Photographing children - or the sad world we're living in

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by owczi, Apr 28, 2013.

  1. owczi

    owczi nareteV 34-uM Subscribing Member

    As I am starting to write this I'm not sure if I actually know what the point is that I'm trying to get across in this thread, but I'm hoping it will get better as I get towards the end... Also one of the reasons I'm posting this thread on this very site is that I've learned to know this forum and I usually find it that the opinions expressed here are quite balanced, no-nonsense, friendly and very much troll free, devoid of the online idiocy of all sorts that's very much omnipresent these days. I also notice quite a lot that many respectable "old school" photographers (experience wise, age wise, etc.) move towards lighter systems such as :43: as they grow tired of lugging the big guns around. Many of those photographers are active members of this forum.

    No point in warning that the post will be long, because if you're looking at it, you can already see it ;)

    So I wanted to touch on the slippery (that it's become today) topic which is intendedly, or unintendedly, taking or looking at pictures of other people's children. To start with, I am not a parent myself - yet, and I've never personally known a person whose child had been hurt in any way. I am also not what one considers a professional photographer, mainly meaning that I do not sell my pictures or take any paid assignments.

    There are hundreds of people in this forum who are parents and who, as parents do, take lots of pictures of their kids so that they have something to embarrass their future partners with, just like mine always did, although those are mostly old slides in my case. Children are a fantastic subject for photography, if a little unpredictable, very grateful, immensely funny and sometimes demanding enough to stress one's skills beyond belief.

    A lot of you (a LOT of you) fellow forum members here post pictures of your kids at various ages and various surroundings and settings, as part of lens tests, example portrait shots, or camera tests, or even because you're just proud of your kids and you want to share the joy. This is of course fantastic. Some of those pictures are the normal captured life type pictures, and some of them are posed portraits with controlled lighting.

    But when I'm at work, browsing this forum during my lunch break, scrolling down a long thread between two bites of a pasta salad and I come across those pictures, I often immediately scroll down to get past them as soon as possible or even look at a different thread instead, I nearly turn my head away and close the browser window because I'm afraid that a colleague may see this and think "why is he looking at pictures of children?". Even in the privacy of my home I react almost the same way. For some reason I simply feel like I'm invading someone's privacy by looking at those pictures, even though people who shared them, shared them for everyone to see. I know sure as hell that there's nothing wrong with me, but still I somehow feel or was made to feel that pictures of other people's children that are not stock photography, are not something one is allowed to look at.

    It deeply saddens me that what used to symbolise pure innocence and joy, because of the actions of some sick bastards out there, is becoming more than a taboo. I am based in the UK and just as much as everywhere else laws and people's opinions are very strict, for all good reasons, up to a point that one shouldn't take a lost child by the hand and help it find the parents, but should instead kind of herd it in the right direction, ideally from distance. Children protection policies of all types of photography clubs and associations reflect the same. I know that there are generally no laws against taking pictures of anything that's considered "in public", but I'm talking about social norms more than anything else.

    So if I feel that even looking at pictures of other people's children is not right, taking pictures with children in them is a much bigger issue. Don't get me wrong, i do NOT have a problem with distinguishing what is and what isn't acceptable and appropriate, but all ethical and intellectual property aspects aside, why must we all keep sanity checking ourselves in case if we've done something that someone else may think is inappropriate?

    Children are not on even on the list of my favourite subjects, but people are and events are. Every year, just for fun, I take pictures at a local street theatre festival, which I see as a great training in event photography and get to test the given year's additions to my kit list. A lot of artists, as they usually do, ask children from the audience to take part in their acts. And these kids come up with great stuff - they cry and refuse to co-operate which is adorably funny, or manage to outsmart the artist somehow (which the artist may or may not plan), or do whatever unpredictable stuff that's an absolute barrel of laughs. All in front of a crowd. And yet a lot of times I suspend the trigger finger because I don't think it's right, and miss what could have been great shots. Other, more trivial stuff - there's a Christmas market here every year and there's an old-school carousel with music box music, horsies, lights and the whole shebang. And of course a whole load of kids. What's the point in taking a picture of a still carousel after hours? And yet I don't take a picture of it while it's in motion because I'm afraid that some eager parent may decide to hit me in the face. One might say - why don't just ask the people you whose children will be in the picture you want to take? I think the result could be even worse. Nobody however will say anything if I take a picture of the rear of a scantily clad lady on a beach. Well maybe the odd angry boyfriend.

