single frame: Bee rider

Bee rider

Bee rider
Canon PowerShot S95

What are your thoughts about photographing children on the street?

Before I moved out of Indianapolis, I went to the State Fair every summer. I enjoyed it in its own right, but I also enjoyed practicing street photography there. Lots of people bring cameras to the State Fair, so I never stood out. I prefer not to be noticed when I make photographs in public.

The midway rides offer good opportunities to catch faces full of emotion. Most of those people are children. I didn’t used to think anything of photographing children, but I’ve since changed my mind. I finally realized that if someone had photographed my children on the street when they were small, I wouldn’t have liked it one bit.

It comes from a fatherly feeling of needing to protect my children. But protect them from what? Someone on the street with a camera probably has positive intentions and is harmless — like me, by the way, if you ever see me on the street with a camera! I suppose some creeps might photograph children on the street for their own sick purposes, but I can’t imagine it’s the common case.

As an adult, if some stranger photographs me on the street and I don’t want to be photographed, I can do something about it. I can ask them to stop, or leave. I suppose I could tell them off, or punch them in the mouth, or call the police on them — probably not the best responses, but you get my point: there are things I can do.

Children lack that agency. When I aim my camera at them, they are at my mercy. So I don’t do it anymore. I will photograph scenes where children happen to be in it, along with adults. But I don’t make photographs like this one anymore.

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31 responses to “single frame: Bee rider”

  1. J P Avatar

    This is something I had not thought of. Do you have a right to not be photographed if you are in a public place? I doubt it. In fact both adults and children are probably constantly on video as they go from place to place in public areas.

    But there can be a creepiness factor of an adult man paying attention to unattended children, which would be a good situation to avoid.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      In the US you do not have the right not to be photographed in a public place. If someone calls the police on me, however, I can argue my rights all I want and still end up arrested. They can charge me for something not related like disturbing the police or resisting an officer. So if the police ever approach, I just tell them I’ll be happy to just move on. That’s the answer they’re looking for, unless I’m photographing them.

      You put your finger on it: the creep factor of an adult man paying attention to unattended children. Best to avoid that.

  2. Shirley b. Avatar
    Shirley b.

    These days I would refrain from taking pictures of children, especially if I didn’t know them.

    Privacy regulations are pretty strict in Europe. Schools have to ask parents’ permission to post class pictures with their child in it, even when it’s on a restricted part of their website. When parents deny permission, other class pictures are taken, without these children (so I’ve been told). Then these can be posted.

    Some family members only portray their toddler from the back or unrecognisable, when they post pictures on Facebook or Instagram.

    So I stopped posting pictures of the toddlers in our family on social media. And if I really want to post one, I’ll ask the parents for their permission first.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      In the US, I’m allowed to photograph anything I can see while standing in a public place, like a street or a city park. I need no permission to publish those photographs. So it’s quite different here!

      1. shirley B. Avatar
        shirley B.

        That’s good to know! We plan on returning to the USA sometime in the future, I’ll definitely keep this in mind.

  3. Sam Avatar

    Jim that is a really good question. I do post pictures of my own kids but rarely of other people’s children and I don’t feel comfortable take pics either. I only do if my kids happen to be in the pic. I’m also not entirely comfortable posting my own kids and it will probably be less as they grow up.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I didn’t post pics of my kids while they grew up. I wrote about why here:

      It was not easy to watch everyone else I know do it while I didn’t.

      1. Sam Avatar

        Thanks Jim that made perfect sense and it made me feel better in a way cause my kids and their friends are doing all that social media stuff like SnapChat and they’re putting themselves out more than I do! I’m having to monitor more and more not sure I like this!

  4. brandib1977 Avatar

    If I take pictures of children, it tends to be in a way their faces are indistinguishable or they are part of a scene where there is movement or activity. I have a picture of two little kids awaiting their balloon art in Old Town Winchester, Va. The focus is really on the man making the art and these two youngsters are there.

    Many people think that photographing strangers is creepy so I tend to keep it discreet and quick. Luckily, I’m often shooting architecture or streetscapes too so anyone watching me likely wouldn’t be able to tell what I’m aiming at. Haha. I spend a lot of time looking for interesting rooflines and stone work!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s where I am now, too: kids have to be incidental to the subject.

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        And I’m like you. I love street art but am not especially comfortable with it either. It has gotten a little easier for me in recent years as you see people taking pictures of everything under the sun with their phones but it still makes me nervous.

  5. Roger james Meade Avatar
    Roger james Meade

    Generally, in the US, if you are in a public place then you can have no expectation of privacy. Photography on or from public property is perfectly legal. Photographing people starts to get complicated though, especially if one person is targeted. still probably perfectly legal, but socially fraught and perhaps in extreme cases, physically dangerous. You could always ask permission after explaining your purpose. Digital imaging, cell phone cameras, and social media have changed the entire landscape since I was an active street photographer. Now you can be on the nightly news or going viral before you turn around.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The “socially fraught” and “potentially physically dangerous” part is what holds me back.

  6. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Interestingly, I’ve seen this situation change over the years. Back in the 70’s 80’s, I used to walk around with a camera and take pictures, and people sort of had a “meh” view point of it. Not too much push back or many objections.

