog for my town, St. Louis, Missouri, similar to ones that already exist for New York City, Italy, Tokyo, etc. The blog would consist mostly of photos of interesting (probably well-dressed) people I see in public. In places like Manhattan and Milan, it's easy to imagine there being many people who *want* to have their photo taken. In St. Louis, it's less common to be approached by a stranger for any reason, just because life here has become less public since the good old days. So getting the photo in the first place is a challenge, but if I need a release for every single photo, then I have to say, my passion for this blog has already lost significant speed!

    There are plenty of street fashion blogs out there. Are the photographers all getting signed releases for their photos? I originally thought that using photos of persons in public for a blog (especially a not-for-profit blog) fell under the category of "journalism," (my apologies to professional photojournalists!).

  • Yucel

    March 13, 2012 12:18 pm

    Dan, great comment...

    Here is the thing... for all the folks saying they have signed model releases... A model release requires consideration and maybe ID, in the USA...

    So, just having it signed, ain't worth squat...

    What do we need a release for if we would like unlimited rights? And, what does that release require... a poloroid? A Dollar?

    ID?

    And, what can we do w/o a release?

    Thanks,....

  • Dan Scheirer

    November 16, 2011 08:30 am

    Al, this is where there is a lot of confusion. You do not need a model release simply to sell prints of people. Simply selling a photo of someone is not considered commercial use. Commercial in this sense does not refer to the fact that you are making money from a photo, it refers to the licensing of an image for use in advertising a commercial product, business, industry. A model release is designed to gain permission from a subject to use their likeness to promote something, depending on the terms of the release, whether they actually like or agree with what is being advertised. People own the right to how their likeness is portrayed, so in general, taking a photo of somebody doing something that they actually did, portraying reality, is considered editorial, even if you sell the image. But you cannot sell the image of someone to an advertising company who will use the photo you took of them, say, drinking a can of Pepsi, to advertise Pepsi unless the subject is aware and has agree to having their image used to promote commercial products, such as Pepsi, or yeast infection cream. You can see why people are sensitive and why there are laws governing how you can use a strangers image. You wouldn't want to be seen promoting some sleazy nightclub if you had not agreed to it or somebody misused your photo to imply or portray you promoting it. That is what commercial use means and that is when you need to be careful. Normally you don't have to worry about candid shots as long as you are selling te photo strictly for personal use and for its artistic merit alone. This applies to the USA because, I cannot speak to other countries. Exception include certain circumstances involving Division 1 NCAA and Pro Sports, but ofte you can even sell those too, but you might be risking you access to events if you shoot with a media pass that is issued by the school or team, which likes to retain the profits from its athletes photos, even though there is no state or federal law that allows them to prevent you from selling images from a sporting event. However it is always better to ere on the side of caution and not burn any bridges. For travel/candid photos, just don't advertise anything and you should be fine. Again this applies to the US only and public spaces.

  • Al Christenson

    November 15, 2011 02:11 pm

    Nice article, but I still had a question at the end: when you get back from traveling and want to post or sell your pictures, aren't you going to be asked for model releases on all the people photographed? Do you get model releases on people in foreign countries? Many may not even speak English, let alone understand the detail of rights given in a model release ...???

  • kris

    April 26, 2011 05:33 am

    There are some people who just seem to get their butt in a bind over having their picture taken. Cameras are everywhere, grocery, drug store, ATMs, etc. - so you know just by existing you are having your picture taken. I am not sure how it started, but it seems the more cameras/videos out there the more paranoid people become. Perhaps it's the personal photos that lend themselves to mischievous deeds. I know someone who, upon just seeing that I have a camera, will tell me outright that I cannot take their picture without their signed permission. I wouldn't have taken a picture of them anyway - there is much better subject material around - but I found it to be startling.

  • gart

    April 26, 2011 05:05 am

    Hi ! And what about the U.S. ? Is it appropriate to make a picture of someone without his permission ? Actually I took a picture of a parent who lives in the US, without his permission. I wanted to have something spontaneous, not posing, not smiling at the camera or anything, and as it was a parent and not a complete stranger I thought it was correct. I showed him the picture later and he was quite offended and erased the pictures from my camera. I'd like to know what people usually think about that in the US. Are there "strict rules" about that ?

  • Kim Dove

    March 2, 2011 09:03 am

    Hi A few years ago, I asked about getting permission to photograph people for my book(a visual historic journal of my town). Just an update, apparently (in Australia) you don't need permission to photograph people on the street (a street scene). I did however retrace my steps and got written permission of everyone I photographed for my last book, and felt happier about the fact that I covered myself and family in the future of any law suits, or trauma. I have started on the next book and carry around a form for people to sign. When I explain I can't use their photo in the next book they are happy to sign. Kim Dove

  • Dan

    February 20, 2011 05:22 am

    Oh, and my apologies for not adding that I am writing from the US. I realize and appreciate that this is an international community and that laws and understanding may differ depending on country and location.

