Introduction to Documentary-style People Photography

Photo documentary is a discipline in photography that tells stories about a place or an issue by observing and photographing people in their environment. In the past few years, I have been lucky enough to shoot photo-documentary images for several geographic magazines and the marketing departments of Panasonic, Sony and Nikon. On these assignments I often get to travel to places that are completely new to me.  As budgets across the industry have dropped in the last few years, my visits are often very short and my job is to quickly find images that portray the spirit of each destination.

Photo documentary is arguably one of the most challenging branches of people photography. In many cases, you, the photographer, are not naturally part of the environment that you are photographing in and having an expensive camera in-front of your face makes you stand out of the crowd. Frequently time and the light are not on your side.

This article examines three methods that I often use to achieve strong images in unfamiliar or trying conditions.

Spontaneous, unplanned shooting:

Sugar candy boy Patan, Nepal. Sony A900, F2.8 1/250s

Despite what the name suggests, this does not mean that the photographer shoots thousands of frames hoping to get lucky. I'm talking about a well thought-out process that demands good knowledge of your camera gear.

The main idea behind this sort of spontaneous shooting is that the image is taken with the camera away from your eyes. This disguises the fact that you're taking a picture. People don’t suspect that you may be shooting from the hip, or while holding the camera to your chest and so are more likely to continue to behave unselfconsciously. This allows you to 'sneak' a shot.

One way to prepare for random shooting is to expose for the light conditions while not pointing the camera at the subject. I use manual exposure or exposure lock so the exposure values will not shift as I recompose. At the same time I also chose the focusing point according to the desired composition or assess the distance and manually focus.

The 'Sugar candy boy' image, above, was taken in Durbar square in Patan (Kathmandu valley, Nepal). This is a wonderful location. As well as containing architectural marvels ,it is also a cultural and social centre. The local Nepalese are quite savvy when it comes to tourists with cameras. Some refuse to be photographed, others will happily pose for a small fee.  

To capture this image with a wideangle lens I put the camera to my hip and look toward a temple as I shoot a short sequence of frames.

Circus Performer

While shooting an article about a school of circus, I was wondering around in the back stage area. I noticed this performer practicing before her act. Not wanting to disturb her, I walked by and shot from the hip. I under estimated the speed of the arms, but I like the movement blur that was captured.  

Dart-Throwing Monk

This image of a dart throwing monk was captured at a game outside his monastery.The camera was on the ground tilted up. I manually focused as I could not see through  the viewfinder and shot a burst of frames.      

Even with lots of experience and an intimate knowledge of your gear, shooting spontaneously like this is by far the most wasteful way to photograph people. Back In the days of film, I remember vividly the welcoming smiles at the lab as I walked in with a small mountain of film rolls...

Planned / Setup shots: 

Boatman, Chitwan national park, Nepal. Nikon D300s, F3.8, 1/25s

By contrast, this method of photography is all about predicting a definitive moment that you want to capture and shooting the frame just as that moment appears. In 'predictive' photography you do all the preparation for the actual exposure before the camera is put to the eye.

Frequently it starts with checking out the location once or several times before you actually go to shoot. This allows you to familiarise yourself with patterns of behaviour and light conditions. It means you can predict what is likely to happen and when. Because you know what is likely to occur, you can anticipate the moment and put the camera to your eye at the very last moment. 

The reason to use this method is that if the camera is held to your eye as you wait for the right moment, that moment might never have come because people become self aware and alter their behavior. They may wish to pose or even ask not to photographed at all.   

The 'Boat Man' image, above, was taken while I was leading a photo tour to Nepal last year. We spent few days in Chitwan National park looking for wild life and enjoying the beauty of the jungle. At the end of a long jungle walk, we were picked up by a narrow river boat to go upriver to our accommodation. I found myself with this photo opportunity within a meter of my eyes. 

For this photo, I considered what would be the right light for the image, then waited for the sun to drop beyond the horizon to get softer light. I followed the rhythm of the boatman’s stroke so I got his arm just the way it appears in the image. Then, just like as in random photography, I prepared the exposure and focusing point before lifting the camera to my eye and firing away, and looked through the viewfinder to make sure that the horizon was relatively straight. 

