The problem is, adding people into your photos can be fraught with pitfalls, beyond setting the exposure and focusing your photograph correctly. For example, in the US, it’s generally true that when someone is out in public they have no right to privacy, so therefore, in general, you may photograph them, even if they are recognizable in your photograph, without permission. In France, if someone is included in your photograph and they are at all recognizable, you must have their permission to include them in your photo.
Here are my top 10 suggestions for including people in your travel photographs.
- Research the law and customs in the countries and specific locals to which you will be traveling. There is an abundant amount of information on the Internet about this subject, so I would start there. Consulting with a professional travel photographer may be helpful, however, don’t expect to get specific “legal advice” from a pro travel photographer, unless they happen to be attorneys too. I know I scrupulously stay clear of offering “legal advice” about this subject.
- If people end up in my photographs incidentally, such as in the street scenes I took at the Philadelphia Phillies 2008 World Championship parade, I don’t seek their permission to have their photographs taken. Most of them aren’t recognizable anyway.
- If I’m at a performance or concert, if there had been no directive which bans photography at the event, the performers are normally considered public figures (public, limited, or involuntary) and therefore I generally don’t ask permission to take photos of the event and its performers.
- If a person is the main subject of my photograph I request permission to take their photograph, such as in this portrait of a woman at the Phillies parade all decked out in her Phillies clothing and jewelry, with her World Series memorabilia.
- Most of the time, asking permission to take someone’s photo means catching their eye, smiling, then pointing to my camera. I asked the question that very way to the gentlemen at the top of the article, who leads tours of historic Philadelphia in full 18th century costume. Such gestures and motions normally cross all language barriers. It’s been very rare I’ve been turned down.
- If my intent is to offer the photograph I’m taking for sale, I always attempt to get written permission to take the photo of the person. I have a bunch of release forms, and a pen, I carry in my bag for such a purpose. As stated before, I’m a photographer, not an attorney so I’m not going into the legal ins and out of this subject.
- When I ask someone to take their photograph, I try to keep in mind the tone and words I’d like to hear from a photographer asking me for permission to take my photo.
- If I’m taking a photograph of children, I always attempt to obtain permission from their parent(s). Sometimes this can be very difficult considering the persistence of kids who want their photo taken, or because the parents or a sitter aren’t around, and because of the fear these days of child pornography, whether real or misplaced.
- If someone says no, or says yes, but seems uncomfortable when I go to photograph them, I don’t take their photograph. In some cultures people want to be very polite and say go ahead, even though they prefer not to have their photograph taken. In some cultures they believe a photograph will capture their spirit and absolutely don’t want their photograph taken. Sometimes a person is just shy and can’t say no, even though they want to. I never take out a long lens to sneak in a photograph of a person if they don’t want their photo taken.
- Short of sending a copy of the photo to someone I’m photographing while traveling, I’ve never “paid” to take a photograph of a person. I know some who have paid cash, and others who have given token gifts for the photos. I don’t do that.