To Take or Not to Take? That is the Question……

To take or not to take a photograph can be a moral question, as well as an ethical one.  Should we take it, or do we just ‘want’ to take it because it’s ‘there’.

I think the majority of us would not take a picture of a person, if they specifically asked us not to.  But can we over-ride this?

Whilst I’ve been creatively, non-creative, I’ve been reading a lot of books (I suspect the purchase of books of all sorts of genres, only comes second to what I spend on photography generally)… and one of the books I was looking at was “Another America: A Testimonial to the Amish, by Robert Weingarten – look him up – you can see some images online.  In fact here’s a link to some audio, and a video.  Three minutes if you can spare it….

He spent four years quietly photographing a group of people who most definitely did NOT want to be photographed – on his own admission, with a long lens.

Was this a genuine desire on his part to share this ‘unknown’ America – or was it a personal need to record something that maybe should have been left private?

Does the fact that the Amish live in ‘plain view’ give people the right to photograph them, or are they nothing more than fair game.

I relate this to a series of images taken by a photographer of homeless people on the street – and wonder if the same thing applies.  Some of the folk here could not object to the images being taken, because they didn’t know it had happened – is this right?  Especially when the photographer stands to make a profit out of the sales, or enters them into national / international competitions – with no formal release or agreement – and I’m not talking about traditional street photography here – as that’s a whole other can of worms…

One photographer justified the taking of homeless people pictures, by purchasing for the person, a coffee, or a meal – which is very laudable – but in the long run, is it ethical to swap a permanent image for a transient dinner?

Does the fact that these people are different from so called ‘normal’ society make the images act as a help for us to understand them, or could they be called (sometimes) nothing more than sneaky?

Weingarten’s images are all monochrome, and are quiet, peaceful scenes, and he says he treated the Amish with respect, though given that he met with some resistance, I’m not sure this was always the case.

Most Amish today will not pose for a photograph. Considering it a violation of the Second Commandment, which prohibits the making of “graven images,” the Amish believe any physical representation of themselves (whether a photograph, a painting, or film) promotes individualism and vanity, taking away from the values of community and humility by which they govern their lives. Occasionally, Amish people did have their photos taken, as you can see with the couple in this image who likely went to a studio for their portrait in 1875. But by the time photography became popular in America in the mid-19th century and photographers and researchers armed with cameras began appearing in Amish communities, most Amish objected to appearing in or posing for photographs entirely.


Do we have the right to photograph anyone, and everyone without their permission – and sometimes, do we have the right to publish those images, even if they have said no?

Author: Diane Seddon ARPS AFIAP CPAGB BPE3* - D Seddon Photography

I am a retired freelance photographer, based in Louth, Lincolnshire.

2 thoughts on “To Take or Not to Take? That is the Question……”

  1. Well there are some difficult questions to answer in your blog. I have watched the video clip, with interest. I have come into contact with the Amish on couple of visits to the USA, from the outside it would appear the Amish indeed try to live a life back in the days they first landed in America. You can see them in the horse and buggy in town and country lanes and dress in their traditional dress and long beards. I did notice there are modern items in the film clip in there community, also from my understanding, the young men are allowed to leave the normal community and experience modern life, and are encouraged to return to the Amish way of life, after they have sown their wild oats, of course some do not return. If later in life they would like to return to the old ways, I think it is very difficult to do so.
    As we photographers, well some of us anyway do not take images of people on the street for instance, and from time to time people have objected to a photographer taking street shots. This if done within the law you cannot be stopped, one of my questions I would ask if I was told not to take a picture, what about the CCTV cameras that are all over in concealed locations, taking the photos? don’t complain to the council or store etc do they. I would think it would be difficult not to capture some street scenes with people living on the street if you were on holiday in India or such places. I think if you give people due respect when taking pictures that is about all you can do.
    The other way of looking is , if for instance a photographic journalist is using pictures to add to a story is that ok? it may be the only way to get your story over to the public, true some journalist go over the line and interfere with peoples private life and that is not ethical. So some good talking points raised Diane, well done for you latest blog.


  2. I sometimes take candid shots of people – not that often, but I do. But if I was asked not to publish it/them, I wouldn’t. Would I delete it if asked? Depends. May be maybe not.
    As for right to take someones picture, then yes in the UK there is no right to privacy – within certain constraints, public place etc. But as photographers, just because we legally can doesn’t mean we should


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