Photographing Strangers – What Should We Consider?

Filming and photographing people in public is never really something I’ve thought about too much as it’s not something I do intentionally. The only times I can think of photographing strangers in public with intention is when I see a hot guy and the group chat wants proof.


I’m kidding; I don’t actually do this. Okay, I’ve done it a few times. But it’s not as if I’m publishing it and asides from that it’s not really negative, we’re simply appreciating a good-looking guy. So it’s fine. Right??

This topic got me thinking about all the photos I’ve taken and published to Facebook and Instagram, which although not focused on strangers, might have people in the photo who are not shown in their most flattering moment. What if someone were to zoom in on their face and make it a meme and then that individual was one day harmlessly scrolling through their newsfeed to see that meme? Unlikely, I know, but it’s something I pondered over. I looked back through some of my old travel photos and found images that included unsuspecting bypassers.



The photos were all taken in public places with the purpose of capturing the architecture and environment I was in, so does it really matter whether there are people in it? It such crowded public spaces it’s impossible not to capture a photo with stranger in it and it’s just as hard to not end up in other people’s photos. It’s kind of weird to think about how many other tourists have briefly captured me in their photos. Who knows how many people have pictures on their computer right now where I’m in the background! It sounds a bit creepy when I think of it that way. I have no way of knowing whether or not the people I’ve captured in my photos are okay with being there.

I couldn’t help but have a little LOL at this guy, you can’t tell in this photo but there were SO many people milling around this area to get a good shot of the whole open courtyard of the palace. This champ just lies on the ground to get the perfect shot!

People constantly have their phones with them 24/7 (literally, some people even sleep with their phones!) I’m no exception, I love my phone and it’s almost an extra limb. When I’m on own in public, chances are I’ll have it out, even if I’m not actually doing anything. You know the good ol’ pretending-I’m-texting-so-I-don’t-feel-awkward trick. I’m great at it. I’d even go as far to say that I’ve mastered the skill. People just really love their phones, particularly during public and even more so if they’re on their own in public. I think having your phone makes you feel less alone because you’re connected to everyone else.

Photographer Ming Thein discusses the ethics of street photography is his blog. His oversall conclusion on the topic is that common sense is key in public settings. There’s a certain public etiquette, a lot of strangers probably aren’t to worried about being photographed but if it is evident someone does not want to be photographed then it is polite to leave them be.

If photos are going to be published there’s the Photography Code of Ethics which is a good place to start when considering some of the different things person should think about when taking a photo of a stranger in public. Some of the things the code covers includes providing context of the photo, considering whether a subject is vulnerable, making sure to not intentionally stage a scene and ensuring you avoid altering the image in a way that misleads the audience or misrepresents the subject.


  • Related reading material:

The Ethics of Photographing Random Strangers on the Street

Why We Should Stop Posting Photos Of Strangers Online


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