Posted on Aug 17, 2009 - 75 comments -

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Where is the line between legitimate photo and hurting the privacy of the person photographed?
The 'dry' rule says that everything that happens in public is by definition, well... public. But then there are restrictions for underage children and/or something that intentionally humiliates the subject.
Different countries got different rules and attitude towards our privacy and lately it seems that our right as photographers is under attack - The 'I'm a photographer and not a terrorist' uproar swept Twitter and the net only a few days ago. Although not directly connected to the question I asked at the beginning of the post, it's still got something to do with our rights (or obligations) as photographers with a freedom of "speech" - When this freedom is also bound to what we believe is right and wrong, both as a society and as individuals.
How do you decide if the photo is legitimate when confronted with the question?

Late addition - I can blame the late hour or my progressive (almost 30!) age. Forgot to add my favorite blog of the week!
Here it is - This week I would like to recommend a blog of a good friend of mine, Mahbubur (Mickey) Rahman. His blog excels in two (at least!) things that I enjoy very much - Photos... And posts that always makes me think and rethink my attitude towards photography or my works. Pay a visit to his photoblog - Learning to fly - and send him a warm hug from me. You can also find him on Twitter under @mickrhm.


I would like to thank all who left links to 'Still life' photos on the previous post! I had real fun going over the links, there are some incredible works!

... Late addition to the post.

Some of you might remember the photo-video project I posted here few weeks ago - Around the World, Street Photography in BNW.
Case you don't remember, here is a reminder -

Well, the thing is that it was published on one of the biggest Israeli news websites today -! (Translated link, scroll down for the video - Click 'ok' if error message pop-ups)

And another P.S :) -

Read David Bennett's reaction to this post - Photography After The Fact – A Glance And A Stare

There has been 75 Responses to 'Sunscreen' so far

  1. Mahbubur Rahman says:

    Great post - there is a broader distinction at play in this, which we discussed in class at one point. The idea of photojournalism came about in covering the news strictly, and in doing reportage photos. It was purely to inform people about what is happening. But then photographers started to apply filters and 'choose' what they wanted to photograph in order to present a story that they were interested in. In which case, the viewer only got part of the story, or they got a different story than the actual events. Which is ok, because the story presented did also happen. But since it is only a partial view or a modified view of the actual happenings, it was not classified as 'journalism' anymore - and thus the documentary genre was born. Today documentary photography is defined as reportage photography where the point of view of the photographer and his bias is clealy visible, to show the side of things he/she wanted to show... I think this plays a big part in what people choose to photograph, and often enough the photogs ethics will come in to play. There are laws against photographing unattended children and such because I assume people just don't wanna leave that upto chance and depend on the photogs ethics - there are plenty of photogs with no ethics (read - pararazzi). Whats wrong or right is then based on the individuals choice, and it then just falls under journalism or documentary. So to answer you question (IMO) the legimatacy is dependent on the aim of the picture, and a photo is off limits only if one thinks so... whether to publish it or not is a totally diff question :)

  2. yz says:

    cool shot, love the moment captured, the colours and the whole composition

  3. Suzy Walker says:

    Hmm.. this is a tricky one. IMHO I would not have taken this photo, I always ask myself the question “would I want a photo of me doing this on the internet”? The answer is invariable a resounding no. I think its much more acceptable to post an unflattering photo if that person is not recognisable (ie you cannot see their face) but its still not very nice. I am however not a street photographer so what do I know ;) The luckily the fish I take photos of have no voice. Well done on an thought-provoking post Ilan :)


  4. TIM TOPPLE says:

    oh my, wonderful! Now when i look at that i say "mmm, there's an opportunity i would have noticed, but my central nervous system would have stopped my camera hand lifting up." If people look great/cool etc i can do it, because i can then say "you look AMAZING i couldn't help it!" But this lady...i would feel like i'm taking the micky!
    Great shot though, and brave for risking incurring her wrath.

  5. Luis says:

    colorful and original, great idea, I like it

  6. pando says:

    Cool, private moment captured ;)

  7. Darragh says:

    very cool shot

  8. a.h.lex says:

    I think that the private should be protected. Photography is then natural in a frontier. It can make the private completely fast public. That does not apply naturally with each photo. Your photo achieves not yet completely the sector of “private” - in such a way I feel the photo at least.
    Besides, marvelous and merry photo in a mad situation.

  9. beanow says:

    Terrible shot...really strong :)

  10. Mario says:

    In the situations where I find myself wondering if it is "right" to take a photo of a certain person under certain circumstances, I just ask myself if I would agree for such a picture of myself gets published. That's all :-)

  11. Fritsch says:

    First of all let me say it Ilan: It's a great picture. Great colours & this very Ilan Bresler feel to it makes it special.

