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A Layman’s Manual To Ethical Photography

ethical photography


A Layman’s Manual To Ethical Photography

On World Photography Day, press that shutter responsibly and with a conscience

These days everyone and their uncle holding a DSLR is a photographer. While 3 Idiots did its bit to lure sulking engineers outdoors, social networks have nurtured and unleashed a narcissistic revolution of our times, where a XYZ Photography page comes much before understanding how their newest toy even works. The accessibility of technology has turned what was once a professional’s domain into a digital free-for-all.

In this chaos, the meaning and essence of a good photograph is bound to get mucked up. The simple act of taking a photo has far-important implications than putting on your oddest pout and performing for the camera.

If you’re hoping to become a professional photographer, these basic ethics will take you a long way:

1. Be Honest/Realistic

Know what you know and what you don’t know – assess your strengths and your weaknesses. Obstacles can be overcome and aspirations are great but being self-aware is priceless when dealing with potential clients. For instance, if your experience is mainly in shooting travel pictures, don’t brag that you’re an advertising photographer. These are completely different genres and you will land up in a mess if a client gets impressed with your big mouth.

2. Never Shoot for Free

This is the biggest issue of our times. Emerging photographers may be tempted to shoot a business and its products for free, or for “exposure”. Every time you do this, the value of professional photographers – and photography in general – falls further, making it hard for the pros to earn a humble living.

Amateurs need to ask themselves this question: Will a restaurant let me eat whatever I want for free in return for the good things I’ll say about them to my friends? Try it. In real life, you may just get a firm kick in the posterior. Any business that wants photos to sell their products needs to pay. Also, how you price your services should be in sync with your experience and the value your photos provide. There’s no point in undercutting an experienced pro or being overconfident just to land a job. Usually, the results will speak aloud.

3. Never Plagiarise

A recent controversy should serve as a reminder that you may think you’re clever but, thankfully, there are a lot of smarter people (especially photographer peers) who will spot your tomfoolery from a mile. Do not lift others’ photos and make them your own. Respect copyright laws. You have no other choice.

4. Shooting Strangers and Permission

Indian streets are full of colourful subjects. This doesn’t mean that you have a native right to shoot anyone you see. It’s not uncommon for locals to pelt photographers with stones in tourist-heavy destinations like Rajasthan, especially when photos of women are involved. Always try and seek permission respectfully to take a portrait, unless the people constitute only a small part of your frame or if the moment deserves only a candid approach. Also, never pay to take someone’s picture. Most photographers lead frugal lives and a cushy IT job may help you give away money for a portrait but it creates problems for genuine shooters down the road. A better solution is to note their address and mail a print to your subject.

5. Shooting the Poor

Many a wide-eyed intern at my workplace has shot poverty on the streets, under the influence of strong photojournalism. However, their naïve assumptions about the poor often made the situation look worse, while contributing next to nothing to photography itself. Shooting sensitive subjects requires time and a genuine effort. Their dignity must be respected at all costs – there’s no excuse. An immersive project (like this) on a poor subject goes a long way in bringing attention to their tough lives. It may also just sensitise us to the world’s issues and become better people.

6. Respect Property Permissions

Many monuments, defence sites and private properties in India don’t allow photography. Do not shoot a place if it’s clearly mentioned. Indian society has a tendency to ignore rules to project an image of bravado. In such cases, photos become irrefutable proof of breaking the law. Always seek permission from relevant authorities if you absolutely have to shoot. Selfies are not really necessary, but if you have to record your visit please mind your surroundings. Don’t be this person!

Image Credit: Nicholasadamsphotography




Mineli Goswami is a 24-year-old Assamese-East Indian, which usually translates into pretty good weekend feasts. When she’s not at her desk struggling with poetry – more often than she’d like – she’s seen wasting time on an assortment of things such as lugging an antique SLR, breaking nails climbing boulders, and chasing turtles. She’s graduated in history and has an unofficial PhD in Bandra-style jiving.

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