Girl on Verandah

While getting my breath after a long day trekking I saw this verandah. I was fascinated by the limited palette of colour in the scene and as I thought about shooting it, the girl appeared from the door. While keeping talking to my porter (to my left) I set the exposure and focusing point. The girl looked above me to the street and I shot this frame quickly.

Outside the Central Temple, Lhasa

Late afternoon in Lhasa created a dramatic pattern of light and shade between the central temple buildings. I had checked out the venue a couple of days before and discovered that the crowd goes around the central temple in one direction. I walked with the crowd, passed through the light patch, counted six steps (about 3 meters) turned around and shot who ever passed through the light patch.

Unlike spontaneous photography, once you lift the camera to your eyes and shoot, when you plan a shot the person you have photographed is usually aware of what you are doing, so a second 'take' is not always possible. That makes choosing the precise moment even more important.   

Confrontational shooting:

On top of a barn, Kagbeni, Nepal. Sony A900, F1.4, 1/800s

At times there is no way to conceal the fact that you are in a place with a camera and you and your subject are facing one-other. Sometimes people are very happy to be photographed and even ask you to do so. However, most times, these moments are over within a split second and one must react very quickly. In most cases I try and have a narrow depth of field focused on the eyes and keep the background soft. That keeps the viewers' 'focus' trained on the face of the person photographed.

The image above was taken in Kagbeni, in Nepal. This is a medieval looking village in the Annapurna range. I was on top of a barn to get a better look at the sky line of the village as I heard a sound behind me. This boy popped his head up to check who was making noise on the roof of the family barn. There was no way to pretend that I was not there with a camera, so I decided to capture this interaction between us. Quickly I changed the exposure setting to the widest aperture to isolate the boy’s face from the background and shot a quick burst of images before he disappeared. 

Inside a monastery

I photographed this monastery as part of UNESCO assignment. Inside there was one young monk and one photographer (me!). I noticed side light from an open door lifting the boy from the dark background.There was no way to go about it apart from taking an environmental portrait. It was too good an opportunity to miss.

Mule Driver

I was approached by this mule caravan driver to be photographed. Shallow depth of field lifted the face from the background.

Either in a far away exotic location or in your local weekend market, these methods can help you create strong images of people in the environment. 


Giora Dan is an internationally published documentary and commercial photographer based in Christchurch New Zealand. His images have been widely published in geographical magazines in North America, Europe, Africa and the Asia/ Pacific region, including NZ Geographic, the  Smithsonian Magazine and British Geographical. You can see more of his work at his website, www.gioradan.com

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.

Comments

Total comments: 66
liveagain
By liveagain (May 29, 2012)

Good reading. Thanks for sharing your experience and the great tips, Gioradan.

0 upvotes
Michael Switzer
By Michael Switzer (Feb 14, 2012)

I have worked most of my adult life as both a documentary and scripted film director. In the case of documentaries no releases were required if we were shooting in public. Ever. When "sets" on a scripted movie were in large public areas signs were posted on the periphery notifying the public that entering the area where we were shooting would be giving consent to be photographed. So again, no signed releases were necessary.

0 upvotes
Alex Notpro
By Alex Notpro (Jan 2, 2012)

I enjoy secretly taking pictures of people who are secretly taking pictures of other people... check out this example: http://www.flickr.com/photos/atramos/5272950648/

BTW, you might want to try a more confrontational style: "Excuse me, I'm trying to take a picture, would you mind stepping aside for a second so you don't ruin my shot?" (say this immediately AFTER bringing the camera do your eye and taking the shot)

0 upvotes
Gioradan
By Gioradan (Jan 2, 2012)

Nice picture..! She cannot be more obvious. But I do admire her flexibility.

I'll try your super confrontational method when I am next on the road. :)

0 upvotes
Gioradan
By Gioradan (Jan 2, 2012)

Continue....

