What should I do if I'm taking photos of people doing illegal things?
May 28, 2010 11:54 AM   Subscribe

What are some good practices for taking photographs of people doing illegal things, for "documentary" sort of work?

I've got a lot of questions about this.

If you're a photographer do you go out of your way to hide specific things that could identify them? Do you do this with your shots at the scene or later in the editing room (Cropping/etc)? What are these identifying things? Do you ask them to not do illegal activities while you are around? What if that illegal activity is part of your story? Are you liable at all legally for what you've documented?

If anyone could point me at some resources, I'd really appreciate.
posted by ejfox to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The recent experiences of Jonas Lara might be interesting to you. He was charged with a felony for photographing graffiti writers. He was recently cleared of all charges.
posted by muta at 12:01 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

This Metafilter post might be another good starting point, as far as someone to research and/or contact.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:10 PM on May 28, 2010

Perhaps get in touch with Jonas Lara himself and ask for some tips? I went to school with him and he's been working on this kinda project for ages. Here's his site.
posted by arishaun at 3:14 PM on May 28, 2010

DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice. I am however in the field.

Well have you first talked to the subject? How do they feel about being photographed? Do they want their identity hidden. If this is a documentary project then ethically you can't ask them to do or not do something because at that point you are influencing the scene. You can either photograph it or not photograph it. Cropping to conceal identity is fine if thats what you need to do, but faces are important. Remember that.
Ethics here: http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/ethics.html

Liablity wise this is a tough one. I think it depends on what the activity is. It is likely that you won't be charged with anything for taking photos. So long as you are there as a journalist. If you are involved in any way then you are obviously open to charges. There is a possibility that police will try to subpoena your images if you are caught on scene regardless. They may even try to do so after the photos run.

I know that doesn't help all that much but it is a start. Consider joining Lightstalkers and asking on their message board. Or finding a lawyer that will give you a quick consultation in the field.
posted by WickedPissah at 12:33 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

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