Ethics is a tricky business. There are no ultimate ethics which apply to everyone, nor should there.
A good rule of ethics is the silver rule: don’t do unto others as you don’t want others to do unto you. #zenoferic
What about the Golden Rule?
Our buddy Jesus taught us the “golden rule”, which is:
Do unto others as you would like others to do unto you.
Now the problem with the golden rule is this: not everyone else wants to be treated the same way you do.
For example I love bright and fruity-acidic single origin espresso (no cream or sugar). But other people like their coffee with sugar and cream. Now I’m not going to be a coffee fascist and suddenly order that nobody else in the world is allowed to have cream and sugar with their coffee. Everyone is free to have coffee the way they want! I don’t think it is ethical for me to superimpose my coffee preferences unto others. I can introduce the idea and encourage them to try espresso with no fillers, but I shouldn’t force people. There must always be an option for people!
To me, ethics is one of the most important things in philosophy and life. Why? Ethics is all about how you interact and treat other human beings in society. Even if you want to be a better street photographer; 80% of street photography is conquering your fear of photographing strangers, as well as establishing your own code of ethics in street photography.
Street Photography Ethics
In street photography, a basic code of ethics is the same:
Don’t photograph others the way you wouldn’t want to be photographed.
In simple words:
- If you don’t like strangers photographing you without your permission, don’t do it to others.
- However if you’re okay with others photographing you without your permission, shoot on! You won’t feel any guilt, nor should you feel any guilt, nor should you allow anyone to guilt you!
Ignore non-practitioners in street photography
A practical tip is this:
Ignore any ethical statements that non-street photographers make about street photography.
Some photographers (or people) who don’t shoot street photography will openly criticize or critique it. They’re free to have their own opinion; what they’re not allowed is to prevent you from having your own opinion. Furthermore, you should be able to shoot street photography openly and freely, as you desire!
- If you don’t like others photographing you without your permission, perhaps you shouldn’t shoot candid street photography. Instead, shoot street photography with permission (as I like to do with street portraits). Recognize that just because you ask for permission to make a photograph of a stranger doesn’t make it any lesser of a photograph! Candid photos are not inherently better than non-candid photos!
- Shoot according to your own style and personality: It’s better to understand your own personal code of ethics and your own personality and to shoot accordingly, rather than try to copy the style or street photography approach of someone else (thinking that their approach is the same as your personality). In other words, your ethics are more important than your photography.
- To be a more ethical street photographer, just follow your gut. If you ever feel any personal guilt in photography, ask yourself: “Why do I feel guilty?” and “Is this feeling of guilt justified”?