-I sense that some think that taking pictures the way it presented in the article is striping people from their dignity. I disagree with this notion. I only photograph what is easily viewable to all if you were there. My craft is the way I capture the image with exposure choices and framing.

Please think about some of the key images from the Vietnam war. If photographers at the time would not be able to shoot and publish these images we will still be in the dark to how bad it really was.

1 upvote
Gioradan
By Gioradan (Jan 2, 2012)

I’ll take it that most of the concerns about privacy and model release come from developed world comments. Let me explain my views.
-Privacy and personal space are not universal. In my travels, particularly in India, I found that my personal space and privacy are often invaded. In local term I was treated like a local but coming from New Zealand were space is abundant, it seems that every body were in my face.

Shooting for the Red Cross/ Crescent in the Pacific I been asked to avoid photographing children naked in the water. In the past they had people trying to “volunteer” to locations where images of nude kids featured in IFRC publications. So there is something to consider when shooting.

... Continue

1 upvote
l_d_allan
By l_d_allan (Dec 27, 2011)

I would appreciate a follow-up on where/when/how such images can and cannot be used. I am a bit surprised the included pictures can be used in a public article such as this one without model releases, but I acknowledge ignorance on this.

Certainly, a photograper can legally take pictures at a public place for private use. And the rules are different for news, people in the news, and public figures.

However, I've also been confronted by upset parents at a soccer game while taking pictures. And what about uploading images of strangers to a public photo-sharing site? And when underage children are involved?

I think I'd be unhappy if this article had a candid picture of me, taken at a public place, but without a model release.

0 upvotes
jsis
By jsis (Dec 27, 2011)

model release is required if the photo is going to be published elsewhere without the original photographer's supervision or intent, it's currently a grey area but in most cases model release is not required for journalism (but it does matter if you are creating stock photos or photos used for commercials).

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Alex Notpro
By Alex Notpro (Jan 2, 2012)

There is actually no law that requires a model release. Model release is only required by the publisher if they think they could be sued by the model. It all comes down to civil liabilities, i.e. if somebody has been unknowingly ripped off then you follow the money to see who is responsible. The model would have to demonstrate they suffered financial losses (loss of wages, loss of sales, personal hardship, etc) as a result of publication of the image. Unless you're running a multi million dollar ad campaign, or some other activity that would normally require compensating the model, the Model Release is unnecessary.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 10 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Rubenski
By Rubenski (Jan 3, 2012)

Hi Alex, I think you're completely wrong in this assessment of the model release and it's very dangerous to think like this. Sign up for iStockphoto and you'll know what I mean. The person photographed - anyone - can sue you without having to prove a single thing. You simple can't use his of her photo, period (even a person in a crowd of hardly recognizably people!). I know more than a few pro's and amateurs that got into serious trouble by laywers who asked enormous amount 'in the interests of their clients' just to try and rip you off. And they seem to be able to find their pictures even if you thought nobody could. And if you need a laywer it's going to cost you big time! Once again, your story is naiv and untrue, no offence meant but I want to warn every photographer.

0 upvotes
Gioradan
By Gioradan (Jan 5, 2012)

Hi Alex & Rubenski,
The truth is somewhere between both of your comments.
I had my documentary images published world wide without model release.
And that include the US magazines that are aware of silly law suites.
In photo documentary model release is not necessary as long as the title is not derogative, misleading or offensive

Lets say you are photographing a riot and capture someone breaking in to a shop and stealing.
Your image is published in a news paper and bring to the arrest and imprisonment of this person.

Or something a bit more subtle. If you take pic’s at a music concert and you capture the crowd as they dance.
Later the band want this image in print on their live album.
There is no reasonable way to get model release.
Now lets say that in the crowd there is a man kissing a woman. This woman is not his wife, the wife find out because of the CD cover and file a divorce.

I like to hear your thoughts if these people can sue.