    Of course I know that the only way is to adjust to the way things are, but tell me this - am I just being unnecessarily paranoid and things aren't as bad as I think? Or am I being paranoid for all the right reasons? How do you deal with this? Should we just accept those restrictions as a result of the impact of the sad world we're living it, or should we accept them purely in terms of respect and the usual norms of what is acceptable, just like we do with any other kinds of photography?

    I know that one of the comments may be "oh why don't you just grow a pair". Of children, or testicles, or both. I'm sure having children of my own will answer many of my questions and probably give me a different point of view. I know that my own judgement is usually sound but I somehow feel that the society tells me that I shouldn't trust it any more.

    Attached is one of those street artist shots I mentioned earlier, one of those moments when I did decide to shoot. It's titled "Damien". Anyone who's seen "The Exorcist" films will know where that came from. I think it's a cracker. Heavy crop with E-M5 and MZD 12-50 - pictures like this are the reasons why you should be using continuous shooting modes when shooting events, you never know what you might catch. This was hastily converted from RAW on a crappy fading overly bright laptop screen so may come out dark on "proper" monitors, but it's the captured moment that matters.

    Thanks for your patience :)

    Attached Files:

  2. digitalandfilm

    digitalandfilm Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jul 18, 2011
    I, myself, refrain from shooting kids because of the stigma attached to it.

    Shame really- as you outlined and wrote very nicely about.

    Once in a while.. I do bend my rule...

    <a href="[email protected]/8060962422/" title="P8260338-Edit by omdandom2n, on Flickr"> 8060962422_0f21c64771_b.jpg "1024" height="715" alt="P8260338-Edit"></a>
  3. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    First things first: No political discussion is allowed on this site, so please do not discuss photographer's rights: ie, what photographers should or should not be able to legally do. We'd love to allow that discussion, but it is inherently political and always devolves into a mess where moderator work is required.

    The topic of this thread, as I understand it, is more about how society looks at photographing children and how to feel comfortable doing it. This is an interesting one.

    One of my first online experiences related to this was posting a photo of my then 2-yo son smiling and getting an email from someone overseas asking if I would mind sending him a high-res version of it because he liked it so much. At the time, I went ahead and sent it to him thinking it was just someone who's day was brightened by a happy picture of a child. These days I'd probably wonder if it was a sicko who might become obsessed with my kid and refuse the request. At the same time, I have thousands of full res photos of my kids online....

    I occasionally photograph other people's children in 3 contexts:

    1) They happen to be in the frame when I'm trying to photograph my kids.

    2) They are friends of my kids.

    3) Random kids who make for an interesting photo

    1+2 are pretty easy - no real societal issues there

    3 is the tricky one. I don't ever try to "steal" a quick shot of someone else's kid. No shooting from the hip on this one. I know some parents don't want this, and I want to respect their wishes. On the other hand, there are circumstances where I don't think parents would generally care, and there I don't hesitate. One example is a group photo - eg, a bunch of children playing soccer in the street. Another example is a family in a festival where they are all having a good time together.

    The litmus test I use is whether I would have any issue showing the photo to the parents upon request and explain why I took it. If I were to take a shot of a 2 yo kid standing by themself, it may be for all the right reasons (and I don't think there is anything necessarily wrong with it), but show that photo to a concerned parent, and they might get upset. Show that same parent a photo of 12 kids having fun where their kid is one of them, and I think they get it. Show them a shot of them throwing their kid in the air for fun at a parade, and I think they get it.
  4. juangrande

    juangrande Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Dec 2, 2012
    Someone famous once said, " We have nothing to fear but fear itself." I don't know if FDR was able to understand the multi-faceted wisdom of this or not ( or if he even wrote it ). When I look around today, I see a society being increasingly cowed and controlled by fear. Fear is a spiraling and self perpetuating creature. These atrocities that happen on occasion are fear based reactions, combined with whatever inadequacies a perpetrator might have, driven by the onslaught of fear based propaganda, be it "news", advertising or what have you. Fear, quite simply, is the absence of love. Love in a deeper sense than romance. ( Edited by request for good reasons).