  • Dan

    February 20, 2011 05:16 am

    L.C.
    I have heard contradicting info concerning the legality of "for profit" photos. I have been told that people often confuse or equate the term "for profit" with the term "commercial use". My understanding is that you can in fact sell photos of people as long as they are in a public place and the subject is not a minor or part an organization that has rules about use of their images (NCAA Sports, etc...). The way I have come to understand the need for a model release is that you only need it if the photo will be used for "commercial purposes" which is specifically different than simply selling a photo "for profit". Commercial use is illegal without a release because you are using someones likeness to promote something, not to mention that they may not want to be associated with what is being advertised. But I have come to understand that simply selling an image does not mean it is "commercial use", if you are not advertising or promoting a product, brand, etc, and you are presenting the person/people in a fair (true to the circumstances of the situation) light and are not presenting them in a way that is negative or damaging to their reputation, then you can sell the image. Examples are selling photos to a newspaper for editorial use, as an artistic image. In these examples I have generally understood that you can sell an image without a release, as long as the use cannot be considered "commercial/promotional", "for profit" is not a consideration that affects the legality in and of itself. This is my understanding after much research and sifting through all of the contradictory answers that has been given all over the Internet. I am not a lawyer, I just wondered if you have any insight as to whether I am mistaken. Do you have experience that has shown that simply selling a photo, regardless of it's use, is illegal without a release? I am certainly willing to believe that I am mistaken, but I am hoping that someone who clearly knows the law and has experience with specific examples can help to clear up the widespread ambiguity and contradictory explanations which are out there. Our very different understanding of the law is prime example of the lack of consistency that I am referring to. I would appreciate anyone who can speak definitively and from long experience as to the true legal language, and meaning of that language in regards to selling photos of people with or without the need for a model release. If that is you, then I respectfully defer to your expertise.

  • April

    November 21, 2010 04:03 am

    Hello,
    I just got back from the Colombian jungles and would like t make a book and sell it. DO I need to get a release form from all the indigenous people (Kogi tribe) that I took photos of? Because that would be impossible. :(

  • Isabella

    November 15, 2010 06:29 am

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/bella-dilo/4958623555/' title='A Fairgoer ' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4139/4958623555_af119d0f05.jpg']

    I did ask the grandmother to take this adorable baby's photo. She was literally smiling at me the entire time, and I just decided to ask and see what would happen. She was so happy to do that.

    Generally, a nice smile while holding the camera lets people know they're willing to pose. But it's also neat to get them when they're not looking, such as the one below. I was in Puerto Rico, and I had permission to photograph him earlier, but I loved how spontaneous this looked.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/bella-dilo/4260780250/' title='Las Palomas' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4013/4260780250_5d223aac58.jpg']

    I'm also only 16, which helps, because people aren't scared of teenagers when they're friendly; :P

    Also, if the person is a musician or performer, I will usually tip to pay for my photo, since it is a performance.

    In Italy, I had a wonderful experience to get a spontaneous portrait from a photographer in Italy. Man, I wish I could see how it turned out.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/bella-dilo/4552562169/' title='The Photographer.' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4052/4552562169_7cea4163bd_z.jpg']

  • glen

    November 12, 2010 10:23 am

    here in the Philippines, common people love camera specially if they are the ones being photographed..just ask for a permission and they will gladly pose for you..they usually know how to pose and give their best smile..you don't have to give a tip..they treat being subject of the photograph an honor..plus the culture is rich and diverse..

  • Nancy McPeak

    November 12, 2010 04:08 am

    I always ask anyone...even in this country. I take a lot of photos for activities at my church and I always ask permission before I take a photo of someone. I think it is just good manners. Good article.

  • Cat

    June 5, 2010 03:23 am

    Thanks, Darren, just read the tips for travel photography. Very informative and felt as though I was being coached by a friend ;) I love to shoot, but get self conscious very easy...I like to be "invisible" but you make it sound easier, befriending someone is the key. Thanks again, love following your blog...Cat

  • sinjan jana

    May 28, 2010 09:33 pm

    And don't forget that you are not going for any social work. You are going to capture. Incredible India!!!

  • sinjan jana

    May 28, 2010 09:30 pm

    Remember India is a photographic paradise not for its poverty. Its a photographic paradise, for its color, its cultures, its festivals, its food, and people interaction. If you really want to be a good travel photographer, You have to be a good traveler first. That is only possible if you try to be one of us(Indians).

    Surrounding situation surviving: Show them your photo. Try to engage yourself with some activities with them. Say hello. Smile at them. ask them what their names are. Play with them and move on.

    India is photographed best at low light conditions. Get out at 4 am and you'll be surprised to see that life has already begun in these cities. People are not harsh. Treat them like the way you want to be treated.

    Beauty of India lies in its insanity and colors.

    Final pointer: Don't call India a 3rd world country. There is poverty everywhere. Where there is crime, there is poverty. You can call it a developing nation though.

  • Bradley

    May 3, 2010 02:04 pm

    As an anthropologist studying Indigenous people I must add:
    -In indigenous settings, NEVER keep (and sometimes even take) a photo unless you have asked permission
    -Study a few words in the language in order to communicate that
    1) You would like to show them the photo that you took and
    2) That if they would like a copy of the photo you can mail / email / fax the photo to them when you return home and
    3) Tell them the only things you will use the photo for

    Offering photos to the people I photograph not only has gotten me photos of people in settings where others have been kicked out of town form photographing, but has built long-term beautiful relationships, and is the least we can do for capturing someone's image for our own personal use or some sort of social or economic gain.

