Those embarrassing situations we all face
As a part-time newspaper photographer, I occasionally find myself photographing in some seemingly normal situations that end up a bit whacky.
Two such situations have been bothering me for a few months. They are related, but different.
One involved an assignment for a regional ballroom dancing club comprised mainly of retired folk. Many were there with a spouse, but some kept on switching dance partners every dance. Others stuck with their spouse the entire time. Some also seemed to not be there with a spouse, but stuck with a certain designated dance partner. As a PJ, you shoot and then take names. So you don't know anything until you see the last names of the people. If they're the same, you then ask the people what their relation is. 99 times out of 100, there is a relation, often marriage, but sometimes it's brother-sister. Once in a great while, two people with the same name aren't related at all. The problem is, you get a photo, and it might be of two unrelated people dancing together. You ask them if it's ok to run it, and they say yes. But their spouse was never informed or asked.
The other situation involved an assignment the end of last year where a locally famous musician was playing one night. The father of the musician was there, and started to dance with a woman. I took the shot because I knew there was a chance that these people were the parents of the musician, and it'd make a cool human interest photo. I asked a third party who they were, and indeed the man was the father. But the woman was not the mother. I was also informed that both of their spouses were there. Although it didn't feel good to do, I decided I was going to ask the people if they minded the photo being run. I had to get permission from 4 people (the two dancing and their spouses). I told them they should not feel obliged to say yes. I sensed I was going to get a "no" from one of the spouses, but I asked anyway. I figured it couldn't hurt. It took a while for that person to decide, but I finally got a "no" answer. I said that's fine; we won't use it.
Now here are the things that are bothering me a bit-
In situation #1, was it unethical to run a photo of two non-married people dancing? (The photo did run; the editor had no issue with it.)
And in #2, where I had to work really hard to bring myself to talk to these people and ask them permission, despite feeling embarrassed to do so, do you think I should have just said the hell with the photo and not bothered asking? Was it disrespectful to ask them if we could use the photo? They both saw everything happen, but I almost feel like I was rubbing it in their face by asking, and it would have been easier not to. But, I'm not big on doing the easy thing, just to avoid uncomfortable emotions. I mean, this is photojournalism, it's real life, and if I went by my emotions for everything, that would be self-serving! I have to put my emotions and personal beliefs aside and be impartial and take nothing for granted while I'm in the field. But then again, does ethical journalism and good social skills mean that in a situation like that, you don't even ask because it violates your personal beliefs because you are afraid someone migh be a bit hurt by the action, and that asking for permission just exacerbates that hurt? I clearly remember feeling embarrassment before, during, and after asking permission, because I had played out the possibilities in my mind beforehand and had a feeling this might happen. If it were me, I would want to be asked if I saw someone taking pictures. I would feel that by being asked, I could have more closure and feel good because I'd know the photo wasn't going to run.
Nikon user since 2000
#1. "RE: Those embarrassing situations we all face" | In response to Reply # 0jrp Charter MemberSat 16-Mar-13 05:07 AM
1. On the one hand you want to be able to keep your newspaper and yourself out of trouble.
Legally, this does vary from one place to another and one situation to another, however it is possible that if you did not get a signed release, asking only helps your natural courtesy but may not get the newspaper and you trouble free. Ask your editor for their specific official guidelines.
2. On the other hand, your good nature wants your subjects to stay out of trouble and have a choice on whether to be featured or not.
However, if troubled, they placed themselves in such situation, you are only documenting it within the guidelines.
Asking is nice, but if hesitation is present I would withdraw and delete the image, independently of them been married or not, a couple or not, same religion or not, same sex or not, etc.
You should not feel embarrassed at all to ask, many don't.
That's you and your choices. I commend you.
Now, whether that is practical or not on specific situations is probably up to the newspaper rules of engagement.
Again, I would ask the editor -maybe without mentioning your emotions.
Have a great time :-)
JRP (Founder & Administrator. Mainly at the north-eastern Mexican desert) Gallery, Brief Love Story
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#2. "RE: Those embarrassing situations we all face" | In response to Reply # 1ZoneV Nikonian since 07th Jan 2005Sat 16-Mar-13 11:34 AM
Good to know I'm not the only one who would have forced myself to ask.
Whenever people are named, it's the right thing to do to get permission. But if people are in public and in a photo it's not actually needed. As for releases, we don't require them. We try to get verbal permission in most cases. If there are kids and I want to use their names, I'll ask them where their parents are, and then ask the parent for permission. Sometimes I ask first and then take a photo, but I try to do it the other way around more than not, so as not to destroy the image.
Nikon user since 2000