To ask or not?


TPF Noob!
Nov 8, 2005
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Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England
Hi all, had an unnerving experience today, hope someone can offer some advice. If I'm in the wrong then I'll hold my hand up. So I'm in a cafe and it has some interesting customers so I discretely take out my camera, pre-focus and set it on the table. Every so often I take a shot with it still on the table. Nice and discrete. I should add at this point no children were in any of the shots. Someone who was not even in the shots sees this and decides to inform my subjects. Then all hell let's loose. One woman objefcts strongly so I apologise for any offence caused, stop immediately, tell her I'm a student and offer to let her have the pictures. This isn't enough for one woman who holds out her hand and says" film. now." I tell her she's no chance as I'm in a public place (the technicality of which I have to look at) and decide to make a quick exit. Suffice to say my days of shooting in my small town centre are over for a while. I feel guilty for causing upset to these people, but if it wasn't for this busybody everything would be fine and dandy. Did I cross the line? I was just after some natural looking "street" shots and stopped immediately upon objections being raised. In future I'm just going to ask but at the end of the day did I commit such a sin?
Cheers, Lol
That person is ridiculous. Your just capturing life as it is. If you were taking pictures of people in compromising positions it might be different but I dont think taking picutres of random people in their natural state is wrong. Keep doing it, I bet you get some good candid shots.
I think what could have put people in an uncomfortable position, is trying to do it so descretely... putting the cam on the table etc... this sort of makes you guilty... even tho your not doing anything wrong. I would very obviously take pictures... out of the people walking past etc... that way its obvious to everyone that your just taking pictures... and not up to anything more sinister..... if someone then has a problem... either politley ask them to move out of your shot (thats the cheeky way!)... or withdraw and move on.
Producing a UK Press card and saying "tough" has worked wonders for me in the past. I don't like being a bad guy though, so I'm pretty good at it now. The best technique is to make like there's something wrong with your camera and keep peering it it, looking at the lens, looking out the window, looking at the table, all the while shooting the candids and pretending on the others!

I had a similar issue when I first tried "public" photography but fortunately it was less hostile.

I went to a local skate park and hung out for an hour or two watching everyone skate and then finally took my camera out and took some shots.

A few people did not seem to care but 2 or 3 got very upset demanding to know if I had taken and shots of them. One in paticular was ok with it once he found out I was not a professional or trying to sell the shots to a magazine or whatever but it was akward telling them that photography was "just a hobby" and these were for "personal use".

I can understand why they would be bothered by it, I just wish that I had been prepared for a reaction like that. It put me off of photographing people in public and to this day I dont think I have taken and shots of someone on the street. This is something I am going to have to work on I think.
Really a shame that they got that upset with you. I usuall don't have problems with people. I usually catch their attention and politely ask them. I tell them that I won't be invasive and they're usually okay with that. Then again, I'm from the Twin Cities and they're extremely easy going people.
So let me get this correct. You are in a cafe, you are sneaking photos of people without their permission, someone caught you doing this, someone gets upset, and now you wonder why or if you crossed the line.

Maybe they were upset due to their privacy being violated. Maybe they were concerned with what you are going to do with the photos. Maybe there is a reason they don't want their photos taken. Maybe you should have asked permission.

Maybe the laws in the U.K. are different as far as public places but I don't think because someone is in a cafe that you have the right to start snapping their photos without asking.

Put their shoes on your feet. If you were out to lunch with your spouse, kids, parents, whoever. You see some guy hiding his camera on the table sneaking photos. You find out he has taken some of you, would you be upset?

Ask permission, it's a lot eaiser than dealing with angry people and don't get me wrong, I know your pain. I have walked away from some good shots because I was told no.
OK, I don't like having my phot taken - thats why I like to be behind the camera. I wouldn't be happy knowing that I had been photographed in this way.

OK you wanted candid shots, but putting law aside, was it beyond the realms of possibility that your targets wuld have refused consent if you had asked them nicely? Probably not. You don't know though because you didn't ask them.

Your "discretion" was another persons "underhand" activity- their reactions extreme, but in response to what they may have found quite a threatening situation.
The irony is I didn't want to cause upset to anyone. I'm quite a shy fella so I figured it would be the best approach all round. A further irony is the pictures may come out a load of crap! Interesting how a topic such as this divides peoples opinions. Make no mistake, it's "ask first" for me from now on unless it's in a very public area such as an outdoor market where people are moving in confined areas. As regards the right to privacy, you have to look at the proliferation of CCTV cameras in our town centres and compare that to the harmless pursuit of taking pictures. I guess a lot of it is political correctness gone mad. I told the tale to my dad, a keen snapper in his day. he told me how he can remember commercial photographers would gather in our town centre and take photographs of children then hand a ticket to their parents to purchase the snap if they wanted. If only I could go back in time, life was much simpler then and men were not all presumed to be sex offenders or paedophiles.

Cheers, Lol
One thing I didn't think about.

Go into a cafe or any other place where people go, take a small printed informational sheet telling the patrons you are a student taking a photography class and you are looking for people willing to have their photo taken. Have the name of the school, maybe the teacher, and a contact phone number so they know it's for real. Offer them a free photo for their trouble. Might work.

Good luck!
You know the scene from Frankenstein where the villagers rush the place with burning torches? I'm the guy being chased at the moment so I think letting things lie is the best policy. At the end of the day I made a mistake and I held my hand up then as I do now. Still, best to learn the lesson early on .

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