Permission to Take Pictures?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by snegron, Aug 11, 2006.

  1. snegron

    snegron Member

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    I mostly photograph weddings, however, I would love to experiment with street photography. I find street photography is a great way to capture expression both with people and buildings. My problem is that I am probably too concerned with the reaction of people. When I stand on a street corner with my SLR and wide angle lens, I can't help notice the look on people's faces. Things have changed in the past decade. People are more suspicious and less likely to be photographed or have the outside of their buildings photographed. This may not be a problem in large cities like New York or tourist destinations, but I would love to capture the images of everday life in small towns, especially here in Florida. My concern is how to ask for permission without sounding like either a terrorist, sex offender, or lunatic in general. My only purpose for the photographs is for artistic development. I don't want to lie and say that I am either writing a book or a student photographer. Any suggestions?
     
  2. tim atherton

    tim atherton Inactive

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    each situtation is different. Many times there's no need to ask permission - just go ahead and take the photo. But it often takes practice to be comfortable doing that.

    This question comes up all the time on the streetphoto list:

    check the archives (I'll see if I can find a couple of the threads)

    http://www.johnbrownlow.com/streetphoto/index.php

    Working on it as your own personal project is entirely legitimate - as is saying so: "I'm working on a photo project about Key West...or whatever"
     
  3. tim atherton

    tim atherton Inactive

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  4. GraemeMitchell

    GraemeMitchell Member

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  5. Pragmatist

    Pragmatist Member

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    Lose the tank...

    One of the last places that 35mm fits into my constellation is street & festival photography. It is just much less assuming and easily subdued. Barebones, older camera with no motor drives, humongous zoom lenses, or any of the like. I am beginning to think along the lines of a small rangefinder like a Retina II just for such things.

    MF isnt really that bad if your body is small (the camera, I mean). I haul a big RB67 around and do a trick. I pick a focus on something the same distance I want to actually capture something, and then quickly swing composition on the target and click. Usually catches them unawares. Asking permission spoils the whole thing. Did Cartier-Bresson ask permission?
     
  6. tim atherton

    tim atherton Inactive

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    A Rollei (or such) TLR is also great for this stuff - not quite so quick and easy to use but

    a) people don't realise you are taking a picture half the time as you appear to be examining your belly button

    and

    b) even if they do realize, they just don;t seem to find the funny old camera threatening...
     
  7. snegron

    snegron Member

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    I think that no matter what type of camera I decide to use, I will still encounter the suspicion.

    It also seems that there is more hostility toward photographers nowadays. The media and entertainment shows have shown so many clips of celebrities bashing their paparazzi stalkers that it has become commonplace to yell at anyone attempting to take pictures on the street. It appears as if people believe their personal space is being violated by being captured on film. Several years ago I made the mistake of photographing Amish people in Lancaster, PA. They were downright angry and rude toward me. I then found out that I had unknowingly imposed myself in their belief system.

    Although I know I have the legal right to photograph just about anything on the street, I am concerned about some irate jerk grabbing my camera and smashing it because he thinks that all men taking pictures on the street are either ruthless paparazzi, child molesters, terrorists, or someone about to sell his images without his consent. Yes, I could have him arrested for battery or criminal mischief, but that won't replace my prized Nikon F2A.
     
  8. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    There's also PhotoPermit.org for moral support and many different strategies discussed in the forums

    My attitude is to approach street work as I would people at a party or a bar -- open and friendly and interested in them. Almost everyone responds well to me expressing THEIR importance.... :smile:
     
  9. Sjixxxy

    Sjixxxy Member

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    I've been plotting a contingency plan for shooting people, just in case some confronts me. It involves three things.

    1) A business car with my name & url on it.
    2) A pack of sample prints on me at all times.
    3) An offer for a free 5x7 of any photo I've taken where the person is the subject.

    See, bomb defusion & marketing strategy all in one. Granted, I don't have business cards made up yet to test this, but I do carry sample prints and those have helped me in plenty of situations. (Mostly to put digiheads in their place when they ask me why I use what I use.)
     
  10. snegron

    snegron Member

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    Thanks for the link! I just spent some time checking out the different threads there and I must say I am now even more paranoid than before! I guess I have been somewhat lucky (or maybe being 5'10, 250lbs helps) compared to what many people at PhotoPermit.org describe. It's the "photo vigilante" who I am most concerned about. My fear is not knowing what level of stupidity he or she may reach while "defending" or "enforcing" some imaginary rights. Unfortunately here in Florida very little can be done when one's civil rights have been violated. If you have the time and money to spend on a top notch attorney, then you might get some justice and possibly monetary restitution. In my case, I would be out one of my treasured collectable cameras and/or lenses. :sad:
     
  11. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    If you look at the posting dates, you'll see tat "vigilantes" are rather rare.

