strangers as subjects

Travel Forums Travel Photography strangers as subjects

1. Posted by verve (Budding Member 9 posts) 16y Star this if you like it!

hello all

was wondering how you go about snapping shots of complete strangers. do you ask the subject before hand or do you just go about with the shot no questions asked. i was in NYC this weekend and obviously there are loads of opportunities there. for instance, i didn't know whether or not i should capture a little girl in a shot without asking her mother, who was 10 feet away, first. I didn't think much about it, but i do want to be courteous to people in their space and time. How do you go about doing it?

2. Posted by Peter (Admin 6854 posts) 16y Star this if you like it!

Hey Verve,

Good question :) I actually don't take many pictures of people for that reason I guess - because it generally feels awkward to setup the shot.

The times that I have taken pictures of people, I usually pretend I'm getting a picture of something else.

Other situations where it has been easy to take pictures of people, is when they are kids and they are clamoring to get a shot of themselves taken. You don't get that opportunity much in western countries though.

I've also done a lot of video'ing though and for some reason never have really had much problem shooting people in that situation. Perhaps it's hiding behind a lens that makes it easier. It's still hard work getting close up shots though

I'd be interested to hear others' ideas as well.


3. Posted by lisamac (Budding Member 2 posts) 16y Star this if you like it!

I've generally found that asking people if you can take their photo is the right thing to do. If they say no you respect it. Of course, the rules are a bit different if you're taking candid photographs. Close-ups certainly seem to demand the subject's permission. Photographing strangers is a difficult thing because you don't want to make anyone feel awkward, offend them or make them feel like they are an animal in the zoo.

4. Posted by mitjamitja (Budding Member 8 posts) 15y Star this if you like it!

I always ask people when i photograph them. At least for portraits. And most say yes, some say no. I think the more the person is outstanding or unusual the more chances you have for getting a permission. I guess they are more self confident.
It also depends on the country where are you taking pictures. For example, I live in Slovenia (Europe) and people here are not very fond of beeing photographed, while i heard that in Asia, they mostly say yes. But i also think it helps if your a foreigner, because people trust foreigner more (they know u are not a journalist and that you only want to take some pictures of the natives)

5. Posted by lex (Full Member 32 posts) 15y Star this if you like it!

Hey guys.
As has been said it really depends where you are - here in the UK i think that an unhappy majority of people would fly off the handle completely if you took a picture of their kid - sadly there is the most incredible paranoia and suspicion of strangers around children in this country. On the other hand in the parts of Europe I've been to people have tended to take it as a compliment on their beautiful offspring!
I think it's definitely best and more polite to ask permission but of course that tends to spoil the natural look - even if people dont look at the camera once they know they're being watched the pose is very different.
Aiming for another area or building is a good suggestion but i still got cursed by a very angry ghanaian market lady for aiming in her general direction and my camera did actually cease to function completely a week later!!! Spooky.
The other thing about asking is people can demand to be paid - its quite a well-known student earner in oxford and cambridge to charge tourists anything between £5-10 for a photos of them in robes in front of college buildings. Thats practically extortion! Though in poorer countries i think thats fair enough.

6. Posted by iloveflyin (Full Member 159 posts) 15y Star this if you like it!

I've taking candid shots of people since 1966, and only one time, that a vedor at a grilled squid stand in Nikko, Japan showed some displeasure. My answer is depends on where and when. I seldom ask people for permission to take candid shots in Japan, because, it is the land of cameras. Every body takes pictures or own a camera. When you go to festival, parks, beaches, you just point and shoot. In America, I take candid shots of people during fairs, or where there is a great number of people gathering. I make a habit of not taking pictures of children which I don't know. People here would call the police, thinking you want to harm their kids. Overseas, I take lots of candids without asking, especially, local people know that you're a foreigner, they often don't mind. At some location, like at New Territory, Hong Kong, some women dressed up in traditional costumes and charge you a dollar to take their pictures, whether you ask them or not. I used to owe a 90 degree lens, which fits into your regular lens filter threat. With it I could take pictures at 90 degree angle. But, I thought it was kinda sneeky, dishonest, so I left it somewhere in my junk pile. I found out most people don't mind if you take their pictures (some might think it great that you find something interesting about them). However, I don't dare to take pictures of some homeless on the street, unless you ask their permission, otherwise, they might feel offended, and do you much harm!

7. Posted by Whitespin (First Time Poster 1 posts) 15y Star this if you like it!


I am a great people watcher as is my good lady. We both like to take candid photos in all sorts of situations. Last year we were at a country fair in Jersey UK. At the fair there was a Punch & Judy man with a large audience of kids aged from 5 to 95. We sat slightly behind and to one side of the performer and had a great view of the audience's faces.

Using a 400 mm lense I took many close ups and out of this audience of over 100 people only one, a young man noticed and moved quite deliberately out of shot. I think being a couple does help and also looking at a situation and trying to read the atmosphere also helps. Some material would be totally spoilt if the subjects knew they were being filmed, yet at other times you need to get the persons co-operation. With the right approach we find it rare for people to refuse.

8. Posted by Rach-a (Respected Member 368 posts) 15y Star this if you like it!

Hi all,

Yep I'd have no problem taking a photo of people say for instance in a big festival or carnival but as for tribes, families every day people I would always ask. I wouldn't like it if I was on a picnic say and some tourist or traveller just came up to me with a camera and snapped a shot if they hadn't asked first. I'd find it really rude and think they were invading my personal space However a polite 'can I take your photo' would sway my mind alot :) I would feel they have some manners and don't just want to barge in with the camera and so probably would let them providing I didn't look like I'd missed a weeks sleep or anything ;) I'd agree with lisamac too in what she says and I'd say in any situation with small groups of strangers or a stranger to always ask first

9. Posted by mtlchica (Respected Member 922 posts) 15y Star this if you like it!

Having taken a photojournalism class I just wanted to toss some stuff in the ring here! First, let me say that if I am taking a shot of someone, I prefer to ask just out of courtisy. However, we as photographers technically don't have to. In Canada, you only need the permission of your subject if you are going to publish or broadcast their image. Now, if you are on public property, it is fair game, if they are on private property (ie: stoops of their house or balcony of their apt) you have to check and double check with them and get something signed so that you can use their image. (There was this one trial where one woman sued a publication because a pic was taken of the woman sitting on her porch, it was published, and the woman got in trouble at work because she was actually playing hooky that day!) Also, if you are taking a crowd shot you don't need permission. Anyways, for those who don't ask and feel bad, lol, you can put your mind at ease!

However, If any of you out there argue that asking te subject will throw off the "natural feel" to a photo, I have to say that asking the subject a few minutes before you snap the shot will let them relax in a more natural state so you don't get a posed look (unless that is what you're going for).

Ok, enough of my babble!

Katie ;)

10. Posted by Rraven (Travel Guru 5924 posts) 15y Star this if you like it!

just a quick note to say 'Thanks' for all the tips, I was a bit worried about the laws around photographing strangers, one question though - would shops at the side of someones house count as private or public property ? i was at a small festival before and one of the locals opened the garage of their house and turned it into a little coffee shop, it looked really funny with people drinking in the 'shop' while in the background there is lanwmowers, old bikes, tools, etc........ i thought it would have counted as private property but a friend says that as the owner was charging for coffee it counted as public ???? helppp and once again thank you !