    So to the OP, if you have nothing to hide, don't feel compelled to hide it. Your fear feeds the collective fear. In my and many other's opinion, fear is the tool used to prevent one from realizing truth. And of course, truth will set you free.

    Man, that's 2 very controversial threads in the last couple of days. Amin, I'm sorry if this is inappropriate, but I feel what I said needs to be said as much as possible. Anyone with a good background of history should be able to see the oppression that's building. And in nearly every instance of human oppression, the tool used was fear based propaganda to polarize communities. Divide and conquer.

    I'm certainly not the most eloquent writer, but the message I'm trying to convey is simple. Don't feed the fear.
    • Like Like x 1
  5. Cruzan80

    Cruzan80 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 23, 2012
    Denver, Co
    Sean Rastsmith
    I do photograph kids. Partially I think it helps that I look the age to have small kids myself (none yet), but am not the 70yo guy taking photos with the super-telephoto. Mostly it is kids at festivals and things. I try and get them in "poses" that reflect the childlike innocence that I capture. Overall, I go with the same litmus test Amin uses. If I had kids, would I mind a picture like that, and/or would I perfectly fine showing the parents/would the parents like the pic.
  6. RT_Panther

    RT_Panther Mu-43 Legend

    May 4, 2011
    Generally speaking, I'm like Amin.

    99.9% of the kids that I shoot are either my very own or they are friends of my children.
  7. dogs100

    dogs100 Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Nov 12, 2011
    N Devon UK
    I am an amateur photographer who doesn't get paid (I wish I was good enough for it to be an issue), a parent and grandfather and I don't have a problem photographing children in normal situations ie in a park, in a street etc. I might think twice in a swimming pool or on the beach but if anyone expressed concern I would stop. Most people want me to email the shot

    We need to remember ... statistics are on our side as most of the world is normal
  8. RT_Panther

    RT_Panther Mu-43 Legend

    May 4, 2011
    I'm not so sure of this anymore...:biggrin::tongue::biggrin:
  9. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    I will shoot children if the shot is interesting ... in fact I really don't distinguish between children and adults ... if the moment warrants a photograph ... I shoot it.

    I'm one of the ol' farts you spoke of in the beginning of your dissertation. Before the internet and the extreme competition between news organizations sensationalized the news. I think we have the same percentage of sickos in society now as previously, but for good or ill the media and internet has exploited this until ... well ... just read your opening post again.

    Not my child

    Benjamin Franklin stated the the best defense is innocence. While that will not keep overly-protective, ignorant mother bears from attacking you, it will provide some solace that you haven't done anything wrong and that ultimately you will prevail.

    Not my kid.

    I have a thick-skin, and I will not conform my life to the wishes of non-rational and ignorant behavior of others. I also feel strongly in the Edmund Burke quote, "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Hiding your pleasure of viewing children, with all their radiance and innocence bring warmth and light to a cold dark room ... is allowing the ignorance and darker aspects of society win. Next time when you're chewing on your pasta and you see a very nice photo of a child (BLX comes to mind here), invite a co-worker to share your viewing pleasure. Children and the joy children bring is something to be shared not hidden.

    Not my child

    Just be prepared to confront irate, irrational parents. Part of that preparation is what Amin spoke:

    1) Don't sneak a shot. Be open with your camera and the subject;

    Not my child

    2) If you can recognize the parent, just acknowledge their presence, a simple nod, but continue to shoot. When you're done show the parents the shots;

    Not my child

    3) Have a card, have a website. Tell the parents who you are and why you photograph. Get their email and send them a link when you post their kid;

    Not my child

    4) Start shoot at events/venus where cameras are commonplace. Being the solitary photographer in a playground.park full of kids is like waving a red flag at a bull. If there is a park nearby, then frequent it often so the regulars get to know you;

    Not my child

    5) Use common sense, do not shoot little girls on swings in skirts, wear common sense clothing (not a T with a vulgar expression written on it), act professionally, don't hide in the shadows but don't get in their faces either;

    6) Use common sense.

    Not my child

    None of this will stop an irrational parent, one cannot defend against irrational actions. But it will calm and allow you to connect with those parents who are rational.

    Good Luck and Good Shooting

    My youngest child
  10. demiro

    demiro Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Nov 7, 2010
    I can't disagree with anything Gary says here. But I also consider it as a parent, which greatly supersedes any concerns I have about photographers.

