Ethical Photography Part II: Strangers

Do you photograph strangers? What role do strangers play in your scrapbooks?
Reaction from Strangers
Once upon a time I went on vacation to a country that mainly contains white people. One of the members of my party was taking a photograph of a tourist attraction and all of a sudden a black man started yelling at her for taking a picture. It seemed so bizarre because she was taking a picture of the tourist attraction (I can’t even remember what it was…I think it was a building). Later, when the story was recounted again, I realized, wait a minute, as a black person in a predominantly white country, this person is probably sometimes treated as a tourist attraction–a novelty to be photographed.
Avoiding Strangers
From this point on, I have been hyper-aware of strangers in front of my camera lens. If you are on vacation is pretty much inevitable that strangers will be in some of your photographs. I remember attempting to take a photograph of the bull on Wall Street in New York City without other people in it. Good luck. Let me know if you succeed getting that photograph without people in it. Since it is inevitable that strangers will appear in at least some of your photographs, what strategies might you use to limit their inclusion in the final photograph or your scrapbook?
Strategies to Eliminate Strangers
I crop photographs before they are printed and attempt to eliminate strangers this way. Sometimes I edit the photograph so that the faces of strangers are blurred to some extent.

After photographs have been printed, you could crop the photograph. You could silhouette the photograph.

You could add stickers or other embellishments to cover up the people you want excluded from the photograph.

What about asking permission? I’ve attended play groups open to the public and occasionally another mom or dad will begin taking photographs of their kid, but no effort is made to exclude other people who might be at the playgroup from the photograph. I have never been asked permission in this context if it is okay to take a photograph of myself or my daughter. Sometimes these photographs end up on facebook. Should permission be obtained? I try to only take photographs at private play groups and ask permission first before I start snapping. At public events, I try to only include my daughter and those I have asked for permission in the photograph.
Your Thoughts
What are your thoughts on photographing strangers? What role do they play in your scrapbooks? Am I thinking about this too much or are most people not thinking about this topic enough? I haven’t even considered photographing a stranger as the subject–a whole other issue for a later date. Please comment below.

Related Post:
Ethical Photography Part I: Your Own Children

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  • Sometimes I photograph strangers. And I’ve actually posted some of those pictures on facebook (not scrapbooking exactly, but some variation thereof). However, it’s not a common practice, and it occurred to me how troubling it might have been to some parents when I posted pictures from my niece’s birthday party a couple of years ago. They may not have appreciated it, but most of them have friended me. After that, though, I mostly stopped posting or sharing pictures of strangers, even if I take them (intentionally).

  • admin

    It is a strange beast. On one hand, journalists routinely take photographs of strangers and profit from. Our photographs are routinely taken on security cameras. The precedent is to not ask permission. To ask permission seems radical. Maybe it is just my personal issue…one way to maintain some form of a private life. Thanks for the comment!