You’re not doing anything wrong

Inevitably, there will come a time when you will encounter someone who isn’t happy about being photographed on the street. There’s no getting away from this, but you must not let that put you off. I certainly think it’s OK to feel a little rattled, and maybe give yourself a break or change location.

South Bank Great Dane. Copyright: Mike Kemp

South Bank Great Dane. Copyright: Mike Kemp

In all honesty, I have only had 5 situations where people have had an issue with being photographed in 6 years of shooting. Two of those were entirely pleasant, just people who’d rather not be photographed. When they ask if you just took their picture, I am always honest, and always offer to delete the picture, and do so in front of them, with a genuine apology.

I mean, it’s fair enough isn’t it? Not wanting to be photographed, even if it’s entirely within the rights of the photographer…

I am constantly amazed at people on the street who allow us street photographers to get on with our work. I am gratefully to each and every person. And I have no problem if someone isn’t happy, even upset by it. You have no idea what is going on in their lives, so just take it on the chin, move on, delete, apologise, whatever feels right. Don’t argue about your rights to photograph what you like where you like, even though you are probably in the right. That ultimately does a disservice to the rest of us who work with a smile.

A few months back I watched a video of a ‘street photographer’ who actively advised people that if they had trouble with someone they were photographing, as he did in this actual video, that it’s ultimately for you to say: F**k you buddy. I can photograph what I want where I want etc. I was horrified that this was being shown as an example of how to deal with a situation.

This is not OK, and never will be. 

Irrespective of how upset a passer by is, and I don’t care if you are in the right. It’s never OK to behave like that.

So, yesterday I was working on one of my regular beats on a long-term project. I photographed a guy walking along with a cockatoo on his shoulder. He immediately reacted, shoving his hand into my camera saying: “No pictures! Ask permission first you arsehole!” and his friend “I’ll get my lawyer onto you!” It came as a heck of a surprise, and definitely rattled me slightly. They didn’t stop me though, just moved on shouting back. I smiled, held my hand up, and deleted the pictures. Then moved on to a different patch, not really feeling it where I was.

If this happens to you, the next time you go out, think of all the great experiences you’ve had out there. All the wonderful, generous people. Many of who may have difficult lives, yet who allow you with your smiling approach, to take the picture and move on.

Remember: You’re not doing anything wrong, if you’re working in a friendly way. But know when to pleasantly dispel a situation, not agitate it.

Have a great week!


PS: This week, the picture is from the same location I had trouble yesterday. On this occasion as I jumped in to photograph their dog urinating copiously, there was no problem. In fact the gentleman wrote to me two years later asking if I could send them the picture.