BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Nicole Boenig-McGrade

How to Ask Strangers If I Can Take a Photo of Them

I love watching strangers, passersby, and believe there are so many opportunities missed - in taking photos I mean. How do I best approach a stranger to ask if I can take a/some photos of them without making it a big fuss or deal (i.e., signing release papers, etc.), and then be allowed to publish the photos???

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5/13/2004 6:53:03 AM

Tonya Autry   Hi Nicole, I love to watch people as well. I am not shy and have never had much trouble walking up to people. I must say it was a little odd at first, even to a chatty gal like myself. What is a shock is how pleased most are to have their picture taken. Just the other day I was driving with my family out in the country and saw an elderly man sitting on the porch of an old cypress wood house. I could not resist. I pulled over and introduced myself, said that I would be honored to photograph him, if I may. He was so cute, he got all excited. Next I thing I knew, a little lady in pink sponge rollers came out, and they were just so sweet. I always ask for their address and mail them a copy. The one I am speaking of I have just listed in the "People" category of the contest for this month titled "The South". It is my understanding that once you gain permission and you take the photo, the copyright is yours.

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5/15/2004 5:43:00 PM

Nicole Boenig-McGrade   Dear Tonya, thank you very much for taking the time to write in and the encouragement. By the way, I love the photo you are speaking of! Kind regards from Down Under, Nicole

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5/15/2004 7:23:04 PM

Mark Mobley   One thing worth mentioning about issues of copyright. If you are intending to publish the photos (and receive money for them) or use them for any commercial interests, it is necessary to obtain a signed model release form from the subject (spoken permission is not sufficient). For personal photos, there is no need, however. Don't let the issue of model releases stop you from losing out on great photos!

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5/18/2004 4:46:54 PM

Nicole Boenig-McGrade   Dear Mark, thank you so much for taking the time to write in. Yes, the photos are for commercial use and coffee-table books. I would really appreciate you help in what information is required on a model release form. Kind regards, Nicole

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5/18/2004 5:22:54 PM

Fax Sinclair
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/3/2004
  You should always have some model releases in your camera bag. I think there might even be an example lurking around this site. I can't remember exactly where I found the one I use. Also have a notebook for their address. My question: Is it OK to snap first and get permission second?

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5/18/2004 8:03:56 PM

Robert Bridges   well this has been answered pretty well. My two cents is that while you may own the copyright that does not necessarily give you the right to sell for publication the image of a person. You do need a model release and without one you are asking for big trouble.

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5/18/2004 9:29:19 PM

C.J. Williamson   I find it easier to approach a person if I have a business type card to hand them. This card has my name and states that I am a free-lance photographer. You can include any other information that you think is important. I make these cards on my computer and can include a background of one of my photos. This lets the person know I am a serious photographer. Good luck.

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5/18/2004 9:34:47 PM

Nicole Boenig-McGrade   Hi Mark, Robert and C.J.W. These are all interesting points that you make.
I suppose what I have learn here is it's best to:
1) Always ask permission and have a signed Model Release Form before taking the photos of a person
2) Offer to send the model a copy of the photo as a nice gesture (may vary)
Thank you all very much for your input.
Kindest Regards,
Nicole from West Australia

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5/19/2004 1:28:53 AM

Nancy Grace Chen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/18/2004
  For anyone who's interested, there are some good example releases on this site:


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5/19/2004 1:55:43 AM

Pamela C.M Lammersen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/19/2004
  Hello Nicole. All good points above. I keep model releases in my camera bag at all times, and I am also one of those obnoxious people that won't miss out on a "photo op." I say, go for it - but like Mark said, if the shot is for profit, get the signed release, since there is no point asking for trouble, and it only takes a second. Get some biz cards printed up - that way your subject doesn't have to worry about "where did I put that piece of paper?" Good luck, and keep shooting.

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5/19/2004 4:56:23 AM

Nicole Boenig-McGrade   Dear Nancy, thank you for contacting me and writing in. You're right, the site is worth a look! Thank you for the tip my friend!!!

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5/19/2004 5:23:33 AM

Nicole Boenig-McGrade   Dear Pamela, Cards are good!!! Another things on the list. I am currently trying to "set up". I looked at your website and would like to say you have some beautiful work!!! And you're a lucky duck for travelling so much!!! Thanks again Pamela,
Kind regards

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5/19/2004 5:26:06 AM

Larry Lawhead
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/15/2002
  This is great info - thanks to all the contributors. One small question: Does the person being photographed need their own copy of the release? I suppose it would be easiest to just write out another? Also, as a "serious amateur", I'm not expecting to get paid for any of these shots (but one can hope!). But, I presume, releases would still be a good idea for anything that might end up "public", including posting here at BetterPhoto.