    If you get one, assuming they're not nutty (I was verbally and profanely assaulted once at SLC airport -- in front of my small children -- by a woman who was freaked out by me carrying a camera, which I was not using. A few minutes later the PD came by and carted her off), the best strategy is usually to start asking them questions and treating them like a helper. Makes 'em feel important, and often they WILL be helpful....
     
  12. snegron

    snegron Member

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    I am starting to think that the best approach is to simply lie and say that I am working on a book about one or another particular region and I am gathering visual research. After all, books take a long time to complete and it seems somewhat believable. Maybe not ethical, but after all, it's the paranoid lunatics that forced this situation to begin with.
     
  13. nc5p

    nc5p Member

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    It really varies a lot depending on where you live. I have gone down to southeastern New Mexico, to Carlsbad and Artesia and shot all over the place, with a tripod at night. People walked by and said hello, even the ladies. Cops drove by without even slowing down. I must say I wouldn't mind living down there if there were plenty of jobs in my field and it wasn't so hot. Around here (I'm one of the victimized posters) I'm not going out as much since I was assaulted.

    Another suggestion: Don't go out alone. Yes, people are impatient with photographers because we stop so often. Try taking a dog. I've never had any trouble when taking a dog along. It distracts people and they are afraid of getting bit.

    Doug
     
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  15. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Why not make a book then? :smile:
     
  16. snegron

    snegron Member

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    That doesn't sound like a bad idea! Problem is I would probably have to sell half of my equipment just to get it published... :sad:
     
  17. GraemeMitchell

    GraemeMitchell Member

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    Just do a small limited edition book on your own. Print yourself and mount, and then find a local binder to bind them for you with a cloth cover. Or something like that. Just do 10 or 20. Or 1 or 2.

    I saw a gorgeous one of Eggeseton's at the MOMA, hand done prints, all mounted in this large gorgeous leather book. Not sure how many were in the addition, but I'd gather not many. I wanted to flip through it so badly, but alas it was in a case.
     
  18. snegron

    snegron Member

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    By mounting do you mean like in traditional wedding album style? I had not thought about it, but I remembered there are several companies that provide albums in book style print.
     
  19. GraemeMitchell

    GraemeMitchell Member

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    I just mean finding a nice cotton rag/rice/'archival' paper that a binder is able to hinge or Japenese bind or etc, and then mount your image to this, probably dry mount. I'd probably also opt for tissue btwn pages.

    It's a lot of work, but when finished it should be a 100% hand done book.

    There are very nice pre-made books you can buy for scrapbooking and albums which are just blank pages w/ tissue, you could do one of these w/ photo corners or artists tape and do a book-portfolio-album of your town.

    Or, go the very opposite direction and start a blog on the town with scanned prints and stories from your ramblings, what you see, who you meet.
     
  20. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    I have self-published a postcard book with my photos (30 images), which is small enough to be a very handy sample package on some occasions. That's done half digitally, so I don't want to self-promote too much in this site.

    But when I approach people to take their photographs, I say a very few words like, "Can I ...?" That usually works. Or a bit of a smile on my face before framing the camera and firing the shutter.

    When they ask me where those photos will end up, I say "in my portfolio."

    For this reason, I don't run a website for myself but just give them my email address and phone# in case they need to contact me. I just try to stay away from the commercial aspect of photography at this point.

    But other times, I don't ask permisson to anyone and just snap away.
     
  21. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    I have to admit that when I shoot in smaller towns I have more concern about this than walking around NYC. A lot of the concern is probably in my own head - a kind of self-conciousness that people are all looking at me wondering what the hell I'm doing.

    I find that once I just "do it" and start shooting I get over the self-conciousness as I "get into the groove" of framing and composing etc.

    Also, when I see a kid as a potential subject I often "bracket" shoot him or her by taking pics of other people or scenes in between. This (I like to believe) makes it less "treatening" since I'm not just "concentrating" on the kid like some kind of pervert.

    Probably all this more resides in my own head rather than reality - but it is true that to a considerable degree - street photography is "intrusive" toward others - and it's wise to be sensitive to that fact.
     
  22. GraemeMitchell

    GraemeMitchell Member

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    George, oddly, I find most people are aware of camera in NYC, hyper-aware even. Depends what part of town you're in. I mean little old ladies are less jumpy than the suits and security gaurds in financial district, but most people tend to be vigilant of their sorroundings. Especially white people...okay, that's stupid to say, I take it back, I mean certain types of people are trickier to shoot than others.

