Posting pictures of people
Whether in distant countries or in local street photography: people are often the best motifs for a photographer. But are you allowed to photograph such strange people? And can you be posting pictures of them on my website, on Facebook or on Instagram?
In this post we will show you what you need to consider and give you some practical tips along the way.
Before we get started, a short preliminary remark: We have received a lot of positive feedback for our contribution about the freedom of panorama, thank you very much for it.
This shows us that these legal topics are interesting for many photographers.
Also in this article we explain to you our view of the things we have read to ourselves over a long time.
However, we are not lawyers and therefore cannot provide legally binding information. So if things get serious, please always ask a lawyer.
Can I just photograph strangers like that?
In many countries, the right to one’s own image applies. This means that everyone is free to decide for themselves whether images of them are published.
Even simply photographing a person requires permission, even if you don’t want to publish that picture in any form.
To be truly legally on the safe side, you would always have to ask a person before (!) you take a photo of her.
In practice, of course, this is often unrealistic and counter productive for many photos, so we’ll show you how to deal with this fact while taking pictures.
Practical tips for photographing people
Street photography in particular thrives on the people who can be seen in the pictures. So how can such recordings be made despite the ban?
Basically, there are three options:
1 You make yourself noticeable before taking pictures
The legally correct action would be to ask before taking pictures. This is unpleasant for many photographers. We don’t like to do that either.
We usually try to make ourselves felt with our camera, to point out to the photographers by a short nod, a smile or a pointing at the camera that we want to take a photo. A short nod back or a smile can then be interpreted as consent.
2 You take pictures without asking
Everyone has probably photographed a person before without even noticing it. We would be lying if we said the opposite about ourselves. Legally, this is not right, we personally find it perfectly acceptable for us, but everyone has to decide for themselves.
If you just want the photo for you and don’t want to publish it, there’s nothing really against it. However, if you want to publish the photo, it becomes problematic. Then you should read more now.
3 You ask for consent after taking pictures
Often, however, one does not want to make one’s impact, especially from a photographic point of view. Of course, if your subject is looking into the area lost in thought, you don’t want to address the person beforehand. The situation would thus be destroyed and with it also the motive.
Here we would make the photo easy. If we plan to publish this picture, we would subsequently make ourselves felt in relation to the person.
Most people don’t mind being photographed and we’ve never seen anyone ask us to delete a photo.
Can I publish pictures of people without their consent?
In principle, publishing photos of people without their consent is not allowed. In many countries, the right to one’s own image applies. This means that you basically have to get a permit before you photograph a person.
So you can’t just photograph the old fruit seller in the market, the drunk on the park bench or the child playing on the street and then publish the pictures. If the person pictured takes action against the publication, it can sometimes be very expensive for you.
To really be on the safe side, you always theoretically need a signed contract: a so-called model release.
Especially in street photography, however, it is rather unlikely that a photographer will put a contract under the nose of every person photographed.
We have already hinted at a possible way in the practice tip number 3 above: You ask for permission to publish after taking pictures.
It is always a good place to have a few business cards or flyers with the address of your own website and to ask the persons orally for their consent for a publication.
You don’t have anything written in your hand, but in 99.99% of cases the photographer will not sue you if he has given you the verbal consent.
Luckily, there are also a lot of exceptions that make your life a little easier.
No rule without exceptions. But they are rather positive for photographers, so we don’t want to complain.
Persons as an accessory
If a person is not the main motif of a shot, then you are allowed to photograph it. So if you take pictures of the Brandenburg Gate, for example, you will find it very difficult not to have people in the picture.
The main motif is the Brandenburg Gate, the persons are only anaccessory. So you don’t have to ask them for permission to photograph them.
The limit to when a person is an accessory is, of course, fluid. If you photograph a single souvenir seller in front of the Brandenburg Gate, it is probably not an accessory, but the main motif.
As a rule of thumb, you can always ask yourself the question: Is the image still a good picture even without the person depicted or does the picture live on the fact that this person is on it? If the person is important to the image, then it is not an accessory.
This can be seen in the following recording. Several people can be seen here, but they are not important for the picture. So they are an accessory.
People in crowds
It is allowed to photograph crowds at certain social events without asking any photographed person for permission. This applies, for example, to carnival parades, demonstrations or the spectators of a concert or football match.
But it’s important that you don’t single out a single person from the crowd. If your picture focuses only on a single grumbling football fan within a fan block or a drunken carnival visitor on the edge of the parade, you may not publish this picture easily.
Persons of Contemporary History / Celebrities
Another exception applies to people of contemporary history, which usually include celebrities. But that doesn’t mean you can take and publish a picture of an actor sitting in the cafe with his girlfriend.
The exception applies only to images related to his work. So if you’re photographing the actor on the red carpet or in the foyer of a movie theater at a movie premiere, you’re also allowed to publish this picture.
If you look at the shots of famous street photographers, it is striking that none of these exceptions apply to these images. The pictures often don’t look like the photographer has spoken to the people depicted.
So how do the famous street photographers, whose pictures of people in everyday situations are world-famous and can be seen in exhibitions, do this? Do these photographers simply flout the law?
Not quite, because there is another exception, namely freedom of art. So if you want to show your street photography shots in the form of an illustrated book or in an exhibition, they fall under the freedom of art. You do not need explicit consent from the person depicted.
What now falls under art is, of course, a matter of interpretation.
If you put out a picture book and print ten copies of it for your friends, not every dish will recognize it as art.
Nevertheless, I see pictures of people everywhere – how is this possible?
Basically, because of these many regulations, you should not freeze with fear now and stop photographing people. An action against the violation of the right of personality can only be brought by the person depicted himself.
For this purpose, this person must first discover the published image, secondly have a problem with the image and thirdly want to fight a legal dispute with you.
Pretty unlikely, isn’t it? Especially with travel photographs, it is very unlikely that the old fisherman from a remote part of Myanmar, for example, will sue you.
That may sound a bit arrogant now, but in the end it is in practice. Nor does it mean that people who cannot defend themselves are free game. With common sense and a certain level of morality, every photographer should be able to make the right decisions for themselves.
Also Read :10 tips for photography beginners
Finally, we would like to give you a short checklist of what you should consider when photographing people and publishing these pictures:
Do not publish images that leave a person in a bad light – for example, drunk or in another unfavorable situation. If possible, let yourself be recognized when you’re photographing someone– even after you’ve pressed the trigger.
If someone asks you to delete a picture, do it! If you want to photograph children, always ask YOUR guardians. Do not publish photos from the private lives of celebrities. The chance of a lawsuit is much higher than in a “normal” person.
Always be respectful with your camera. Humans in foreign countries are not zoo animals, to whom one holds the camera in front of the face and pushes off unquestioned.
We hope we were able to take some uncertainty away from you with this post and wish you a lot of fun taking pictures.