    I always operate under the assumption that people own their own images and if they are gracious enough to let me capture any of it, that the least I can do is email them a copy.

    This has worked two ways- my subjects not only enjoy photos they would never have otherwise had and are forever thankful (celebratory dinners upon returning to a village not entirely because of the photos but because my generosity was enhanced by sharing them) but I have also gotten amazing photos of myself by asking a photographer if I can have a picture they just took of me.

    When I operate as though people own their own image (which I believe they do) photographic ethics have never been a concern of mine.

  • kris

    April 3, 2010 12:00 am

    Many years ago, on a horseback trip up the mountain in Jamaica some man came out of a hut trying to sell us Ganja, in big bud form. I took a picture of him and he sort of freaked out. I and the guide assured him I was just a tourist and the picture was not to incriminate him, and he was OK with that. The next guy we passed was also a very interesting local who might have been quite a photo capture. Long dreads, many dogs, and this really huge machete he was carrying. I elected not to try and upset him by taking a photo this time. You have to be really wary of the people who are in your shots, or you need to be completely stealthy I think.
    I take an insane number of photos of just about anything. Once I took a picture of a buddy of mine at the local pub and some guy next to me said that if he were in that picture he'd have to kill me. I thought that was strange and asked him why he was so worried, etc. After talking a while, we were good buddies, but I have to say it's amazing some peoples reaction to a snap shot. Beware.

  • Nando Tampubolon

    April 2, 2010 02:18 am

    @tk..you can go capturing the them first then you ask permission later..if they say yes,,you are lucky,,,when they say no..it mean you have to delete the photo..

  • Nando Tampubolon

    April 2, 2010 02:16 am

    Thats right,,you should ask for permission. But lucky for all you guys from america or europe (not always but mostly) ... if you guys come to Asia (most asian country) and then you ask them for capturing pictures..they will happily say 'yes .. with a smile (a tru of smile)' ..we asian always love american/europe tourist. Believe me, most of us will considering you guys as hollywood star. So, I think its not too difficult to get permission from us asian..

  • TK

    January 31, 2010 12:21 pm

    The problem with asking people though is they act unnaturally or the most amazing moment is gone, how can you deal with that?

  • David

    December 10, 2009 01:01 pm

    The museum (probably) falls within a definition of commercial use rather than journalistic use, hence written permission/release will be required. It's a fine line. if you took all the photos in a public place, received no fee for doing so and then presented the pictures as editorial work or an exhibition of people in your town you probably would be OK but the museum if they charge an entry fee are probably covering themselves.

  • Kim Dove

    December 10, 2009 10:05 am

    i have been photographing people and groups and businesses in my town. I was giving the local museum a CD of the orginals, then got a small grant ($500)to do a couple of books to present to the museum. The president of the Museum told me that I was not commissioned by the Museum to do this work, and that I needed to have written permission of everyone I photographed for any publication. I did get verbal permission of everyone, Over 300 photos now. Is this true do I need to have written permission of everyone? I have had different answers. Thanks Kim

  • boris

    October 12, 2009 08:54 pm

    Nice article, i like your moral aproach to the subject. It's good for people to read it because many travelers really don't know much about their destination and customs there. I act completely the same as you on my travels.

  • David Cross

    September 30, 2009 12:52 am

    Great article. One should also be cognizant of what is acceptable legally in a country - for example in one Scandinavian country, one can photograph people for "personal" use but not for publication/professional use without explicit written permission.

  • kris

    September 8, 2009 11:19 pm

    Interesting about the woman chasing. I feel this blog has helped me understand a great deal about legal rights of those I'm including in my photos. I have obviously violated tons of people at this point - interesting to note that google street view smudges all the faces of those on the street when their photo truck drives by. I can take this to mean they cannot get everyone to sign off and understand the privacy laws completely.
    In my experience, the only time people have actually complained about being in one of my pictures - and I often take shots of crowds or gatherings - has been due to those people being involved with drug activities of some form or another. I generally don't argue with any suggestions from these individuals, even though I just took a picture of a hundred people and haven't singled anyone out. Delete or be deleted, I guess is a good rule of thumb.

  • L.C.Counts

    September 8, 2009 10:54 am

    To Dawn: I lived in Hong Kong for 5 years and can tell you absolutely that you do NOT take photos of people if they know about it without permission. My daughter was chased down the street by a lady when her photo was taken. even though my daughter was taking the marketplace she was selling from rather than the lady. Admittedly the U.S. is much stricter on laws that Europe, because of our vast system of law suits. Hong Kong has learned by being a western country as a British Colony, and access to the US media the value of litigation. There used to be no lawyers (or soliciters) there, but there are now, even though they are under the control of China and no longer a free colony. Releases are NOT needed there, but permission definitely is. You can certainly take groups (for example Tai Chi groups exercizing in the park or people on the Star Ferry) since they are also used to "silly tourists" who photograph everything. But if you are taking a single person or small group, ASK first or be sorry later.

  • L.C.Counts

    September 8, 2009 10:47 am

    One note: The law on personal photography does state that it is illegal if you are publishing it "for personal gain". I don't consider web sites, chat rooms, blogs and other "cultural" sites to be commercial. On the other hand if you publish those photos on sites that are selling them for you, you have crossed the line and need a release. Use common sense and let the word "personal gain" be your guide when photographing people. If you aren't making bucks from what you are doing and if you watch your backgrounds so that you aren't intruding on security problems for the buildings in the background and you should be fine. There's a fine line between legal and illegal when taking images of other people. Be safe if you plan to profit.