0 upvotes
incagraphy
By incagraphy (Jan 14, 2012)

just as my humble opinion, i would say the man in the concert should not be able to sue. He is doing whatever he is doing in a public place where other people could also see and tell his wife., even via her facebook wall (another public place). would he then sue his wife's friend for writing? or sue FB for providing this medium of communication?

is there a line (even if gray) between publishing a photo where a person is the leading subject and another photo where there is a crowd of people as subjects? In the former case, you are photographing that person with the surrounding around him/her. In the latter case you are photographing an environment (public) with that person in it.
Perhaps that line can designate when to get the model release and when not to bother.

0 upvotes
Gioradan
By Gioradan (Dec 27, 2011)

Again, thanks for the kind remarks regarding the article.
My view on documentary photography is that one should try and capture people in their environment going about their business and not their response the the photographer.
I feel that I need to explain a little further. The techniques discussed in the article are for situation when the photographer what to capture the moment without alter the scene.
I do not ask people to stop for me and pose. The young monk in the monastery (for example) was standing the way you see him in the image. I just captured a moment that already exist.

I love talking to people along the way and was invited in by people into their dwelling countless times. Desert tents, Pacific island huts and Tibetan mud houses. But yet, even in those circumstances when people know that I am there with a camera I try to capture them in a natural way so the images will show their live as I am not there.

3 upvotes
M T Wong
By M T Wong (Jan 1, 2012)

thanks for your tips. As for me, photos taken by natural ways are stunning!

0 upvotes
J Parker
By J Parker (Dec 26, 2011)

Thank you for another phenomenal article!

0 upvotes
J Parker
By J Parker (Dec 26, 2011)

I've found an ideal street shooting camera to be Sony's Cybershot DSC F707
-- although made 10 years ago, it's still the most versatile camera I've ever used for this style of photography. The entire lens swivels and allows you to frame at waist level very effectively -- you can also shoot in total silence. It has a Carl Zeiss lens that is not only bright at the wide end (2.0 at 38mm), but surprisingly bright at the long end also (2.4 at 190mm). Although it's great at covert shooting at waist level (even at night thanks to its built in infrared abilities), it's also an excellent ice breaker for getting permission for a photo (even ten years after its release, I find people are intrigued about its unique look and don't mind being photographed by it -- go figure). If you can deal with only 5 megapixels, it takes photos that I often can't distinguish from my DSLR. On Amazon or Ebay, you might be able to grab one for about $80 -- an absolute steal for a camera way ahead of its time.

2 upvotes
tommy leong
By tommy leong (Dec 28, 2011)

yes, that SONY is really special

thanks for the reminder
I will go see if I can get that or its elder brother.

0 upvotes
ecuadordave
By ecuadordave (Dec 26, 2011)

Thank you Giora, for the great insights. Since I live in the Andes of South America, I have great opportunities for amazing documentary-style images. Thank you for these insights. I would really appreciate it if you could share a little more detail about how you set up exposure before the shot and without looking through the viewfinder. Are you using the top LCD panel to get a meter reading, or have you just memorized the settings based on lighting conditions?

0 upvotes
jack Doeski
By jack Doeski (Dec 26, 2011)

A practical article by an experienced photographer. Useful and to the point. I will work on my exposure lock and fixed focus. Thank you.

0 upvotes
MysticX
By MysticX (Dec 26, 2011)

The article is very good and it reveals the truth: the DSLR camera is not always the best tool when it comes to people spontaneous shooting.

There are 2 things that distracts the subject.
Putting camera at your eye
And autofocus

Ancient Rolleiflex was better just because you could frame with camera waist level

Maybe we'll see in the coming years a smaller mirrorless 35x24mm sensor camera with a 40mm pancake and a mobile digital screen. Hopefully this combo will allow waist level digital photos.

1 upvote
Antonio de Curtis
By Antonio de Curtis (Dec 30, 2011)

a rolleiflex isn't ancient, please ...

