New Tricks: Three reasons you should ask your photo subjects for permission

August 16th, 2010

I was at dinner a couple of days ago with some friends when, apparently, there was some food blogger event or meetup happening the same time in the restaurant’s upstairs room.

As the bloggers walked into the restaurant, some stopped to take pictures. Myself, my girlfriend and several friends were in one of the pictures. (It’s the one above; if you click through, we’re in the picture at the top of the post.)

Don’t get me wrong: I am not mad that I’m in the picture. We saw this particular blogger kneeling down to take her picture, and based on her angle, it was clear that we would be in the picture. However, the blogger never approached us and asked if we would mind.

For bloggers, there are several reasons why they should approach people who may appear in their photos:

  1. It’s a courtesy extended by many professional journalists and members of the media. (NOTE: I’m not trying to spark a journalist vs. blogger debate.) Not all professional news photographers ask permission of their subjects to take candid photos. In fact, since we were in public, we’re fair game. Still, blogger photogs may want check and see if it’s OK to use a person in their photo, even if you can’t see their face clearly. (Here’s a good read on the history of photojournalism ethics.) This leads me to my next point…
  2. It’s a marketing opportunity. Let’s say I were asked if I minded being in the blogger’s photo. The conversation might’ve gone like this:

    Blogger: Hey — I’m taking a quick photo of the restaurant for my blog; do you mind? You’ll be in it, but you’ll be totally small and unrecognizable, and your face won’t be in it.
    Me: Maybe. What’s the blog for?
    Blogger: Oh, I run a food blog called “Oh She Glows”; there’s a food blogger meetup going on tonight, and I’m documenting it.
    Me: That’s cool;  I’d love to check it out later! Go ahead and take the picture. It’s also cool that this restaurant is doing blogger outreach; is it on Facebook and Twitter as well?

    …or something like that. (Not as cheesy, of course.) This could have been a marketing opportunity for the blogger; chances are they would have drawn in a few new readers. (This particular blog is about healthy food and exercise; I’m looking to learn more about these things, which is one of the reasons I was dining at that restaurant.) In addition, she could have generated more buzz for the restaurant, which I now know is  active within the social media space.

  3. It’s just the courteous thing to do. Ya know?

What do you think? If you’re taking pictures for your blog — or for an article — do you ask the subject’s permission? Do you use it as an opportunity to tell others about your blog? Please leave your thoughts as comments below!

- Daniel B. Honigman

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Entry Filed under: blogging,media rant,New Tricks

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  • Devon

    I'm not clear on why it's courtesy to ask if someone can take your picture that you happen to be in the background of in a public setting. No one knows who you are or cares. Also, if a person takes a photo into a crowd should they ask every single person if it's okay? That's not practical. You do realize you're being watched on closed circuit cameras every time you're in public, right?

  • Sara Robertson

    I'm glad to see this subject addressed. If I'm taking pictures for a blog, or even just my personal Flickr feed, I ask permission. I generally follow the laws that apply to news gathering organizations (people in public places don't have an expectation of privacy) but if someone is the main subject of a photograph I think it's only courteous to ask their permission.

  • Daniel_Honigman

    We saw the person taking the picture while we were eating; while the blogger was not disruptive, we felt that a simple “Do you mind if I take a picture?” was in order.

    Photojournalists don't even have to ask folks if the picture is of a public event, but if it's a candid shot, they'll often ask as a simple courtesy.

  • Daniel_Honigman

    That's always good; I know we were in public, and we weren't even the focal point of the photo — they were trying to set a scene.

    I still feel as thought the blogger could have taken 15 seconds to just say, “Hey — I'm taking a picture of the front of this restaurant for my blog. Do you mind?”

  • Tim Dreyer

    Daniel, interesting topic. Not to take the middle ground (but I am) but I kind of see it as a proximity thing. If the person you are shooting is far enough in the background, I'd say its ok to use the shot without asking. But if he/she/they are a main subject, I'd say it is mandatory.

    The thing is, these are being used for publishing purposes, however that is defined these days. Even if a blogger does not receive income from their activities, they still aim to gain recognition/notoriety which in 2010, in the social media sense, is nearly the same.

  • mollieann

    I think when a blogger is taking a picture that they clearly intend on publicly publishing and people are in it, no matter how visible, they should give them a heads up.

    In college my picture was taken by the DePaul Conservative Alliance with every intention of posting it on their facebook page. I was standing outside the student center talking on my cell phone to my mother. It so happens the same day later in the afternoon Ward Churchill would be speaking. If you don't know how controversial of a character it is, look him up. The Conservative Alliance had it out for him and whoever else was attending his speech.

    Yet, I was merely standing outside the main building all DePaul students do at least once a day. Later I saw the picture posted on their public facebook page (that nearly the whole student body viewed becuase it was a constant source of arguements/criticism/etc.)

    Posted with the picture of me was a caption stating that I was a “super liberal (I'm not super liberal…) lesbian (I've been in a relationship with a man for almost 4 years. They drew this conclusion from the fact I was a Women's & Gender studies major) waiting for anti-American Ward Churchill to speak”.

    Truth is, I was probably talking to my mom about my classes enjoying the nice fall weather outside my college's student center.

    What happened to common courtesy? If my mug is going to be in your picture let me know so I can follow-up and make sure there are not falsities being stated along with it.

  • Daniel_Honigman

    That's fine — take the middle ground! (In many cases, there IS such a thing.)

    See, I wouldn't have minded being in the picture if I hadn't noticed them; thing is, I had.

  • Daniel_Honigman

    (Yeah — you're in a relationship with me!)

    In this case, there was no context to the photo, it was simply a photo. You know this because you were there!

  • Storm_180

    A public place is a public place and no permission is needed. Sure it would have been nice to ask for permission but not required.

  • Sue Anne Reed

    I completely agree with you. Not sure if you saw that this was a topic on #journchat tonight.

  • Maria

    I often take photos that include people — kind of hard not to. I don't usually ask for permission unless, of course, the person is featured in the photo and I'll be using it online or in print.

    I agree that it's courteous to ask permission, but I also know that in a public place, it's not required. It's also extremely impractical when, say you're in a restaurant (using your example) and 20 people will be in the photo. Do you ask every single person?

    What I've learned throughout the years in all the things that I do — photography, off-roading, landing helicopters off airport, etc. — is that when you ask permission, you're more likely to hear “No” than yes. So I tend to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.

    Embarrassing to admit, but it is the truth.

    Another embarrassing thing to admit — when I see someone taking a photo that I'm likely to be in and I'm in just the right mood, I'll lift my middle finger in salute. Let that be a lesson to all of us.

  • Daniel_Honigman

    Thanks for writing in; I'm not saying it should be required. I was saying that the blogger may want to do it anyway.

  • Daniel_Honigman

    Thanks for the heads up; I was out at dinner!

  • Daniel_Honigman

    Exactly; if they had asked you before hand — actually, forget that; if they had just asked if you'd mind — chances are you wouldn't flip 'em off, no?

  • George F. Snell III

    Technically, if you are in a public place its fair game to take someone's photograph. But I agree with you Daniel – it is a courtesy that most newspaper photographers extend (if they aren't snapping photos at a breaking news event). It builds goodwill. Most people don't like getting their pictures taken by a stranger. And you're right – great marketing opportunity!

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  • Chip D.

    I've learned the hard way on both sides that permission is a courtesy that should be extended in most cases. I am glad I read this post because I think as bloggers/photographers we all should think of this. Especially in the age of “new media.”

  • Daniel_Honigman

    Definitely agree, Chip. It's also a marketing opportunity. Some people like having their picture in the paper!


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