  • L.C.Counts

    September 8, 2009 10:42 am

    David and Peter bring up another point. Do be aware that there are "off-limit" sights as well as people when photographing. It is illegal in virtually every country in the world including the U.S. to photograph military installations, police and emergency buildings, and,all private businesses in the U.S., Britain, France and other western countries . You must ask permission before photographing in front of or inside almost all commercial businesses. Tiffany's is a good example. Reason: Criminals would love a record of the inventory or the physical set up. Even though open to the public, businesses are privately owned (at least for now) in the U.S. and many other countries. Just because they are in a mall or open to the public on a sidewalk does not give you permission to take a photo of the business or even with it in the background. Ask permission of the manager or owner first. No release is required, but do get his name when you are granted the right to take the picture. Remember even though this law isn't often enforced, especially in the U.S., it is there and you can pay a price for ignoring it. Barristers and Solicitors (lawyers and their helpers) are everywhere. Often nothing is said when you do it because businesses dislike causing problems in their establishments, but that does not make it legal. I think the discussion here is what is legal, not what we can get by with.

  • L.C.Counts

    September 8, 2009 10:31 am

    Two points: I must disagree with Sime. I have photographed for travel magazines for several years all over the world, and when publishing pictures with a person as the focal point, I always have a model release, even if it is a candid shot. I taught "Photography and the Law" at university and know that there are laws that require model releases from both adults and children (two separate forms) if you want to avoid possible law suits. These forms are available on line from several Universities including Cornell or just go to a search engine. People do have a right by law to "public privacy" meaning you do not have a right to photograph them just because they are out in public IF they are the main subject of your shot. Crowd scenes are not a problem but shots of individuals or small groups need releases. However, having said that, anyone who has advertised himself for personal gain, has forfeited his right to public privacy under the law. This includes politicians (anyone who has run for elected office), performers, realtors who put their photos on their business cards, and a gigantic group of other people. Anyone who might be recognized in public fall into this category. Sime might have gotten away without releases, but it is not legal. In today's world, to avoid legal action if you sell or publish photos, get a release and keep it in your files FOREVER.
    _Point 2: I also am not comfortable paying for photographs. However, I have found in third world countries, if I carry a polaroid camera with me, and offer to GIVE them a photo if I can TAKE one with my other camera, works wonders, since in many countries it is either expensive or impossible to get personal photos.

  • Peter Sanderson

    June 29, 2009 09:46 am

    With respect to asking permission when photographing people, I have been a professional photographer on the Gold Coast for 20 years.
    I learned a hard lesson early when shooting dining shots for restaurants. While shooting a wide angle shot at night I suddenly had a solicitor get up from a group dining table and almost kicked over my tripod,
    indicating that his high profile client did not wish to be photographed.
    These days I use humour to thaw out any potential situations in a dining shot.
    I ask each table individually with a big smile on my face
    "whether there is anyone having dinner with someone else's husband or wife this evening"
    That line has always broken the ice and I usually get full cooperation. On rare occasions I have hit the nail on the head with that question and couples have actually got up to leave or declined permission for the shot and that's OK.

    Peter Sanderson (pixelpete)

  • Sime

    June 27, 2009 08:54 am

    Keith, You're not right, no... You don't need permission from someone in a public place to either take their photo or to upload it to a free website / personal website. You can even print that image out as art and sell it some of the time. What you can't do is advertise a product with it... For example, if I saw you looking cool and holding a can of Coke - I can't just photograph you and use you on the Coke website. (That would equal court case)

    The web is a publishing tool, sure, but there is no law that says you can't take a photo of someone in public and post it on the internet. If someone found that photo, they could ask you to remove it - but legally you don't have to.

    I actually think that you should have a bit of a re-think about your whole idea on this, your thoughts are scarily close to reminding me of some sort of crazy police state... of course you can put your family christmas on the web if you choose?....

    If you were in a shopping mall, you could put the images on the web, but not in an advertising or defamatory manner. If there is a sign on the front of the shopping centre that says NO PHOTOGRAPHY then, no.

    You don't need a signed person or property release for general street photography that is not intended for advertising. You can publish someone's photo on the front of the biggest newspaper in the world and not get their signature... Of course, this is all subject to local laws - so make sure you're not on private property breaching someone's terms and conditions.

    Hope this helps.... (Now you can relax and go take some photos)

    Sime

  • Keith Rowland

    June 27, 2009 07:59 am

    Regarding permission to publish. By all accounts I consider the uploading of images to your own website, free photo sharing site (Flickr) or for sale publishing sites (SmugMug, etc) to be publishing. Therefore would you need written permission of anyone in the photos? I'm thinking so.

    I've seen people post candid family photos on these photo sites, which are in plain public view of the world, and I doubt these people has given written permission. Whether or not the photography got paid or not, the web is a publishing tool.

    Am I wrong? Can I post the family Christmas photos on the web without anyone in the picture knowing? I believe many photographers are violating the rights of people, who in their homes, are being photographed.