    Anyway. I don't shoot much on the street, just as an exercise sometimes. But I've seen a few guys do it that really impressed me. One had the camera glued to his face, and it was really intense looking, and you just felt like he was not to be reckoned with. The other was the very opposite, very casual, and would kind of just walk up to people and SO casually photograph them at close range and just start talking, not even conversation, just start talking. Both had no skittiness or sneakeness and basically didn't give a damn. Most importantly they seemed a natural extension of the environs.
     
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  23. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    Graeme,

    Security guards are trained to be vigilient and suspicious so it's not surprising that they cast you a wary eye if you shoot them. But I've never had a probalem and have some great pics of cops walking a beat etc.

    You can say as you please, but I don't think whites are any more wary walking around town than others. Heck , in this town, most folks walking around are so deep into their iPods or checking their e-mail on their Blackberries these days that I feel like I'm waliking in a city full of zombies! Just this AM I nearly barrelled over some guy exiting the bank in front of me when he stopped dead in his tracks in the doorway to check his friggin' e-mails! I've almost given up being outraged at such self-absorbed behavior.

    I will admit that most of my day is spent in east Midtown which is chock-a-block full of camera-toting tourists it's easy to just start shooting with nary a glance. But I must say that many times when someone does notice I'm shooting something or someone - they made every effort to stay out of my way (almost to the point of tripping themselves up) so as not to "ruin" my picture!

    BTW, NYC is one of the safest cities there is and I think there is more tolerance and acceptance here than most places. There has been a "sea change" in this town for the good. In part it reflects present-day relative prosperity so that most everyone is working and greater emphasis on preventing and prosecuting quality of life infractions. But I think that one of the few positive results of 9/11/01 is that so many of us here recognize we're all in this City together and we only have each other to rely on.
     
  24. snegron

    snegron Member

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    I just had my first "run-in" last week. My wife was giving birth to our second baby girl at a local hospital. It was a natural child birth (no C section) and I wanted to capture it on video as I did with our first child at that hospital 4 years ago. As my wife was delivering I was holding her hand with one hand, the other hand was on my very tiny palm sized camcorder. A nurse yelled out at me to stop videotaping immediately because video taping was not allowed at the hospital. Not being one to let a moment like the birth of my child go unrecorded, I "apologized" to the nurse and placed my hand with tiny camcorder on my wife's knee as if showing support. I pressed the record button and was able to tape the delivery. The same nurse yelled at me again and told the doctor. Luckily my child had just made it out. The doctor did not say anything to me, but the nurse gave me a look that would sink any battleship. Yes, I made her mad, but I recorded a once in a lifetime moment.

    There are no signs posted anywhere in the hospital indicating that photography or video are not allowed. There was no mention of this on the admission papers either. My theory is that I was dealing with an overzealous nurse who had the same antiphotographer attitude mentioned in this post. My second theory was that she was probably trained by lawsuite-fearing supervisors who verbaly instructed her to prevent the video capture of childbirth. After all, those of us who did not go to med school don't stand a chance in court if trying to explain medical negligance. It would be too easy to just show the video without having to resort to the medical mumbo jumbo. Of course, if the delivery was done in good faith and in a proffessional way, why fear a video?

    I seriously thought the nurse was going to call security and have me removed from room. Good thing the labor and delivery was very short. The interesting thing was that I was focusing only on my wife and newborn, not on anyone else. I did not feel I needed permission to record such a personal event in my own life.
     
  25. GraemeMitchell

    GraemeMitchell Member

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    Absolutely agree. And yes, you're right people are usually TOO kind in avoiding your picture. You're also right that midtown is a little easier to blend into the pack in.

    I guess I just meant that people do watch what you're up too if you have a camera, or if you're up to anything else. It's just a city where people are aware and they want to know what's up. Sure, most people don't seem to care if you take their pic in NYC but they'll still 'catch' you right away. That's what I was referring to. Most faint street shooters, when they're raising the camera, if caught, drop it down and look the other way...

    My comments about whites being more 'camera shy'...well I shouldn't have made it b/c you're right it's not true. Just the people I've personally found confrontational tend to fit into a certain type. While other types can be very friendly and have a great sense of humor about it, but just personal experience, again, it was a stupid thing for me to write.
     
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  26. nc5p

    nc5p Member

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    I've heard hospitals don't allow people to photograph deliveries because if anything goes wrong the pictures end up being shown to a jury. I took photos of my youngest being born, but that was a few years back.

    Doug