Street Photography Is Creepy

Street photography is creepy. It’s the one, single genre of photography I can think of where one takes images without their subjects’ knowing and consent.

However creepy that may sound at face value, the truth is that street photography is not only alright, legally and morally, I go as far as to make the argument that it is making an actual service to our communities and society in general.


@anon71831483 - In France things are equally murky. Which makes me wonder if your country is also run under some form of Napoleonic Code.

What I gather is that photography in public spaces is allowed. Photography in private spaces (including shops, restaurants, and cars!!!) require permission.

There was a recent case where a mistress of a former President was photographed in “public” of her in a car as she was going to meet her lover. Normally one would think this would be OK, but French courts ruled no. Cars are private spaces.

There’s a potentially over-riding law that says photography not normally allowed may be excepted if the subject and situation are socially valuable Apparently a lover going to meet a President is not socially valuable. Whatever the h*ll that means.

Further, even if you are fully in a public space, any identifiable person has the right to tell you to take down all instances of an image that includes the person making the demand.

Flipped the other way around, until recently the Musee d’Orsay, as a private space, had the right to restrict photography. Anyone caught taking a photograph was thrown out and/or encountered the justice system.

Then, one day, one of the French Ministers was seen openly taking a photograph of something inside the museum. It caused a rather large uproar. People were asking why they couldn’t do what Madame could do? Very shortly thereafter the Musee d’Orsay policy was changed to say photography was allowed, just as long as no flash is used, which is SOP in any event.


Yet another fab video, @anon71831483! Keep up the great work!

I’ve often had nightmares that street photography will either get outlawed altogether or restricted to a point where it becomes worthless. I’ve seen it happen before, especially as a knee-jerk reaction to some bad action or other — I fear that all we need is for some unscrupulous person, using the genre as a cover story, to commit a bad dead, and [POOF!] the world stops.

I hope and pray my nightmares never come true.

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That would indeed be a sad, sad day.

When and if that happens, although I very much doubt it, I will just either go back to shooting insects and macro, or into landscape.

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I think I’d fall back on my second genre: non-candid street portraiture (I don’t have much interest in woodlice or trees :wink:).


nothing compared to what governments do. take a close look at all the surveillance cameras constantly monitoring your every move in public these days.


@martbetz - You raise an interesting point about governmental knee-jerk reactions.

After the events of 9/11 do you remember what happened to rail photography? Guys were arrested because their activities were “suspicious.” Something about “targeting infrastructure.”

Before that, and I’m not at all sure what triggered it, but many airports restricted photography anywhere near the fence-line. I’ve had friends chased off by police when photographing aircraft miles away from an airport.

From the looks of things, rail-fan photography has made a nice come-back, but airports seem to remain off-limits.

All it’ll take is “something bad” to happen and all the snowflake hard right “liberty” and “freedom” crowd will be crying for “protection” from the state. Fear is a powerful weapon against individual liberties.


Water resources, too. such as reservoirs but including lakes and streams that are sources of drinking water. And I can see both sides of the issue.

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Protecting basic infrastructure is a sensible precaution, and it is a state responsibility. Attacking it could easily push regions into chaos and cost a lot of lives, and concentrated attacks could paralyze a country.

Whether restricting photography is the best way to do this is a question that I cannot answer, lacking the required expertise. Someone preparing for an attack would surely do some reconnaissance, but other state-level actors probably have satellite images already. But maybe additional images taken on site would also help. Someone equipped with a reasonable tele lens could capture a lot of information about plant security, learn about entry protocols, identify personnel for targeted action, get codes entered into a pinpad, etc.

It is a little known fact that critical infrastructure in the US is under constant attack, but most of that happens in cyberspace.


I just love how wild discussions get on this forum. Lil’ old me posted a video about street photography and now we’re talking about critical national security infrastructure.

This is one of the reasons why this is my favourite forum.


You might already know of the beautiful open reservoirs on Mt Tabor in Portland, Oregon. People got rather squirrely when Baby Bush’s administration demanded changes over the fact of the water areas being uncovered.

The paranoia got so bad that when a homeless person fell in and died, they drained the water, cleaned up a little, and then refilled them. But there was NEVER a question of what kind of harm birds and their sh*t could/might do, even though water birds were very often seen enjoying the reservoirs for a hundred years.

I don’t see both sides of the issue because I see no credible evidence that American infrastructure is under attack outside of state-sponsored cyber-actions. State-actors don’t seem to be using photographs to to target internet connected sites and no one has come forward to show otherwise.

I believe you said it correctly when you say it is the responsibility of the state to protect its citizens.

I would also note that in the US, in general, all liberties are assumed unless the state passes new law that allows the state to take away a freedom. What’s strange about the US cases I’ve brought up here is that explicit laws have not taken away the right to photograph infrastructure and the rights of people to photograph just about anything they like have been upheld in the courts of law. Which means that if there is a case to be made to restrict a freedom (ie: terrorism concerns), then it’s up to the state to make it’s case before the people and to vote the passage of new restrictions.