    On another note, if I was in a shopping mall, a public place, although private property, can I publish to the web any photos I take?

  • David Mosley

    May 23, 2009 03:42 am

    Darren, I very much like your site - but have not yet fully "figured out" how to use it properly!
    Regarding the "photography permission" article... (a) I was amazed to be challenged by "a lawyer" when [photographically] shooting my family outside the N.Y. Tiffany shop. This now happens in central London!
    (b) Some historically cultural leanings should be respected. For example, exposure of the base of the foot
    is a "no" in Thailand.

  • Sime

    March 10, 2009 07:24 pm

    Fred (Another UK member here) Interesting then, that Getty will not take a photo of a person these days, even if it's their foot / back etc without a release. What's the world coming to eh..

  • Fred

    March 10, 2009 12:28 pm

    Hi all,

    I'm constantly astonished at the number of pro / serious amateur photographers who aren't aware of the law in their countries. I am only able to speak for France and the UK, (since I live in both), but no 'release' or permission of any kind is needed from candid subjects except when the photo is to be used commercially (and this is where I think most people get confused). The legal definition of commercial usage is, to relate it to something tangible, advertising. Therefore that does not mean you cannot sell your images as art.

    Just thought it might be worth putting that out there.

  • Dawn Attewell

    February 18, 2009 08:40 am

    Excellent advise....we are traveling to Hong Kong later in the year and I hope to get some good 'local pictures"
    I am just learning how to use my camera on manual setting., so checking out your tutorials daily
    cheers

  • blog photo

    January 29, 2009 09:26 am

    My personal tip: if you have a good feeling with some people, that you take maybe more than a few pictures with them... ask for their address on a piece of paper (or email), take a picture of this address. When you copy your photographs back on your PC, you see the one with the email or letter, it will remind you to give a little bit back: a print or two :-) I've done that a few times and people are really happy to receive the prints or JPG by email afterwards.

  • anil krantz

    December 7, 2008 11:14 pm

    i agree with bogart. i think it is not easy for indian photographers to take photos of indian ladies but foreigners might not face this problem. if i take photos of very very poor or beggars then i give them few cents as gift even without their asking. recently i have realised that photos are not luxury any more in india. my photo gallery is full of street photography and while shooting i found that people are normally kind, they just need some respect .. thats it. welcome to india.

  • bogart

    December 2, 2008 05:15 pm

    Sometimes the smile of the people would show their approval and willingness to be your subject.

  • Sean Stephens

    October 11, 2008 12:40 pm

    There seems to be a lot of confusion in the thread based on what "permission" you're talking about.

    Permission to take someone's photograph, and permission to publish that photograph in some manner are two different things, not to mention that for what purpose it's being published also adds another layer of complexity.

    Canada, US, and another writer mentioned England (I can't speak for any others) You can take a photograph anywhere of anything EXCEPT matters of national security (i.e. don't go shooting your local military base)

    You are the owner of that photograph.. you can sell it.. HOWEVER, if that photograph is PUBLISHED, then there may be need for a model release.

  • Deb mclain

    March 29, 2008 10:07 pm

    I am new at this photograpy. I was always told that you need a signed release form if you take a picture of any identifiable person. Once I tried to sell a picture of a horse back rider letting their horse cool off in the ocean, and although the face of the horse rider was not able to be seen, I was not allowed to sell the photo because I did not have a signed form. This has really made me shy away from taking pictures of people. How can everyone say all you need is a verbal or sometimes just a nod?

    Can someone who gets the signed release forms let me know how you ask people? I always feel like I am imposing when I want a signed paper. If I was the person in the photograph, I would not mind someone taking my picture, but if they asked me to sign something, I would say, no, thanks.

  • carolyn griffin

    March 13, 2008 12:17 pm

    I was in New York City last fall and wanted to photograph some incredible looking elderly women in a doorway in Chinatown but they clearly did not want me too. I was so bummed but of course respected their request.

  • amber joy

    March 3, 2008 07:18 pm

    I once had a lady not want to photographed, but I spoke the language and was able to ask her why. She said it was because no one who had ever photographed her had ever given her a photo in return. Because I was shooting with a digital camera, I took the card into a photo store, had one printed and returned it to her. She was absolutely delighted. you might not always have this option of be able to communicate it properly, but it was fun to make her day.

  • Turki Al- Fassam

    February 6, 2008 05:03 am

    So helpful!

    Thanks!

  • Louella

    January 31, 2008 01:51 am

    Hi Savyasachi, I agree with you 100%.

  • Louella

    January 31, 2008 01:49 am

    Here in the Philippines, it's pretty simple. You pull out a camera and people start smiling and posing. No permission necessary, Filipinos love having their picture taken!

  • Savyasachi

    January 27, 2008 04:35 am

    Very good points. I wish every photographer follows these points. Being an Indian, I must say that every first time visitor find something amusing, something weird and something interesting in India. Sometimes few things are "inspired" by constant bombardment of the local media e.g. poverty in India (which is sometimes true but represented in a wicked manner) So I, of course, HATE photographing poor people (beggers and similar) as I strongly feel that they are helpless and so they are in such condition. Its not that they chose it to be. So when I see them photographed, I feel something like, a photographer is making fun of or mocking their condition (may not be always true) but I would rather leave them by themselves if I can not help them to alleviate out of that condition.

