Ethics in Street Photography


In street photography, is it ethical for a photographer to intervene in the moment and manipulate the subject(s) to pose for him/her?

Answer by: Prashant Godbole Street Photographer and Creative Director, Ideas at Work

If you want to be ambassadors of truth, hold a higher standard, and if you want to enter any street photography or documentary photography competition; please do not stage, orchestrate, retouch, and crop, to fit your narrative.

If you are creating an image for yourself or for commercial purposes, where you want to create an artistic impression, please go ahead and manipulate, orchestrate, retouch, and crop your photographs.

The image on top doesn’t have much going on, but the moment I bent down, I found a rather interesting perspective. Photograph/Prashant Godbole

That being said, it’s not ethical to move your subjects around. No matter what the situation is, it’s always you, the photographer, who has to move around, and find the right frame. Under no circumstance you should think about intervening in the moment or asking your subjects to pose for you. After all, street photography embodies the documentation of fleeting moments. If you ask them to do so, your image will fall under the street portraiture category.

Look at the work of some of the most famous street photographers— Joel Meyerowitz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand, Helen Levitt, and Vivian Maier. Do you see them manipulating/intervening with their subjects? No.

When you move around, there will always be a possibility to find an interesting frame. Keep in mind to make an effort to explore and experiment. Moreover, be considerate. If your subject doesn’t want their photo taken, don’t take it. Don’t make anybody uncomfortable.

This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Better Photography.