Is your face all over the web?
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I love taking photos: it is a hobby I have been doing for many years and I enjoy it equally with my DSLR camera as well as my iPhone. I like to take photos documenting my travels; photos of interesting street scenes; but most of all I like to take photos of people.
Perhaps you do too? But how much thought have you ever given much thought as to whether you should?
The proliferation of camera phones and the popularity of photo-sharing social media platforms such as Instagram or Flickr has in many ways normalised the taking of and posting of photos of just about anything and anyone on the Internet. And a large portion of these photos show people. A quick search of hashtags on Instagram shows that there are 1,8 million photos of #people, 2,3 million of # children, 2 million of # kids, 3.5 million of #woman.
Of course, not all of these photos are of strangers (there are a lot of ‘selfies’), or taken without permission, but think about the photos you recently took on your phone, or the photos you’ve seen shared by your friends on social media – do you have the right to have taken them? Should you have taken them? Could the person you photographed seek recourse?
There is a lot of information on the Internet about what photographers (and that includes you too, casual Instagrammer) are and are not allowed to take photos of. Photography is generally protected under the right to free speech or the right to expression – but just like in the case of writing or filming, these rights need to be balanced with the rights of others to privacy, dignity, protection as well as copyright laws. Remember too, that these laws differ from country to country, and in many places even if something is legally allowed, it may still constitute a social or cultural taboo.
Legal considerations aside, a lot of the answers to these questions depend on ethics, rather than on laws. In many places you are legally allowed to take photos of just about anything and anyone so long as you – and they – are in a public place. Indeed you may not even be aware of the hundreds of public security cameras that are capturing your image in most of the world’s big cities.
So do you need to ask strangers for their permission before you take and publish their photo? A lot of people will say no, especially since the act of asking will sometimes put someone off from whatever they were doing, or make them act unnatural or stiff on camera, ruining that perfect shot. Others will say it is only common courtesy that you ask – and if you plan to share them on a blog, that you inform them. But is this practical for every single photo that everyone takes and shares on social media?
As a photographer it is easy to say ‘no’ very quickly, but consider for a few minutes the following scenario – someone takes a very unflattering photo of you doing something in public and puts it up online. Someone else – or even the original photographer – writes an equally-unflattering caption and suddenly the photo is doing the rounds on Facebook and Twitter and everyone is having a laugh at your expense. Or in a milder scenario, someone takes a photo of you, which gets uploaded on to a photo-sharing site, where another person decides to use it in a brochure or a magazine article because the photographer has given them permission…perhaps it is a nice brochure about tourism or food, but maybe it is about something embarrassing, or promotes something that you do not agree with.
Take this: a few years ago a photo of a friend of mine at a party was sourced from the social media album of the night club she had gone to and was used in an anti-drunk driving campaign. She was incredibly upset that a photo of her was used out of context and made the suggestion that she might have been drinking and driving that night.
Would you care? Would you try to stop it? Or does it just depend on the context and is this simply the reality of the world we live in?