    Bottom line for me is that I don't care if someone snaps a shot of my child. The line that can't be crossed for me would be when an excessive amount of attention is paid to my child by said photographer. I'm not entirely sure what that looks like, but if I saw someone just shooting her, following her around, getting too close, interacting, etc., I would react rather badly I imagine.

    Having said that, I understand the "irrational mama bear syndrome". It is far easier to react to a photographer negatively under the umbrella of "safety first" than it is to accurately ascertain his motivation for photographing your child.
  11. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011

    add the above to my post!

    Not my child.

    Not my child.
  12. spinyman

    spinyman Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Nov 19, 2010
    San Diego
    Thanks for THE definitive answer to the question.
  13. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    Los Angeles, USA
    If there's a good shot to be had, there's nothing wrong with taking photos of kids. On a strictly compositional level if there's a shot worth photographing, shoot it. What's funny is how people get so paranoid of photographers.

    I remember being at the mall the other day, and some tourist was taking photos. I was then watching security and how they were eyeballing him all funny. Just on quick glance they were wasting their time. A real creeper wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb. Creepers are real good at hiding their tendencies and you can tell.
  14. owczi

    owczi nareteV 34-uM Subscribing Member

    Of course I meant no harm :) I simply think that people born before the Internet era somehow tend to have more common sense in them.

    Thanks for all your comments so far, both to Gary and everyone else, and thanks to Amin for the initial sanity check. What I gather so far from what you're all saying is that to a large extent common sense still prevails.
  15. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    I think my ending remark is the most telling ... there is absolutely nothing you do to counteract an irrational person except behave how they would have you behave in their irrationally controlled environment. It would probably be best just to walk away from such a confrontation.

    The best you can do is to be prepared to deal-with/confront/put-at-ease those parents/adults who are rational.


    PS- In the US, children have no greater right to privacy than an adult. (I don't think that statement is broad enough not to touch the narrow subject of photographer's rights.)

  16. madogvelkor

    madogvelkor Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 22, 2013
    The sad thing is it's the guy with the high end camera who's likely to attract negative attention, but pretty much anyone with a cellphone could be snapping pictures of kids for nefarious purposes, while looking like they're sending a text or checking facebook. Though I'm an optimist and figure 99.9999999% of people aren't nefarious....
  17. Blotzphoto

    Blotzphoto Mu-43 Regular

    May 25, 2012
    Lou Doench
    Cultural bias or ethnocentrism?

    There's a cultural bias to this phenomenon as well. What people are mostly worried about are the irrational fear that someone will be creeping their "precious little most likely white American kids" because they are the practically perfect victim in our irrationally crime obsessed culture here in the states.

    Flip it around however and look at peoples travel photography. See how many pictures they snap of kids in third world tourist nations or exotic asian locales. Pictures of children from outside the US are so common that it's almost a travel photography cliche.

    I'm a free range parent myself, I have no outsized fear of my kids being harmed by a random stranger, I'm well aware that I'm the one most likely to harm my kids. Especially this one...

    Gary's advice is the best I've ever seen on the subject. My own advice would be for those with young kids, model the behavior you want to see in others. The more we are up front in our free range behavior we help take back our kids childhoods from the fearmongers and the helicopter parents.
  18. RT_Panther

    RT_Panther Mu-43 Legend

    May 4, 2011
    Now there's a discussion minefield - with some factual basis....:eek:
  19. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    I wonder whether Diane Arbus asked for permission before photographing the boy with the toy hand grenade in Central Park?

    Common sense tells me that some photos should be taken:


    Not my child.

    This boy walked away from his mother, faced the river, and just stood there in what I thought was almost a heroic stance, and his mother took a photograph. I couldn't resist the contrast between the controlled posture of the boy (he really stood there totally unmoving for a minute or so) and the quite relaxed attitude of an obviously proud mother.

    Some pictures just beg to be taken and we're the poorer if we don't do so.
  20. Buster

    Buster Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 28, 2013
    According to

    Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    she didn't just snap a quick shot of the kid.. he (the kid) recounted this the BBC show "The Genius of Photography"

    The Genius of Photography [DVD]: Film & TV

    Arbus was a nannie that was often in Central Park and other NYC locations.