0 upvotes
gfinnstrom
By gfinnstrom (Dec 26, 2011)

Within the last year I have been doing event and documentary at Bike and Classic Car events... on a normal night I will take photos of the Bikes and the Cars and the people... When I am approached I explain what I am doing then I will give them my email address so they can get a copy of the photo (s) of them or their vehicle... At birthday party events I am asked to take photos some will be from the hip some regular..... since I have been doing the events I have never Had any problems and most of the people who get my email address and send me a request for their photos all have been happy... I do not do surveillance photos any more and found communications is very helpful... on the flip side I was doing photos for a Harley Davidson Store the new pr person wanted photos of the people attending... Unless one was wearing a store uniform shirt those same people at the event do not want their photos taken as mentioned in one of the replies a telephoto lens is helpful...

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
The Lazy Photographer
By The Lazy Photographer (Dec 26, 2011)

Firstly, love the article.
Me, I think it's not an either or subject. When I'm shooting street photography there are times when I stop and talk to the subject and times when I shoot from the hip. I think choosing those times comes down to experience. If you think you risk the chance of getting your face punched in, maybe it's best to talk to your subject beforehand. If talking to the subject will absolutely ruin any chance of a good shot, then just take it and apologize later, if necessary. Here are a few examples of both, from my perspective.

From the hip:
http://lazyphotographr.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/pull-my-finger/

Subject aware:
http://lazyphotographr.wordpress.com/2011/09/11/the-clown-of-cabbagetown/

Comment edited 17 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
jedinstvo
By jedinstvo (Dec 26, 2011)

When I was 18 I was in Davenport, Calif., 20 miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1. There's a little cafe there and four Harleys were out in front. As I stood on the opposite side of the two-lane road four Hells Angels came out of the restaurant. I raised my Leica and shot one frame. A giant Hells Angel, close to seven feet tall, came strolling casually across the road, in no hurry. He stopped about six inches from me and said calmly "Don't you think you should ask people's permission before you take their picture?" I had to admit I agreed with him. And ever since, almost 45 years, I've established a human relationship with almost everybody I've photographed. Makes for better photos. Almost everybody likes to have their picture taken. When they're cooperating it goes better.

0 upvotes
Gioradan
By Gioradan (Dec 29, 2011)

This is exactly my point! If you used the techniques I explained in the article (particularly the first one) you would avoid the confrontation.
You must been very obvious if the guy saw you from across the road, wouldn’t you say?

0 upvotes
bossnas
By bossnas (Dec 25, 2011)

I prefer to ask permission and have a brief chat with my subject when I'm doing street photography. It's more interesting for me. I've found people usually either flattered or curious about why I want to photograph them. It might be because I like to use old film cameras but I get way more people agreeing than I get rejections.

Take a look: http://www.simplyoxford.com

I only shoot one single frame and then move on. No one gets hassled or feels their privacy invaded by the paparazzi.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Zoomstein
By Zoomstein (Dec 25, 2011)

Thank you for beautiful images and very good advice. It's so cool Dpreview is now posting articles like this one!

Merry Christmas everyone;)

2 upvotes
Jonathan F/2
By Jonathan F/2 (Dec 25, 2011)

I really don't care for the covert method of shooting street candids. A 70-200 can capture more interesting shots in my opinion. The street wide angle method is so passé.

And for all those who are all uptight about street photography, go see the world and get out of your boring suburban bubble. It's not surprising that the sheep are so sheepish about confrontation.

0 upvotes
Burbclaver
By Burbclaver (Dec 28, 2011)

"And for all those who are all uptight about street photography, go see the world and get out of your boring suburban bubble. It's not surprising that the sheep are so sheepish about confrontation." - Why so offensive and judgmental? There is nothing wrong with using a little sensitivity in how and who you are shooting.

0 upvotes
Jonathan F/2
By Jonathan F/2 (Dec 25, 2011)

Accidental posting.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
Jonathan F/2
By Jonathan F/2 (Dec 25, 2011)

Accidental posting.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Gioradan
By Gioradan (Dec 25, 2011)

Thanks for your question thielges.
Usually I can sense if my camera is unwelcome. Twice I been confronted by people, I always respect these wishes and avoid photographing them. In case I did took a picture of them before their objection I will not publish it.
I also respect religious grounds where photography is not allowed.
I do this type of work because of empathy and interest in people and cultures, so respect to the people and the places is part of the ethic.

