“Can I Take Your Picture?”

For the first time, someone made a fuss last night about getting their photo taken by me.

It wasn’t a big deal. I was framing a shot and I only noticed because he was waving at me. At first, I thought he was someone I knew. But then I realized he was trying to say “no!” through his gestures. He was so far away, he wasn’t even in my shot to begin with. In response, I just made a shrugging motion and walked away.

I know that it’s perfectly legal for photographers in Canada to take photos of people in public without their permission. That’s because a person cannot reasonably expect to have their privacy in a public space.

But it does raise some ethical questions.

Just as a decent human being, I wouldn’t take a photo of someone in a situation where I would not want my photo to be taken.

I also decided early on that people who are homeless or are otherwise down on their luck are also off-limits for me. Unless I was documenting the issues of poverty, I feel like I would be exploiting people who have been marginalized.

Generally, street photography revolves around taking candid photos of people, of situations as they happen, without planning or creating the scene somehow. This past weekend, however, was also the first time I specifically asked someone for their permission to take their photo. Both were in situations where I really wanted to be up-close and I couldn’t do that without them knowing.

This is an image of a woman who had a stand selling crafts at the pedestrian Sunday event at Kensington Market. I loved that she happened to be in front of a very colourful blanket and I really want to take her photo. This then became a portrait, instead of a real street photo.


Later that day, I came across a man who also had a stand selling jewelry at the community event. At first, I took a shot of him from across the street, but he had a great look and I decided to just go ask him. He was very nice and said he wouldn’t pose for me, but I could take un-posed shots. So I took a few of him arranging the jewelry on his table.

When I was done, I gave him my card and told him that he could email me if he wanted to see his pictures.

But he stopped me before I could go. To my surprise, he told me that he’s had his photo taken by lots of photographers over the years, but none has ever given their card to him as I had.

Then he smiled and me and said, “OK, go ahead,” and I snapped away.


So it was a simple courtesy extended to him that won him over and I was able to get in real close to take his portrait. (I had also given my card to the woman above.)

Some argue that street portraiture is not real street photography because the subject is posed. Even if that’s so, I have no problem with finding opportunities to meet interesting people and make nice images.





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