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5/25/2004 7:05:51 AM

Mark Mobley   Regarding your question, Larry, you don't need to give them a copy of the release. However, a good idea is to give them a business card with your details, address etc. on them. Firstly, this lets the subject know that you are serious about photography (making them more likely to sign the release), and it gives them the reassurance that you aren't going to disappear off with their photo and use it for something inappropriate. Accountability is important.

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5/26/2004 3:14:02 PM

Scott Pedersen   The business card idea sounds excellent. Even if you are only a hobbyist it shows that your intentions are for good. And you can make your own right on the computer!

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6/1/2004 4:49:05 AM

Peter K. Burian
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/8/2004
  I guess one question is: "people doing what?" Competing at a mountain bike race? Or having a quiet family picnic on a blanket in a Yosemite meadow? Involved in a dance competition? Working as a costumed docent at a pioneer village?

In some situations, everyone is taking pictures so just shoot! In others, the people expect to be photographed, so a casual request is fine. (Good morning. Could I get a shot of you with that covered wagon?) But in others, the people would be quite surprised to see you sneak a photo of them.

Tonya's comment is important. Because how you ask, and the type of response you will get, depends on your personality. She wrote: "I am not shy and have never had much trouble walking up to people. I must say it was a little odd at first, even to a chatty gal like myself." A genuine smile and an obvious fondness for people will elicit a positive response 95 percent of the time - especially if you can explain why you want to take photos.

Also, see travel pro photographer Bob Krist's suggestions in my article at:

A business card sure does help, as someone said, but it could be just, "I'm a camera club member, and our assignment for this week is to photograph people involved in some activity." Offer to send a print.

The Model Release issue is an entirely different topic, but you do not need one if the photos will not be used for advertising or some commercial use. (Newspaper photogs, for example, do not need a Model Release.)


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6/1/2004 5:37:51 AM

Nicole Boenig-McGrade   This topic has certainly taken a hold of its own. I guess life is never straightforward and so to present life will never be straightforward either. As long as professionalism and best judgement and intentions are always present. I'd like to thank everyone very much for your input and suggestions. When I can, I like to explore the out of ordinary as a release from the mainstream.

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6/1/2004 8:34:10 AM

Stephanie N. 
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/9/2004
  Thanks to everyone who answered Nicole's question. It helped me sooo much. That web site that was recomended for the model release is great. I would have typed somthing on the computer that said," I give her the right to do anything with my picture as long as I get a copy." or somthing like that. Thanks again

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6/1/2004 8:47:48 AM

Nicole Boenig-McGrade   Hi again, I'd like to ask one more question to this topic (and hope I haven't missed it somewhere) - What to do in the case of taking a photo of a cafe scene with many people??? Surely you can't ask everyone to sign a release form. Comments please???

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6/13/2004 9:40:55 PM

Mark Mobley   As far as I know, you shouldn't worry about it too much. The model release is to avoid lawsuits where the unwitting model believes that defamation of character has taken place, or that you are using their image to make a buck. A person in a crowd doesn't really satisfy either, so you should be fine (although I can imagine crazy suggestions such as a businessman having an affair and being spotted in the photo with another woman by his wife, which is undoubtably actionable ;) It might be worth asking the owner of the cafe if he minds you taking photos of his cafe if you are planning more than a quick snapshot.
At the end of the day, if someone wants to make trouble there is little you can do about it. I am reminded of the court case where Barbra Streissand (I think) sued a photographer who took a picture of a pretty coastline, all because her house could be seen as a speck at the top of the cliff! Thankfully, it was quickly thrown out of court. Any comments from someone with more legal expertise than me (that is to say, with any expertise at all) would be appreciated. In the meantime, keep taking those photos, and don't worry about worst-case legal shenanigans!

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6/16/2004 8:49:12 AM

Nicole Boenig-McGrade   Great to hear from you Mark. I understand what you are saying. I'd really like one day to make a "coffee table" book of photos, which means a little money in my pocket if I'm lucky and therefore I'm cautious about most photos I take. So, the question remains, how many people in a crowd must I ask for model releases before it become rediculous and impossible... And now that you mentioned it, also Property/Building releases?

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6/16/2004 10:05:09 AM

Mark Mobley   None, just go for it! People are frequently moving fast in a crowd, so your chance of getting more than one release is non-existant (I can imagine trying to stop people in rush hour Birmingham, UK, where I take many street photos. "Everybody stop, I need releases. That's right, all 20 thousand of you!"). Portraiture is the real concern. As for buildings, I believe it depends on the building in question. High-street stores in the UK are frequently unimpressed with photos including their exteriors, but I'm not sure of the exact legal considerations. Anyone else with a better idea?

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6/21/2004 12:10:00 PM

Fax Sinclair
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/3/2004
Thanks for all on this thread. Really learning a lot.

My only added comment is to think about what you are wearing on "people shooting" days. Look proffesional and well groomed and people will trust you more.

And one question:

What about shooting store-bought art pieces like this? It was a gift no way for me to know the creator of this lovely fairy.

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6/21/2004 1:57:43 PM

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