Regarding mirror-less cameras: I think that the latest crop of APS-C ( Sony NEX-7, Samsung NX200) are up to the quality that I am looking for.
However this will not change the need for the methods mentioned in the article.
“Sugar candy boy” will be up to what you are doing in a spilt of a second if you compose while looking at the screen that close to him.

And last, while AF assist light are great, it is a sure way to ‘shout‘ “I’m here taking pics!” So for this type of people photography you better turn them of

0 upvotes
Yanko Kitanov
By Yanko Kitanov (Dec 24, 2011)

The combo that I prefer to use for candid street documentary is:

The Sony NEX c3 with the strap regulated to a waist level, the screen swiveled, the focus assist highlighting turned on and with a 1960's Sonnar 50mm f/1.5, or even better and even older Sumitar 50 f/2.0.

0 upvotes
techmine
By techmine (Dec 24, 2011)

In the first approach you mentioned that you would manually focus. It's hard for me to understand how and why focus is manual? Especially when you are not composing through viewfinder. Won't you run the risk of getting slightly out of focus pics? I would just point the camera at the subject and let auto focus do the job. Am I missing something?

0 upvotes
WayneHuangPhoto
By WayneHuangPhoto (Dec 24, 2011)

When you're unable to look through the viewfinder, your chances of focusing on the face with AF are low, unless your camera has face-detection. If you have a shallow DOF, then if you misfocus, the shot is totally unusable. Depending on your proximity to your subject and what you want to emphasize, you may or may not want background blur. By manual focusing, and using the distance chart on your lens to approximate the distance between camera and focus interest, and setting an appropriate DOF to allow some buffer space in case the subject moves in distance you have better control over focus and a better chance of focus than relying on the AF. This is just my experience with shooting from the hip. I still use an old 5D with none of that fancy pants face detection.

2 upvotes
Graystar
By Graystar (Dec 24, 2011)

In that kind of dim light I use my Nikon's AF Assist light function, which I keep on MyMenu to turn it on/off when necessary. The AF Assist light from my flash unit is even better.

0 upvotes
angelhappy
By angelhappy (Dec 24, 2011)

You people are uptight. If we had to ask for permission on every shot we take then you better off taking another line of work.

8 upvotes
Burbclaver
By Burbclaver (Dec 24, 2011)

I have another line of work. It's called commercial and portrait photography.

Good look with your attitude, but you only have to Google "photographer punched" "camera smashed" etc. to see that the general public has no interest in whether you need permission or not. Go to a public park and start taking pictures of kids and see how long your rights are protected for. Maybe, because you are a woman, you can get away with it, but the world's attitude to the street photographer has changed. If you go to even remote places now, you will be asked for money to take people's pictures. I support people's right to do so if you are making money from it.

2 upvotes
Irakly Shanidze
By Irakly Shanidze (Dec 25, 2011)

:)
In fact, it is better to apologize after the fact than to ask for permission before. This effective strategy I cherish since my early childhood.

To Burbclaver: I have even more another line of work than you. It is called advertising photography. Things in the industry have changed a lot lately, and I find myself more and more often doing street candid photography for one of my clients. The brief says clearly: "candid means that subjects are unaware of their participation in a photographed scene". Do you think it is possible to pay someone first and then make him unaware of your activity? Seriously...

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 9 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
Burbclaver
By Burbclaver (Dec 28, 2011)

To Irakly: How does that work? I thought you needed a model release to put someone into an advertisement. If I found my picture being used to advertise anything without permission I think I would be incensed.

0 upvotes
M T Wong
By M T Wong (Jan 2, 2012)

In China, most people in big cities such as Shanghai and Beijing are not so uptight about their participation in a photographed scene. I guess they show such a calm because they are always so indifferent to what is going on around them... But in rural area, more and more peasants start to ask for money to participate in photographing. Well, they do need it, but I just feel a little uncomfortable to see a photo with people laughing so artificially.

