Ethics in Photography

By In Life, Photography

I think I’m a stand-up, decent guy. Ever since I was a young boy, I had a decent sense of ethics. I always wanted to do the right thing and stood up for the underdog wherever I could. And still can. Be it people who were harassed, or, at a later stage in life, animals. I’m gentle, and I look out for other’s well-being. At least, that’s my opinion of myself.
Of course, I’ve always had the feeling that this should resonate in my photography as well. But does it?


In most genres of photography, there is at least a whiff of ethics touching the subject at hand. And it’s different for any genre, and probably for most photographers as well. I’ll try to write down my opinion on the subject, in the genres I have worked in. By all means, this is my opinion, and I hope you have your own opinion on it. This is not a holier-than-thou guideline for you, folks!

Concert Photography

I started out with concert photography. Although you’re generally allowed to take photographs of the bands, there’s always the matter of shooting the audience as well. They’re there to have a good time, but who says they want to be photographed? Most of them won’t mind, They’ll just enjoy the show, and let you take photos and go your merry way. Still, in my opinion, there’s a bit of ethics involved here. If someone doesn’t want their photo taken and tells you so, just don’t take it. Easy as that.

Concert photo of Soon singer at Knock Out Gig 2007

Urban Exploration / Urbex Photography

I’ve been shooting in abandoned places for over 10 years now. I exhibited a couple of times, sold some of my works, and still love the smell of mold and dirt in the morning. Ethics? Yeah, sure. The stuff is abandoned, so what’s not ethical about that?
Well, for starters, it’s illegal. In most countries, it’s an unlawful entry. That is when you’re able to simply walk onto the grounds and into the buildings. If not, and you provide your own access (e.g. break in), it’s even worse.
Apart from that, most of the time it still belongs to somebody. Whether it’s private property like a nice villa or a big industrial site, it doesn’t matter. Exploring and photographing these buildings can cause trouble for the owners in various ways;

Recliner Declined

Some examples

  • There’s abandoned factories, that are being locked up by caretakers, and time and time again, people open them up again. This has led to kids roaming around in there as well, falling through holes in floors and severely or even fatally injuring themselves. (this is a German article)
  • An abandoned castle, on the grounds of a farmer. Being overrun by urban explorers. The farmer keeps closing it, at his own cost, because that castle as well, is quite dangerous. Still, he keeps on pulling people out, escorting them off the property.

The 2 examples above are just an illustration of what our hobby, our passion, can mean for others. Still, we do it. Of course, many of us (not all, regrettably) abide by the “Leave only footprints, take nothing but photographs” credo, but we still enter. It’s up to everybody to do so, as I said, I do it too. I try to stay far from places that are still guarded, and am always up for asking for permission when I can, but most of the time, you just can’t. Still. Think about what we’re doing and how we do it.


People Photography

I’ve done my share of people photography as well. I was always hesitant to get into shooting with amateur models because it’s no secret there are a lot of dirty old men out there. Sorry, but that’s what it is, folks. There’s a lot of stories about abuse going around, and even if half of them aren’t true, it’s still a cesspool out there. I once had the chance to see how a photographer worked with a model in a hotel room. Nothing bad happened, the barely legal model’s mother was there. It was a lingerie shoot. Nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that this photographer didn’t even have a portfolio to show his work. This struck me as odd, to say the least. When you have a hobby like ours, you want to show your work, don’t you? At least I want to.

I must say, that on the other hand, I know some great photographers who are really decent people as well, who would never harm anyone. It’s all about decency in the people photography business, and once you have a bad reputation, it’s hard to get rid of it.

Street Photography

In the last couple of months, my focus started turning to street photography more and more. Wouldn’t it be great to not be seen as one of those “bad people photographers” but still be able to shoot people. Candidly. On the streets.
Candid photos of random people on the street? Invading other peoples privacy? I see a problem here. Or do I? In the Netherlands, you are allowed to photograph any public space. It doesn’t matter if there are people in there, you are in your legal right to take photographs, as long as they don’t do damage to the people in it. Still, I thing it’s the right thing to do to remove a photo when asked. Of course, explain what you’re doing when asked, and if they still want you to delete it, just delete the photograph. At least, that’s what I would do.

Vienna street scene


As I stated at the beginning of this blog post, this is all my opinion. Most of it, for me, is common sense. Just be decent about your contact with people, whether they are in your photographs or are the owners of buildings you photograph. It makes the world a better place in my humble opinion.


Written by Bas

Photographer, traveler, lover of black coffee, red wine and gin & tonic. Wearer of black glasses and a black hat, always a camera in hand, and the occasional writer.

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