In parts of Europe it’s the inverse of the US model. Freedoms are granted by the state. Which is why the text and application of law needs to be carefully understood. Opportunities for photography can be rather more limited than in the US, depending on what one is doing, where, and when.


With respect, I think you misunderstand how it works. I am not a legal theorist or a lawyer, but my understanding is that in most European countries the restrictions on photographing people are derived from their rights (to privacy, the ownership of their image, etc).

But I wonder if these discussions are particularly relevant to street photography in practice. Even if one wants to approach it from a legal perspective, the procedural questions are at least as important as material ones. That is, how are people going to enforce these rights? I can imagine celebrities suing paparazzis and maybe even ordinary people going to court for gross violations of their privacy, but I don’t think that this is a huge practical concern for normal street photography in Europe.

For my own street photography, I try to avoid the legal questions entirely by just asking nicely when I am in doubt. People say yes surprisingly often.

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I find that running away straight after I press the shutter button also works quite well. :wink:


I work at a mid-large state university in the US and if the youth are anything to go by I would say there’s definitely a cultural shift around street photography coming. Most of my student workers (particularly the young women) do not like having their photo taken without consent. One actually got into a spat with the university photographer taking photos out in public.

I don’t work in that department but it’s my understanding that they’ve switched to a consent and release model for every single photo they take regardless of it being a public space or public event. If you can recognize someone in it they’ve got to get it on paper that it was OK. Obviously faces you cannot pick out in crowd is another thing. We have to blur faces for social media, etc.

I once made a joke about my X100F having a silent leaf shutter and it went over like a lead balloon.

At any rate, these kids take op-sec fairly seriously or at least they think they do. Obviously they don’t notice smart phones and upload selfies to Snapchat and TikTok all day long but the guy with the 1970s Mamiya M645 out on the sidewalk is the dirty creep up to no good. In general they have more trust and are more OK with giant faceless corporations having their images and data than the person in their town. Probably because they grew up with that as normal to an extent, maybe because it doesn’t have personal repercussions, I don’t know. We also have surveillance cameras everywhere on campus. You can bet the police can find you in seconds to minutes anywhere in or near campus. IMO me their threat model makes no sense but if I’ve learned anything in my life it’s “the kids are always right.” There are more of them than there are of us and the world will bend to their proclivities.

Here in the US we’ve baked a big stranger danger sense into Gen Z post 9-11 and Chris Hansen. I would suspect as they age and come into political power there’s probably going to be some bigger cultural or actual legal shifts in public photography. With that in mind I don’t do street photography much anymore, at least not in my home area. If I do it these days I take my wife with me and follow the “no women or children” rule. TBH particularly for women I can see why it’s bothersome. I’ve had a lady friend communicate to me that when she dresses up the leering looks from men really pick up, I would guess that includes shutter clicks too. Women get a lot of unwanted attention and inversely most men almost never get compliments. Go take a photo of a grizzly looking dude and tell him he’s a looker. It’ll probably tickle him and you’ll avoid a potential scene or police interaction.


That is a sad state of affairs and there are double standards at every step of the way in every situation you describe. The mental gymnastics pople go through to justify and explain the way things are down there just boggles my mind.

I will not get into the politics and the ideology of things, but I will say, the US is no longer the Land of Freedom it used to be… Nor is much of the western part of the world. In fact, now there is much more citizen freedom and public safety in Eastern European countries and the Balkans in general.


What people prefer and what the law is are two different things, you shouldn’t conflate the two.

Also what you see in the news and what is actually here are two different things.


I am not.

I am saying that based on much more than just the news.

Go on…

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We now have an anonymous megaphone that people use to tell the world what to do and where to get off. It’s call the internet. From personal experience I can say the level of public discourse tanked the moment AOL came on-line. It’s a terrible thing to witness the erasure of civility. It’s even worse to watch as lies become “truth”, “alternative facts” and people’s pet beliefs find fertile ground to grow into weird and twisted self-serving things.

Well, the US is certainly not the place I was raised to believe it was. Petty self interests, mountains of lies, silly beliefs, and the rise of corporate feudalism have dismantled nearly everything I held dear.

Imagine, in the small, narrow field of photography people pay rent on software. More broadly, people pay rent on telecommunication services. People pay rent to be entertained. People pay rent for “connectivity.” And people do this happily because, in far too many cases, they feel they can not live without this stuff. Literally. All hail the new corporate feudal overlord. /rant

I recently had a conversation with a lovely woman from Slovakia. She explained her World View. When one system of governance seems to fail, people op for something that sounds better, until that fails to work, too. Her example was western Europe where we’ve gone from monarchy to empire to republic to communism to corporate feudalism (more the case of the US than anywhere else, actually), to dictatorship. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

Here I sit looking at journals published by Reporters sans Frontiers that feature the works of Lartigue, Abbas, Ronix, Brassai, and many others. Makes me wonder under what kind of conditions they had to work to make a decent photograph?


While soviet oppression remains in public consciousness I believe eastern europe will remain a lot more freer. After that who knows what will happen, give it a generation or two more :smiley:

Imo you can still speak your mind a lot more in the US than you do in western europe.

Just recently I saw this news piece:

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