I know that this is a delicate question so I hope it is ok to ask here.

Let's say you are doing street photography and you happen to coincidentally capture a scene in which someone is right about the have a deadly accident. E.g. someone running across the street getting hit by a car or something similar and you capture the exact moment before the collision.

Let's also assume that the persons face is not visible (e.g. because the person is walking in the way you are looking and you capture them from behind).

Would it be ethical to publish such a photograph? Publish is meant in a professional sense (magazines/newspapers), as well in a personal sense (e.g. your own social media -- Instagram or similar).

Are there settings/locations/countries where it would even be illegal?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Check out "moments in time" by the associated press \$\endgroup\$
    – db9dreamer
    Aug 15, 2018 at 22:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think legality questions belong here, if anywhere on the web. \$\endgroup\$
    – l0b0
    Aug 16, 2018 at 4:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @l0b0 Why? Legality is a part of our daily lifes, private as well as professional. So why should it not be discussed? Also laws are often a good "compass" to get an idea of the ethics in the respective culture. \$\endgroup\$
    – asquared
    Aug 16, 2018 at 13:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JayFromA I think the point is that law is a very complicated area, with very serious implications. You cannot just post a question online, and have any faith that the information you get is reliable. It's very similar to medicine. If you had a medical problem, would you just accept the medical advice provided to you by random strangers on the internet? \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    Aug 16, 2018 at 14:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @osullic That is not a valid point in my opinion. Discussion/Q&A on how the change the breaks on a car or fixing the gas pipes in a house can also have serious implications. In the end, everyone is responsible for himself and how information from diverent sources has to be judged/used. This should never hinder free discussion of any topic. \$\endgroup\$
    – asquared
    Aug 16, 2018 at 14:35

2 Answers 2



In the professional world, this is by no means unheard of. Photojournalists do this for a living, and if they end up with a well-taken photo that has someone about to die, they'll still send it in, and it will often get published.

One example that comes to mind was from the photojournalist Eddie Adams, when he photographed the Execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém (Wikipedia link, but graphic picture if you look closely). Another, as posted in the comments on one of the answers, is The Falling Man, depicting a man falling from the Trade Center during the terrorist attack on 9/11.

Ethically, in a cultural sense, it's not wrong to do. Especially if the person cannot be easily identified, it's not an ethical problem. The only concern would be out of respect for the family if you chose not to publish it.

As far as personal/social media, I would treat it with caution. If this fits with the rest of your photos on Instagram (i.e., if you focus on pro/semi pro/amateur photography and the photo is well taken), I'd say go ahead. If it's going to take your audience by surprise, think twice about posting it. You could use it to make a point, but simply posting it on you IG filled with selfies, and saying "here's a pic of someone about to die" would be unprofessional at best and could cause issues.

The same advice would go for other social media venues (Facebook, careful about who on Snapchat).


According to this random website on the internet, It appears that legality can vary from country to country. In France, it appears to be illegal, while in the US or Uganda it does not appear to be against the law.

Further Reading

Medium: STOP! Read this before you post another RIP on social media

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ "In France, it appears to be illegal,". Likely not. If the person is anonymous and cannot be recognized as stated by OP, then it's fine. If the person is known then it is a information item (freedom of the press, etc...) and it's fine, too. \$\endgroup\$
    – xenoid
    Aug 17, 2018 at 6:38

I would think it would depend upon the country.
Personally, if I were the editor, I would not publish such a photo out of respect for the grieving family.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ What? None were printed in the USA? Does page 7 of The New York Times on 12 September, 2001 count? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Falling_Man \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    Aug 16, 2018 at 14:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ There were more than a few images of people falling out of the towers on 9/11/2001 published in the U.S. While legal, those who published them did invoke quite a bit of controversy with opinions regarding them, both from inside the journalistic community and from the general public. There were very strong opinions on either side of the issue. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Aug 16, 2018 at 16:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ My mistake on the 9/11 photos. I've edited my answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – frank
    Aug 16, 2018 at 22:32

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