0 upvotes
ssh33
By ssh33 (Dec 24, 2011)

Cool trip.

0 upvotes
tim mcgloin
By tim mcgloin (Dec 24, 2011)

I too believe we should ask permission. I think Dorothea Lange always did that, and more so, she tried to spend some time with her subjects to get to know them. That way, the photo stands a better chance of revealing more of the character of the person, and it becomes a more collaborative effort.

1 upvote
Burbclaver
By Burbclaver (Dec 24, 2011)

I find major ethical issues with taking covert pictures of people, which prevents me from doing this kind of photography. Even though I know I have a legal right to take someone's picture in a public place, I would not do so without their knowledge and permission.

1 upvote
longman
By longman (Dec 24, 2011)

I have been taking photos like this for years. I have a 5D II with a battery grip and though it is a large camera it is a lot less obvious having my camera at hip level and using my second finger on the grips shutter release than having a smaller camera and using the main, top shutter release.
People have no idea I'm taking a shot, and with a bit of practice you can line up great photos.
I would never use a tilt LCD screen, way too obvious.

0 upvotes
ssh33
By ssh33 (Dec 24, 2011)

Pictures please or it did not happen.

3 upvotes
Oos
By Oos (Dec 24, 2011)

thanks, very useful information.

0 upvotes
jinhaibj
By jinhaibj (Dec 24, 2011)

good

0 upvotes
Henry Richardson
By Henry Richardson (Dec 24, 2011)

Thank you for taking the time to write this article. I do a lot of similar photography also, although I don't do it professionally, so I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

0 upvotes
terzo k
By terzo k (Dec 24, 2011)

this is what tilt & swivel LCD screens are for

2 upvotes
Ryan Rosenberg
By Ryan Rosenberg (Dec 24, 2011)

Seems like a perfect chance for a mirrorless camera. Makes "shooting from the hip" so much easier. Plus the less "pro" the look, the less likely people are to react to the photographer.

I wonder why he does not switch?

2 upvotes
jmmgarza
By jmmgarza (Dec 24, 2011)

Nicely done. I can appreciate all your effort.

0 upvotes
Gioradan
By Gioradan (Dec 24, 2011)

Many thanks for your positive comments.
I do not carry a model release form with me.
One of the obvious reasons is that I do not want people to know that they have been photographed. One other aspect is that most people I photograph do not read or write english and that will make the model release legally worthless.
The two key issues for publishing this type of images are in the titling and use of the image.
You can use images like this for news type publishing in digital, printed and broadcasted media. But anything promoting a commercial entity under ( say) the dart throwing monk is a no go zone. When it comes to titles, make sure that the title does not pass judgement that you cannot backup. Something like “The boatman preferred being photographed with brand X...” can put you in the deep end of a law suit, and will be a sure way to be dumped by that brand from any future engagements.
I hope it helps
Giora

0 upvotes
gail
By gail (Dec 27, 2011)

Very interesting and useful article. I have a few questions:

You stated: "One of the obvious reasons is that I do not want people to know that they have been photographed. One other aspect is that most people I photograph do not read or write english and that will make the model release legally worthless."

So how to you handle this when people do read or write English? If you don't want most people to know that you've photographed them, and they happen to see their photo published in a prominent magazine or on a website, are you legally okay? When I take photos of people on the street, I sometimes wonder if it's legal to post their photos in my online galleries, or even in these forums.

0 upvotes
jsis
By jsis (Dec 27, 2011)

If it is for the purpose of journalism and artistry, then no, I don't think that you need model release form. If you want it to be published for stock photography (where the original photographer has no control over the distribution) then yes, model release forms are most likely required.

