Should a Photographer Obtain Permission When Taking Portraits?

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As a property manager with Gramatan Management, Inc., Ana Docoito-Nelson has extensive experience in administration, customer service, and organizational leadership. Ana Docoito-Nelson has travelled widely and enjoys photography, particularly taking portraits of people within their cultural environment. When taking portraits, it’s important for a photographer to be aware of local laws, customs and etiquette.

In the United States, it is legal for people to be photographed in public places without their permission. As long as the images are not used for commercial purposes, a signed model release form is not required. Many photographers prefer to take pictures of people without asking for formal permission because they feel the resulting image is more natural and authentic. If necessary, permission to use the photo can be acquired after the photo has been taken. Other photographers prefer to approach the main subject in order to avoid potentially awkward encounters.

While privacy laws may differ from place to place, it is always a good idea for a photographer to be aware of local cultures and customs while travelling so that potential subjects are more willing to allow their portrait to be taken. Most times, photographers find that after a friendly, respectful encounter, a simple lift of the camera and a questioning look can serve as a universal sign for, “May I take your portrait?”

A photographer keeping these suggestions in mind can often obtain unique and interesting pictures of people in their cultural surroundings.