    In fact, back in the early 70’s when I was in college, there were professors running “street photography” classes that had a “Garry Winogrand” exercise”, where they wanted you to take a 36 exposure roll of 35mm film, and walk down a downtown street, walking up to people and taking their pictures on the fly, so they could see your progression down the street, person to person, from looking at the background. This was to break down your shyness at just walking up to people and snapping without having any kind of conversation! This might get you popped in the nose today, or at least a street cop called over! Maybe…

    I used to always carry an Olympus point-and-shoot in my pocket for years, and always took pictures of everything that caught my eye; I have scrapbooks full of street snaps. But I’ve noticed that pre-1995, no one seemed to care, and then people at gatherings used to say they were “uncomfortable” with me taking pictures, and wanted to know what I was “using them” for. This lasted from about 1995 to about 2009, Then the cell phone thing happened and now, no one cares if anyone’s got a cell phone out taking pictures, even if you could end up on the internet looking “bad”! A weird change from hyper-concerned to no concern at all!

    Based on the “modern world”, I would never take pictures of kids on the street, maybe not even of kids I know in front of their parents! It just seems too “strange” now.

    BTW, I hope you still go to the fair and take pix. The fair is the best “freak show”! Crazy stuff all the time! Like a Fellini film! I know people that go to the local fair just to take pictures, and go “up-state” to smaller fairs for more!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I only knew the uptight years.

      Here’s my favorite fair photo: nuns at the fair!

      Nuns at the fair

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        Love it! Nuns having Fun!

  7. Photography Journal Blog Avatar

    I tend not to take photos of other people but I especially avoid taking children, to me it’s an extension of the fact that I would not want people taking photos of my children without asking. I agree with your thoughts on this in the third paragraph, the reality is that most people who would take such photos have good intentions.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s just wisest to avoid it. Why upset parents needlessly?

      1. Photography Journal Blog Avatar

        That’s my take on it, but I’m also a very non-confrontational type of person.

  8. Marc Beebe Avatar

    Although it is true there is no privacy in public (a fact many people seem to forget), there are also legal restrictions on such photos based on how they end up being used. That’s where it gets tricky, whether the image is of a child or an adult.
    One of the reasons I don’t take pictures of people.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good point, there are some limits on what you can do with photos of people. Fortunately, I’m pretty sure all of my uses are fine.

  9. thedullchannel Avatar

    I always wanted to try street photography but the laws in Germany are not very favorable. You can only ever shoot other people when they are part of a large scene and not the actual subject of your photo. You can shoot people but then you can’t publish those pictures without their consent. I have seen people demand photographers to delete their files.

    And as soon as you are not taking pictures of your own child people will react to it. Idk…sometimes I think we swing too much into one direction and loose and important art from. All we have left are family pictures of children…but then I totally get the privacy concerns of people and especially parents.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, the privacy laws in Germany are very strict compared to here. I think it goes too far in Germany, but perhaps not far enough in the US.

      I lived in Germany briefly in 1984. I was still learning the language and did not know “untersagt” meant “verboten” and walked my dog on a grassy area past a sign that read “Hunden untersagt,” Several people shouted at me to get my dog off that grass. In the US, nobody would have spoken to me about it! Point is, if Germans would be so vocal over a minor rules infraction, I can well imagine they would be very vocal over a privacy violation.

      1. thedullchannel Avatar

        You can still do street but you need permission every time you want to publish pictures. If you just keep the images for yourself than…no one really cares as long ass your not too much in people’s faces with a camera.

        There is a public swimming pool / swim arena where I used to live and they actually banned cameras all around. You can’t even photograph your own kids. But then there were a lot of creepy dudes taking snaps of children in bathing suits through the windows…I am father too so I do get that people are quite concerned when in comes to children. Who knows where those pictures end up online right?

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          It seems reasonable to ban cameras at the pool because of the creepy dudes. It’s a shame when someone behaving badly ruins it for everybody else, though.

  10. seatacphoto1951 Avatar

    I never plan to shoot children while on the street and have perhaps shot about 5 images of children, most with their parents, in the past 5 years. I would never take a camera to a school area or a park. In the early 20th Century you can find lots of images of children on the street taken by photographers but the context of those images has long since disappeared.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Those early 20th century photos give valuable insight into the lives of children at that time. I wonder what photos of children will survive from this era.

  11. NigelH Avatar

    It is a horrible that we are as a society not able to take simple and informative documentary photos that would show the generations to come what life was like for people (including children) without being worried that we are being creepy. I feel it too and it is a shame. In reality, the ‘creepy; people with an unhealthy interest in children really have never been interested in children in the street; they had much more sinister ways of getting their fix. The whole thing is perception and perception is a powerful thing which is difficult to get over and people these days are very quick to judge as a result. I

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I agree wholeheartedly with your first point. And you’re also right, the creepy people don’t generally photograph children in the street. But parents get uptight when you go photographing their kids. I was a parent and I would have been uptight about someone photographing my kids in the park. I get it. Leave my kids alone.

      1. NigelH Avatar

        But why do we as parents get upset at such a thing? What is it that we are afraid of that upsets us? I also see the opposite being true; I can almost bet that if a TV camera is at an event, parents will actively try to get there kids in the frame… I know it’s not the same but in some ways it kinda is (I’m the opposite with TV cameras, I always try to avoid them)

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I think it’s the basic protection instinct.

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