0 upvotes
orpheo
By orpheo (Dec 31, 2011)

I'm a little surprised that the laws in the US should be less strict than here in Switzerland...
If I interpreted everything right, in Switzerland there is no general exception for journalistic or artistic use, it still depends on what the picture is about. If the person is the main subject of the picture, as in the posted examples, it would be a no-go to publish them anywhere (no, not even in your online-gallery or a forum) without their consent. The only exception is to "people of common interest" (celebrities). And in the documentary of a PUBLIC event you only get away with "recognizable" persons, if they are not the main subject.

Sad enough for the genre of street photography, I think. But beeing it like it is, ignoring this while visiting other countries where "people don't read or write english" smells just a little like exploitation. Is it ok, just because the particular country might not have the same protection of personal rights yet? Hm...

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Gioradan
By Gioradan (Dec 31, 2011)

I am not familiar with Switzerland laws. But I found it hard to believe that every person appearing in the printed and broadcasted media signed a model release.
Did the local newspapers printed images of people rioting in the UK? If so, did they insist on model release? Surly not. Does National Geographic channel or magazine available in Switzerland? Many images there are taken without model release.
Out of curiosity, if a citizen of Switzerland photograph images like my own outside Switzerland, are they going to be arrested when publishing?
In my line of photography I photograph in many places including English speaking countries. I still do not carry model release for docu‘ type of work.
If the image is not derogative or misrepresenting the person photographed (including titles), I have no ethical issues and by law (in most countries) no legal concerns.

If Switzerland laws will be applied world over we will have a poor visual knowledge of our world.

1 upvote
orpheo
By orpheo (Dec 31, 2011)

I thought, this might be misleading, but my post was too long already ;)
Of course there are public events, where the main subject is the people participating. Like the public halloween-party-example in another comment, riots, city-marathon and so on. There the public interest to be informed is weighed higher than the personal rights of the participants, as long as you're not misrepresenting them (so that is actually an exception for journalsm.).
There will often be recognizable "innocent bystanders" on this sort of picture, or it is of interest to document, that there are visitors and that they are exited etc. But this doesn't give you the right to publish for example a series of visitors portraits, where the event itself is not even visible anymore.
Obviously there are a lot of grey zones, where no swiss court has ever defined the exact borders. As far as I know, there is no distinction between professional photographers, doing their work and amateurs.

0 upvotes
orpheo
By orpheo (Dec 31, 2011)

Which leads to your question. It is not an "official delict", so the persons in the pictures have to acclaim their rights or nothing at all will happen.

This is where my ethical question comes in. The people in your pictures will probably never realise that a picture of them was published somewhere. And possibly someone earned money and/or fame with it. Does that make it okay, to do it abroad, when at home it would be forbidden?

National Geographic Magazin and similar publications are available here too. In the context of a doc you could say there is a public interest to be informed about the people in other places, what they look like, what they wear etc.
But I'm not sure what would happen, if one of the portraied persons would want their picture removed.

Hope this helps to clarify. I expected the laws in the US to be at least as strict but maybe not in New Zealand(?)

0 upvotes
thielges
By thielges (Dec 24, 2011)

Thanks for this article Giora, I find this info useful. I have one question: it seems as if many shots are made without the permission of the subject. How do you handle situations when the subject has realized that they have been photographed and object. Possibly they want money or perhaps they want the photo deleted.

As for other questions regarding the model release here I believe that photojournalists are exempt.

0 upvotes
oscarmc
By oscarmc (Dec 24, 2011)

Can we publish the images without the model permission?

0 upvotes
l_d_allan
By l_d_allan (Dec 24, 2011)

Are model releases required?

1 upvote
rockjano
By rockjano (Dec 23, 2011)

Great article!!!

0 upvotes
Slobodan Dimitrov
By Slobodan Dimitrov (Dec 23, 2011)

This is more of an example of travel photography, than anything else!

0 upvotes
Kozak Imre Oliver
By Kozak Imre Oliver (Dec 23, 2011)

I find your article so interesting. Got me rally inspiried.

0 upvotes
Michael J Davis
By Michael J Davis (Dec 23, 2011)

Nice short article providing an introduction to various aspects of photo reportage. I enjoyed it, thanks.

M.

1 upvote
Total comments: 66