    I came across such picture at the following link.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lanza2004/176588299/in/set-72057594114746168/
    and I posted my view candidly in the comments. To my great surprise, the guy turned out to be so cheap that he replied me following
    einen schönen Urlaub Savyasachiji,
    du bist sicher auch ein armer Inder !"
    and of course, blocked me from responding back to his comment.

    Such an immature individual!! I REALLY felt sorry for him. Seriously, the world would be such a nice place if such individuals disappear from this planet..

  • kris

    January 23, 2008 05:05 am

    I got off a subway once well below Philly but decided to take a shot of the surrounding buildings where you could see the distant larger buildings of downtown in the background. Nearly immediately I was approached by someone asking what I was taking a picture of. I explained that I didn't realize you could still see downtown so clearly from there and wanted to take a picture to show my wife. The guy complained that he didn't need to be in any pictures, but didn't insist that I delete that photo - he just walked away complaining.
    I later realized that I was on the corner of the high school and this guy, across the street was probably a drug dealer. When I looked at the picture I took he was actually just standing there looking at me. You would think he would have turned away or something if he was so concerned. What a dope, I mean doper. I guess I should be glad he didn't produce a weapon and proceed to take my camera or something.

  • Cheryl

    January 22, 2008 02:32 am

    permission seems different in different cultures.. and you would have to do your homework.. a nod doens't seem like permission to me.. expecially if you plan to use that photo for profit .. i live in the US and i (as a new photographer) feel uncomfortable to shot people... especially kids.
    I was at a balloon fest and a guy was shooting behind my four kids and didn't ask but i just stood in between them and him and he left... then i took that shot since it was really good.. but i felt uncomfortable i didn't know who he was or what he planned to do with the photo...

  • Olivier H

    January 21, 2008 11:08 pm

    Concerning cultural differences, one must be very aware of the body language.
    For instance, nodding in India is not done the way we are used to in European countries, Japanese people find it inpolite to touch or be touched by strangers, or simply showing your hand palm to say "wait a minute" can be understood "eat my poop" in certain parts of [Spain? Portugal? i don't remember exactly].

  • jimmy

    January 21, 2008 10:28 pm

    hello sir, I am got a new Nokon d40x SLR going to visit simla India next week..i want any body ( help) who is into professional photography who will lend an helping hand during my stay there.i want to click land scapes and be a part of the family of professional photography.

  • Sophie

    January 21, 2008 09:56 pm

    A really useful article - I've been wondering about how best to approach this for a while now!

  • sime

    January 20, 2008 10:37 pm

    interesting set of replies...

    We have spoken a lot about permission and what and who you are and are not allowed to shoot whilst on public property. The answer, in the UK at least, is that if you are on public property and you don't intend on making money from your photo, you can pretty much shoot anything without a release [airports / prisons / power stations could cause a problem, get permission first] Taking photos of kids is fine, be careful and don't be an idiot if asked what you're doing. [we're not all perverts so why be afraid of this?] Don't take / give candy to kids... I know for a fact that i'd rather not have some stranger give my kid candy for two reasons - health and "don't take candy from strangers" ....I very rarely ask for permission vocally, I will always indicate to my camera or nod a polite hello.. I've not come up against trouble so far [well, there was the italian police women that happened to step into my shot. but let's not go there!] This shot of "Bruce" was a candid, until he looked directly at me... I was already at about 4 frames a second when he looked, so, I didn't get a chance to ask... [I did see him again, two weeks later and gave him a print of this photo - he cried and said "why would anyone want a photo of me"]

    http://flickr.com/photos/visper/1500210954/

    Don't be scared to take photos. Everyone needs memories. Be human and extend common courtesy. Feel out your situation, if it doesn't feel right - don't.

  • PRH

    January 20, 2008 04:38 pm

    Great tips on asking permission regardless of whether you are traveling or not.

    A concern: I'm not sure about tip #6. Prolonged eye contact may be inappropriate or even offensive to some people or some cultures, especially if they are of the opposite sex. I don't know if this is true in India but definitely something to keep in mind when traveling.

    A question: It's easy to take candid shots when you're amongst friends (especially if they expect you to have a camera in your hand 24/7). But getting candid shots of strangers seems to be at odds with the general rules of politeness. Is it ok to ask permission, take the posed shot then take another when they have gone back to what they were doing?

    Keep those DPS tips coming

  • Sarah

    January 20, 2008 03:42 am

    Hey!
    In some places it is really important to ask for permission to take a photo especially if you are going to publish it or something.
    Anyways lots of people already addressed this,I just want to say something else.
    When you ask for permission,some people tend to pose or smile which completely ruins the whole purpose of it because when i take a photo(i m still a beginner),i want people to act normal because i want to capture them as they are not with a big smile on their face but that isn't always possible because sometimes it is necessary to ask for permission.

  • happysnapper

    January 19, 2008 11:52 pm

    Hello all,

    Good question Mandy.

    Do you have to get them to sign some kind of model release form - or can you take whatever you like (within reason!) on the street?

    I love this blog - first time I've posted though!

    This guy also gives some cool advice - http://philipdunn.blogspot.com

    I've put it as my website I think but it's not mine!!! I just wish I could take photos like the pros!!