    The freedom of taking & showing pictures always assume a kind of moral value. This is what stops me from showing pictures of people I think I would disrespect or hurt in anyway. The picture above shows a person that decided to go outside the way she looks like and doing what she did. Knowing that she would be seen by everybody. I believe you could have been taking hundreds of this kind of pictures on that sunny day.

    I think it is all about showing respect to persons and situations. But who am I? I'm not a photographer, I'm the guy with a camera but I'm sure not a terrorist. All the best & safe travels, Fritsch.

  12. Ben Simo says:

    While I find this to be an interesting photo, I probably would not have posted it had I taken it.

    I like street photography that leads me to think about, and make up, stories behind the photo. Photos like this one certainly have me wanting to know more -- and perhaps, see less.

    Like Suzy, when deciding what photos to post of people online: I ask myself if I would greatly mind a photo like this on the Internet if it were of me, or my children, or my wife, or my friend.

    That being said, this does have me think twice about how I look in public. We never know when something may show up on the Internet. :)

  13. Simon Hucko says:

    This is great - very provocative. Always interesting to see humanity for what it really is, and not just the airbrushed liquified models.

    I love all of the colors here, and the person peaking out of the tower behind her

  14. Glenn says:

    Would I have taken this photo? Honestly I don't know. Had this been an attractive lady of any age would that have made a difference - most likely.

    However, if I was doing a story on the kind of people that goes to the beach and who still worry about their skin in the sun I probably would have taken the same shot and then tried for an interview and a short statement.

    But just to take a picture like this just for posting or to make fun of someone - no.

    However, in the context of what your post is, I think, and in looking for thoughts of others then this is, IMHO, a legitimate photo that is done quite nicely geared towards getting a response from others and in that you have been sucessful.

    Good job.

  15. Tammie Lee says:

    This photo is colorful and portrays the spirit of a summer. You also have portrayed a glimpse into life that is quite real.. The person peaking out of the window is great.
    I myself am shy about taking photos of people, yet I shoot endless nature photos. I like the idea of does it feel right to take this photo? Would you feel comfortable sending this lady a link to this post. I am thinking that out of respect it would be good to have permission before posting folks portraits on the web.
    You have asked an interesting and most likely important question.

  16. Xavi Heredia says:

    Well I think life is not only beauty and glamour, and photography should show this fact. I have this photo in flickr, which can be quite disgusting, but, at the end, it is nothing but one of the more natural acts of wild life. Equivalently, your photo shows a common situation in an appealing graphical way, so I think it is justified

  17. Ivar says:

    Its a tricky one, not sure I would have posted the picture, but again I might have. Great candid shot though and it shows life as it is, not the glamour that it is pretneded to be in most cases.

  18. Kamal says:

    Good grief. This image is great, with all the vibrant colors, and a bit disturbing at the same time. Haha. No offense to the lady.. =)
    Great moment you have captured here.

  19. photo restoration says:

    A great reportage photo.I am sure even the subject would enjoy looking at it!

  20. Turnbill says:

    Great capture of a mundane moment most of us (who leave near a beach) have seen countless times. However, you took the time to pull out your camera and preserve this little scene (and nicely compose it, with the lifeguard station and fence and beach in the background). Should you have taken this photo? I dunno. But I've certainly enjoyed it!

  21. flyingstars says:

    Wonderful the details, colours & the moment in the shot!

  22. PixeLuz says:

    A difficult question, Ilan. Or, most likely, a difficult answer. I've some photos in stock i can't decide to publish. But i shot them.

    I would say it also depends on the moment, the feeling, what the little voice coming from our conscious / unconscious mind tells us. It depends too on the context: am i making a reportage or is it just for blogging?

    So, coming now to your photo and your blog, i guess i wouldn't have. But i may change my mind tomorrow.

    Well, i said it, it's a difficult question.

  23. Harry says:

    Wow, quite a discussion here. I like this candid and think the lady who stood in public to apply her sunscreen has no legitimate complaint that some one took a photo. It is posted with a neutral, not derogatory caption. It is not commercially published. Lighten up, everyone.

  24. Arjan - PlasticDaisy says:

    Well she must have noticed your camera... it's a funny image, I'll give you that! But indeed it's on the line of privacy...

  25. bluechameleon says:

    I really admire you on taking this shot, I would not have had the nerve unless I had a long lens and was out of her view. This image is bold on so many levels, from the point of the photographer and the woman being photographed.

    My opinion is, if it's public, then I don't see there being many boundaries. I also commend her for not caring that she is out there, after all beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We are all people after all and we don't stay a slim and pretty 20-something forever. I say kudo's for her for being herself, and kudos to you for showing us the real world...all of it.

    Fantastic shot Ilan!

  26. Glen says:

    Love the colour and composition here. Great shot mate!


