Street Photography Code of Ethics
Taking pictures of strangers requires a particular mindset. It’s edgy, raw, and uncomfortable – and means entering someone’s personal space without an invitation. This style of photography is even edgier when you are after that magical moment of making direct eye contact through the lens. It’s not for everyone, but if you can get beyond your comfort zone and accept the idea of being intimate with strangers, the potential is unlimited.
Before you hit the streets, it’s important to consider two things. First is what you can and can’t legally shoot. In public places, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, so pretty much anything goes. However, just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is right for you, so the next step is to decide what you will and will not shoot. The result is your own personal street photography code of ethics.
If you are new to street photography and not sure where to start, consider these three rules:
1. Don’t takes pictures of someone that may want to kill you. This rule all about self-preservation and should be intuitive.
2. Don’t take pictures of children. It can be seen as creepy, especially when done without permission. It has the potential to make people very uncomfortable and lead to no end of trouble.
3. Be respectful. If anyone ever asks you to delete an image, apologize and do it immediately. On the other side of the glass are real people, doing real things. We don’t know their history or the complexities of their lives. Many may have valid or even urgent reasons not to have their image captured. What if they have a restraining order or are on parole and shouldn’t be in town? What if someone in that couple is not with their spouse? This kind of image can be compromising, damaging and lead to serious consequences – which quickly gets you back to Rule #1.
This code has guided my work and kept me safe on the streets of New York City. I hope you’ll find it helpful on your creative journey. If you are wondering about Rule #3, I’ve logged more than 15,000 street shots and no one has ever asked me to delete an image. The most common question is what happens the moment you make eye contact and they realize, “Hey, this guy is taking my picture”. Nine times out of ten, their reaction is to smile.
That speaks volumes about humanity and is why we return to the streets.