  • Mandy - The Photographer Blog

    January 19, 2008 07:55 am

    Permission is something I don't know much about, and therefore I don't want to get it wrong!

    Some great advice here but would you do it differently if you were going to use and sell the image as a stock photograph?

  • Gary Grant

    January 19, 2008 06:00 am

    As an auto writer, I spend time in the paddock and pits at car races. When practical, I always try to "get permission" with a smile & a wave before I shoot. Even still, I still feel like a dirty paparazzi sometimes, especially if I'm shooting someone famous.

    I was fortunate to shoot Paul Newman twice at the Toronto Grand Prix last year. The first time, was profile, from a distance so I couldn't ask. The second time I was about 10 feet from him. I smiled & pointed to my camera & he smiled back and nodded. When I was done, I said thank you & he smiled & waved. I felt like I had done the right thing, not to mention I got some great shots.

  • Joy

    January 19, 2008 05:16 am

    Does anyone know anything about photographing infrastructure (bridges, dams, public buildings, etc.) in New York City when it's strictly for personel use?

  • Tony Bullard

    January 19, 2008 04:34 am

    Don't know if any of you guys saw the horrible movie "Touristas" but photographing a child without permission is what starts the trouble for the foreigners.

    So what I'm saying is: take a picture without getting permission, and you could possibly be dissected by a crazy doctor.

    Just saying.

  • Beau

    January 19, 2008 03:50 am

    My aunt recently visited India and she came back with some pretty cool stories, and a few thousand pictures.

    1. Children would stop her and ask to have their picture taken.

    2. Children always asked for pens. This seems peculiar to me, but it turns out that children in India collect pens from around the world. Children would constantly approach my aunt asking "pen pen pen!!!". So if you want to get some really cheap smiles visit your local businesses or stop by your work and pick up a few handfuls of pens (not just white bic pens or something with no writing on it). This will payoff huge.

    3. People (usually middle aged males) would jump into her pictures and then request money for their photo being taken. She never paid them or had a problem with this once she rejected their request, just something to be aware of.

    Northern and Southern Inia are very different. Northern is "old school" women are less free. Southern is more liberal ie women are more educated and equal to men.

  • Pete

    January 19, 2008 01:31 am

    I have traveled twice to Africa (Egypt and Kenya) and though several places in Latin America. Most people have been very friendly and let me take their picture. On the rare occasion they didn't, they made it very obvious they did not want their picture taken. Every time I have been to a very touristy place (locations in Peru and Egypt primarily)they wanted a tip. I had a pyramid guard tell me to take a picture of him, and then expected a tip when I did.
    Showing people the picture can be friendly, but a receipt for disaster. Make sure you know how to tell the kids NOT to touch the camera in their own language. There have been several times when I was in a small village in rural Mexico and almost had the camera ripped out of my hands by a hundred little fingers. I really didn't want to $2500 worth of camera equipment because a group of kids were super excited.

  • Aryan

    January 18, 2008 04:54 pm

    Awesome post and superb topic. i am a novice photographer too, do clicks mostly as hobby but yes whatever you have pin pointed, really worth a lot.

    oh btw, I am an indian and all of those guys coming to India, feel free to click over me, will give you pose too. lol.... kidding.

    keep the more great topics coming. i am your regular reader. thnx.

  • AC

    January 18, 2008 04:04 pm

    This is an interesting article and a very relevant one. My experiences in India have always been that people - especially kids are very happy to have their photo taken. Not really heard of people asking money when their snaps are taken ^_^

  • Ankur

    January 18, 2008 01:33 pm

    All the 10 points and very apt and goes here in India aswell. Apart from all these , I’d put emphasis on not to give any money to anyone in return or you’ll be swarmed with beggars and people asking for the same.

    Enjoy your trip here in India!

  • Ankur

    January 18, 2008 01:33 pm

    All the 10 points and very apt and goes here in India aswell. Apart from all these , I'd put emphasis on not to give any money to anyone in return or you'll be swarmed with beggars and people asking for the same.

    Enjoy your trip here in India!

  • Aman

    January 18, 2008 01:23 pm

    Being an Indian, I can tell you that it is a photographic paradise. You can shoot children and families and 99.99% of the time no one would mind, unless of course they are in a embarassing situation. Do not be afraid to shoot. You might get a smile from people. People over there aren't really scared or really aware of child perverts and thus shooting kids is no problem at all unlike in the western world where you have to be extra careful pointing a camera at a child. I miss that living here in Canada.

    Be careful with your camera at Airports though. Very strict rules regarding photography at airports in India. You might end up paying a big bribe or have your camera confiscated Also be careful of shooting in museums or old palaces. There are certain palaces where you aren't allowed to take pictures, specially with the flash.

    As for clicking disadvantaged people, I realy hate that, but if you are into that sort of photography, I think the ethical thing would be to ask them and I doubt anyone would refuse. At the most they may ask for some tips (money) but even 10-20 cents for them might be a lot and I don't think that would be too much to give specially if you are going to take their photograph. But as some above commentors said, they might just be happy seeing their photo in your camera.

    Be careful travelling in Delhi after dark. Mumbai and South India are very safe and you don't really need to worry about anything. But as long as you are in the northern belt, be extra careful.