  27. John Maslowski says:

    Interesting shot. As long as the photo is taken with respect I think it is fine. Or in a situation such as this photo when people are fully aware of being out in public then I feel it is appropriate as long as it was done courteously, like this one.

  28. Snapshutter says:

    That one made me shudder just a bit. Some people probably don't care how they appear in public, others are resigned to be examples of .....ness. Myself I wouldn't have had the guts to take this photo.

  29. Elaine- says:

    well... stock response: nice legs, shame about the face lol jk... you bad boy for taking that picture!!

  30. Alex says:

    Tienes toda la razon en tu reflexion, mira si estamos mal mirados que en Barcelona hay que pagar por fotografiar con tripode en la calle, ya que estas ocupando un trozo de via publica.

  31. standley says:

    Definitly on the line of privacy, but on the other hand she is showing herself in public!
    Fine shot.

  32. Marcie says:

    It's a fine to what's private and what's not. But - she's out there...maybe even asking for her picture to be taken?!?!
    Thanks for the link!!!

  33. Anonymous

    very nice portrait - a social study

  34. Jon Rieley-Goddard says:

    Strong photo and compelling commentary. I go by the avoid-harm rule when it comes to faces.

  35. Cyndy says:

    Great shot! and great words as well =)

  36. daina says:

    The poor and vulnerable will always be photographed – just think of all the countless pictures of people sleeping in the street – yes it is public, but not by choice. The rich have tinted glass on their limousines :} So what is fair? All those photos of the poor and ghettos from all around the world – galleries and books are full of that, yet the privileged are not documented in the same way. But then life is not fair. As for photographers with a holier than thou attitude of being ever so polite and thoughtful and respectful - I have a sneaky suspicion that they just might not have the courage for street photography and paint it as an ethical choice, but I’m probably just a bit cynical. Street photography captures a time and a culture as no studio photography can and it contains the gamut of human emotion - so I think if it is there – take the picture – fifty years from now no one will know or care who is in the photo but the photo might be the best record we have of the way it was. No studio shot will give us that – so take the photo and not just the easy shot of the vulnerable, but everything we can manage to get access to.

  37. jbergantine says:

    i always role with the dry rule. she looks ready for the sun :) really great shot. has a very journalismy feel.

  38. puglyfeet says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. You know, I never thought about rights in terms of my photography. I just go around, shooting away, regardless if strangers are in the frame or not.

    Thank you for your insights. I will definitely mull over this over coffee tonight.

    And, thanks for these links. Love checking out unexplored territory!

  39. puglyfeet says:

    Oh, one more thing: I love the way you write. Relaxed, conversational, confident. Nice!

  40. Soe says:

    I normally ask myself would I want this photo to be publicly available if I was the person in the picture...

    A great thought provoking post!

  41. Liang says:

    I like the candor shown here in this portrait, great expression =]

  42. beckielboo says:

    I am greatly impressed with the respect most posters voiced. There is humanity, Virginia! & lot's of it!

    The photo is a wonderful commentary, especially in the context you have used it. And beautiful colors.

    Wanting to see her - NO!
    Proud of her for living her life - YES!
    Do we stay 'photo-worthy' as we age - NO!
    Would I even put on a bathing suit? - HELL NO!

  43. Anne says:

    Yes difficult, I have photos that I haven't published of different reasons. One simple rule is if I myself would have mind if it was a shot of me. Then I don't, but it depends on what you photograph of course and some genres are more out there than others.

    I don't do much photojournalism and most of the time I work with models, but I would like to shoot more candid.

    This shot is great, tells a story.

  44. Framed and Shot says:

    An interesting post, you ask the question we should ask, and the question we often feel when walking around with our camera too. Can I capture this? On one hand there is the moral feeling of giving people some privacy, and on the other hand... our desire to capture a great candid shot.
    Not easy but definitely important to think it over.
    thanks for bringing some thing more in to photo-blogging!!

  45. gavin hart says:

    I'll steer clear of the ethics etc and just say that I like the smiley face peeping from the lifeguard tower window. ;-)

  46. heathercheryl says:

    I am nervous taking photos of people in public places, they do not seem to like it. It doesn't stop me if I simply must get the shot. I took a photo of a little girl at Cancun Airport moving along a fragrance display but did not show her face. | would like to have snapped a few more but didn't want to draw any glares. I am a coward.

    The photo you post here is a very good one, candid, good composition and colour and it tells a story--it is interesting, but if that it was me in the photo I might have run after you! ;) (sorry!) I would not want a permanent record anywhere of sagging skin on my upper legs. She was looking right at you, did she mind?

    There was another photo I got of a young child, a twin in a park. Her sister was clean and pretty but she was eating an ice cream cone and it was all over her face and dress. I asked her mother if I could snap a picture, she laughed and said yes.

