Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I love taking images from relatives / friends, when they are not aware that I am taking an image. The looks are just so more real, instead of the "Fake smile for the camera". Now I am going on vacation and wanted to do the same with natives, but from what I read and understand, you are not supposed to take images of people who do not know they are being photographed.

So how do you solve this dilemma? Take images of people not knowing they are photographed, yet asking people if you can take an image?

Acquire an image, ask them if you can take one, if they say yes, do another shot with them aware, if they say no, delete the first image?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The rules in most territories come down to an 'expectation of privacy' - that is to say if you as the photographer is in a publically accessible place and not up a ladder or something then anyone you can see with the naked eye is fair game even if they're in a private place.

If you want to ask first then that's courteous and after snapping them posing you can tail them for a bit after. Otherwise snap first and ask later. But neither is required.

Obviously you should check the laws of the country or territory you're going to just in case.

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Okay, if someone in a touristically available place (market, boulevards, etc) can be just photographed, I am fine with that. I always thought you basically have to ask prior to taking an image. –  SinisterMJ Jul 18 '13 at 10:44
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Not at all, although as another answer points out, you should check local culture and custom as you being allowed to do it by law may not be the same as your subject being ok with it. –  James Snell Jul 18 '13 at 10:55

The answer is: it depends.

In a lot of countries you have the right to photograph people in the public (e.g. in the streets), in other jurisdictions you don't. Also, there are a lot of local customs involved in taking a photo. Some places, especially places where a lot of tourists go, people are OK with being photographed, other places it's absolutely a no-go.

For example take this article about a person being attacked for photographing a menu (!) in a McDonalds in France.

Summary: your best bet would be to inquire from your travel agency and / or local staff if it's OK to photograph people in the public at your destination. If in doubt, you're probably a lot better off asking than getting into problems for violating some possibly unwritten customs.

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What you are talking about is called candid photos. There is nothing morally or ethically against capturing candid images of people and it has been done extensively throughout history. There are many photographers who it is all they do. In most places, you are allowed to capture photos of anyone that is in public for non-commercial purposes. It is somewhat common to require releases for commercial use of photographs of people (in marketing material for example) but even that varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Your best bet is to check the local laws of where you will be shooting to make sure everything is above board, but as a general rule, you are generally ok shooting photos for non-commercial or artistic purposes of people who are out in public. If someone complains to you, it's advisable to be polite and honor their requests even if you are within your rights, but for the most part you should be fine.

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