  • Katie

    January 18, 2008 12:25 pm

    Check out the work of Alice Peperell; she visits India quite a bit and though I believe she is there at the moment and may not have access to her emails, it may be worth dropping her an email and asking for tips.

  • Reznor

    January 18, 2008 11:52 am

    I bet, the kids would accept candy as payment, my uncle is kind of a globetrotter and has been to many countries with a lot of poverty (India can definitely be counted as one of them) and kids always try to get stuff from tourists, not necessarily because you photographed them, just because many tourist give out money or candy out of pity.
    I would always gather information about customs and regulations in countries I go to, just to be on the safe side.
    Imagine taking a photo of a chinese soldier or something and end up in jail. Never wise to push your luck.

  • Dirk Swillens

    January 18, 2008 10:10 am

    Steve's comment raises a good point as regards India. A lot will depend on how you travel and where you make pictures. If you're on the typical tourist trip, expect a lot of people near tourist sites to insist on payment (sometimes rather aggressively), and they will not warn you beforehand ;-)
    If you want to shoot photos from people, get off the tourist track.
    My experience after living three years in India (Delhi) tells me that people mostly will be happy if you take their photo, and even will ask you (not because they want to see how they look on the photo - they often will show no interest in seeing the result - but because it is considered 'auspicious'. While this is a 'hindu' thing, it fades across religions and even muslims (in Old Delhi for instance) often asked me to make a picture (http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyeonasia/2071664026/in/set-72157603321306285/). One exception though: women - this is a socio-cultural thing and you might notice that if women see someone with a camera even from far, they will cover their face (though that is not a general rule, and will depend on the region you will travel in). In any case, you better respect this ! Tips number 3 and 4 will mostly do in India, while most of the tips are worthwhile. Expect that people will 'pose' once you have asked, and mostly will take a very serious position and expression. But Indian people smile easily, and with a smile and a bit of communication you can make them loose their serious position very quickly. Also remember that saying 'no' is considered very harsh and impolite in Indian culture, so you will have to sense what the reaction (will mostly be a head wobble) means. I hope you will enjoy your trip in India !

  • Abra

    January 18, 2008 09:56 am

    In India specifically (where I lived for 2 years), asking permission will frequently get an instant demand for "baksheesh," or bribes/tips. A more well-to-do person will clearly not ask for this, but most of the people that you see standing around in a street, especially kids or women with children, are beggars and will expect money in return. Of course, in large cities (Delhi, Mumbai) this will be the case whether you take their photograph or not.

  • Tomw

    January 18, 2008 09:49 am

    Superfancy: you do not need a release form of any kind in the U.S. as long as you and the subject are on public property, and not in a place where privacy is expected (i.e. a bathroom...yeah just dont do that :D ). However, I don't know about outside the U.S.

    A good pamphlet about U.S. Photography law is here:
    http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm

    I know I talk about it a lot but it is actually a really amazingly informative pamphlet that I always bring with me when I shoot.

  • Charly

    January 18, 2008 09:19 am

    It depends on the culture of the site you're visiting.
    India for photography is a paradise.
    I never give any tip or payment. 99% of the times people ask you to take a photograph of them, or of them with you... Very few times they ask for a tip. Please don't give it to them!
    They're always happy if you show them the photo.

  • Gabe

    January 18, 2008 08:32 am

    In countries where cameras are a luxury, and especially with children, a great "reward" for permission to take a shot is simply to show them their own picture on the camera's screen. They often absolutely love seeing themselves, and want you to take more and more pictures so that they can see their poses.

    But be careful...doing this can cause a mob of excited little kids all clamoring to see the camera!

  • Steve

    January 18, 2008 08:27 am

    Just a heads up on India specifically since it was mentioned. I was there a few years ago and you definitely have to watch our for people expecting a tip of some sort if they think you took their photo.

    At one point, we stopped on the side of the road to take a picture of a palace in the middle of a lake. Some nearby kids saw us and ran up in front of us while we were shooting. As we started getting back in the car, they all stuck out their hands expecting payment.

    There was another case where our guide informed us ahead of time that if we took a picture of the snake charmer who was performing on the street, he'd require a tip.

  • Reznor

    January 18, 2008 07:58 am

    I|m from Germany and here the situation is kinda complicated. You can photograph people in public without their permission if they are in a group of people. If you pick someone out, you have to ask him. It's always good to have the person sign a release form, a simple verbal permission is totally worthless in court, the person can always claim not to have given you permission and sue you for violating his privacy if they find themselves in some web gallery.

  • Norm Williams

    January 18, 2008 03:26 am

    Just a note on photographing people. I am a Canadian so I take about 50 small Canadian lapel pins which I get from our Member of Parliment for about 15 cents each. On aproaching a subject I give them a pin then after thier thanks, usualy in form of a smile and a knod I point to my camera and then to them with the effect that I have only had one person ever indicate no. In this way I do not have the embaresment of to tip or not to tip.

  • Superfancy

    January 18, 2008 12:22 am

    Good subject, here's a follow up on that which I wonder -- do you know if release forms are required to be signed by subjects outside the US as they (I believe) are in the US in order to be used professionally? (Or perhaps it depends on the outlet?)

    Also, if the photos are to be used as stock or assignment is it legally or morally required to pay them a fee, especially if they sign the release?

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