6 ethical considerations for street photography

I love street photography, I teach street photography, I promote street photography, I defend street photography and want everyone to experience the fun of doing street photography!

There are many people (who are obviously not street photographers) who get their knickers in a twist about how street photography is unethical. The haters think it’s rude, disrespectful and an invasion of privacy. And while some street photographers give street photography a bad name, we’re not all bad!

Let’s take a look at a few ethical considerations:

1. Privacy

While it may be legal to take pictures of people in public places (always check the laws wherever you are, as these vary from country to country), it doesn’t always mean you should. It is crucial for street photographers to understand the impact that their photographs can have on the people they photograph.

Remember, you’re doing something without someone’s express consent, so whether you like it or not, you’re invading their privacy (even if it’s in a public place and it’s legal to do so!). Therefore, it is important to respect people’s boundaries and avoid photographing anything that could be incriminating or embarrassing, such as kissing for example (it could be an affair!), or where someone’s underwear is accidentally exposed, or someone is visibly upset. .

It is also essential for street photographers to understand the context of the environments they are photographing in. For example, taking pictures of people in a crowded city street is very different from taking pictures of people in a small village. In some cultures, taking pictures without permission can be considered offensive or even taboo.

Street photographers should always be aware of and respect the cultural norms and values ​​of the places they capture. By being aware of the impact of their photographs and showing empathy towards their subjects, street photographers can create images that are both legally and ethically sound – how cool is that?!

2. Power Dynamics

As a photographer, you have a lot of power because you can choose how you portray a person or a situation. So special care needs to be taken if you’re photographing marginalized or vulnerable communities, or indeed vulnerable people (such as bad people) who you haven’t had a chat with first.

So when photographing vulnerable people, such as the homeless and rough sleepers, it is crucial to approach them with compassion and empathy. These people are often in challenging situations and it is your responsibility to be aware of their feelings and experiences.

It’s also important to remember that these people are human beings with dignity and agency, and they deserve to be treated with respect and empathy, not as easy targets for a crude black-and-white photograph for Instagram likes.

3. Cultural sensitivity

Similar to the above, it is good to keep in mind how you represent people and societies from cultures other than your own. This does not mean that you should not photograph other cultures, just to be aware that you are not buying into and perpetuating stereotypes or bias. Instead, be aware and respectful, and approach your subjects with an open mind and an open heart.

4. Security

You need to be “on it” as a street photographer and have a keen sense of awareness of potential hazards such as road traffic for one thing! However, it’s not just about protecting your own well-being, but also taking into account the safety of the people you’re photographing.

You may find yourself in an unsafe situation that is potentially dangerous. So not only do you have to think about staying safe yourself, but also think about the safety of whoever you’re photographing. An awkward fistfight or someone falling to the ground might make for a funny picture, but people can get hurt.

5. Intrusive shooting

Intrusive photography is a big no-no in street photography (although some street photographers would disagree!). You don’t want to be all up in someone’s face without their permission, causing them to jump out of their skin. Not only is it rude, but it’s potentially dangerous for both you and the subject.

The person you are photographing may have a weak heart or may already be suffering from some form of trauma. I know it sounds dramatic, but do you really want to risk hurting someone? Just make sure you don’t get too close for comfort and be respectful of people’s personal space. Remember, the best photos are the ones taken with care and consideration, not by scaring the bejesus out of anyone!

6. Finishing

it is important to remember that as a street photographer your goal is to capture the reality of the scene. This means you shouldn’t add elements that weren’t there, no matter how much it might improve the image, even if a guy passing by on a bike would have made your layers perfect!

Sure, you can adjust the exposure or adjust the color, but don’t go overboard. Cropping and fixing the horizon is also good to go! The most important thing is to keep it real and authentic and let the scene speak for itself.

In summary

Some ethical considerations for the modern street photographer include:

  • Respect the privacy and dignity of the people you photograph as much as possible.
  • Consider power dynamics when taking pictures.
  • Be culturally sensitive so as not to feed into stereotypes and biases.
  • Put the safety of the people you are photographing above the image.
  • Think about the risks and consequences of intrusive shooting before you get someone in the face.
  • Avoid the temptation to add or remove elements that change the reality of the scene at all costs.

Is there anything you would like to add?

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

About the author: Polly Rusyn is a photographer, street photography teacher, speaker, author and former Fujifilm ambassador. Her work has been awarded and exhibited worldwide at numerous street photography festivals and published in magazines such as National Geographic Traveler UK, Framelines and Eyeshot. She has also lectured on street photography at photography festivals and at National Geographic Traveler Masterclasses. Apart from self-publishing two photographic Playbooks (The Street Photography Playbook and The Photo Composition Playbook, and a Zine, Polly is one of 100 women featured in the first ever ‘Women Street Photographers’ book, curated by Gulnara Samoilova; and she is a contributor to ‘The Travel Photographers Way’ by Nori Jemil You can find more of her work on her website and Instagram.

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