    Another time a young girl was sitting with her father in MacDonalds wearing bright red shoes with glitter and big silver buckles (like Dorothy in Wizard of Oz) I wanted a picture but that time, for some reason I haven't figured out, I was uncomfortable to ask and too nervous to just take it.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post. I am interested now to go back and see what everyone else has to say!

  47. Scott Schilling says:

    Well - it makes me smile regardless!

  48. Zing says:

    Love the colours and her expression. She's got character.

  49. silvermikan says:

    haha! excellent shot!
    nice composition and nice lady..

  50. Giovanni says:

    This is a great candid shot!! I'm happy you posted it!

  51. Ginnie says:

    I'm guessing this is a discussion that will never have an end, Ilan! So, snap away. :)

  52. Sidney says:

    Great image !
    Interesting questions and good links !

  53. Doum says:

    Cool candid post. Also you post THE famous question about photography. Here in Canada a judgment cut the question for the subject being photographed. This ruling has been a brake for the street photo. But, a very recent case the street becomes a public place about non-commercial use of the picture... Bonne semaine.

  54. MiNe says:

    Nice composition and great tones!!

  55. Walter Neiger says:

    whats right or wrong is based on the individuals opinion and cannot be answered.
    IMO a great candid shot.
    btw. there is sun protection but no protection from photographers :)

  56. Ashish Sidapara says:

    Beautiful candid portrait, love the hues.

  57. joshi daniel says:

    very colorful and beautiful!

  58. Darietto says:

    This shot is great! I admire you because of your bravery. I probably would not publish a shot like this...sincerely i wouldn't have taken it at all; Nothing against its content (on the contrary i think it's really interesting) but because of my fear to take picture about people I don't know.
    Anyway you've raise a prickly question. :)

  59. namaki says:

    a great moment .... what's on her mind at that very precise moment ? She's in a complete different train of thoughts than the photographer ;-)

  60. Philippe says:

    Very good shot , I love it !! Phil.

  61. Ken says:

    Such thought provoking responses, as always.

    I find that people shots are somewhat difficult. Sometimes I ask the person and get a portrait, other times it is a shot of their back. I frown on the homeless images because it is a bit exploitive to me. And if I have posted one, it is to bring awareness to the situation.
    This image is wonderful and I don't think you crossed any lines here. You never posted this as a joke etc and that is the difference. It was a great image and should be well received.

  62. elaine says:

    Hey! finally i have time to browse the web! you really kept me thinking about the privacy issue... it is getting more and more difficult to be "legal" now when you do street photos but i guess we should keep on trying so that you can produce great pics liek this one that as a definite Martin parr feel to it!

  63. freDeric says:

    sensas !!!! J'adore vos images !!!

  64. flo g says:

    cette photo me fait penser évidemment à M.Parr.. tout est excessif dans cette photo, ce qui la rend attendrissante quelque part..

  65. The Factory says:

    I think more or less like flo g...

    I can see the well choosen "documentary" aspect of it, an image very important to remember today's world, terrific and candid image, at the same time.

    It is maybe a bit noisy, an excess of unnecessary details (at the top and left) and colors that disturb the direct reading, I would substract a little bit ;)

  66. Pere Chuliá says:

    Precioso. No lo vi en su día pero ahora me ha encantado. Un saludo a todos los fotógrafos participantes.

  67. holly says:

    it's funny

  68. Timothy West | PHOTONOMY says:

    Cool shot really stark and strong.

  69. ronen says:

    Hey Ilan! just dropping by to say i enjoyed your photo's on the BW street video, good job!

  70. osman says:

    I enjoyed this post immensely.I am a above average amateur photographer wanting more knowledge.
    photo retouching

  71. JMS* says:

    Alors là bravo!
    Pourquoi photographier systématiquement des tops modèles... tu prouves qu'on peux et faire autrement... Bravo!

  72. PFL0W says:

    My God, that is one magnificent picture. I love that. The color is brilliant, the subject fasciniating. What a story. The composition and color are just wonderful.

    KC Photog Blog

  73. greigos says:

    :-) Amusing photo. Haven't yet read all the comments posted here, but I will. Have to say that my first thoughts regarding the issue you raise are that we as photojournalists do invade people's privacy. Sometimes we ask permission and many times we do not. If one does not ask permission one could assume what is done in public is for public consumption and intended so, or at least that is the risk people take when out in public. But I don't particularly subscribe to that rule of thumb. I assume a great deal of both trust and naiveté on the part of people out in public, rather like deer on the edge of an inviting meadow. I accept that trust and try to honor it. But I do have a point of view and am forced to balance my interests in depicting something clearly about the subject I'm photographing with the trust and/or naiveté of that subject. The conflict is always present and is never finally resolved with a pat rule of thumb. Each new situation is in some ways different. That's the exciting edge of both growth and new insight. Am looking forward to seeing more of the edges you explore.

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