Gain Informed Consent


If there is only one thing you are left with after reading this guide, it should be this: respect other people’s privacy and ask for permission if you want to take photos and share them on social media or elsewhere.

You probably wouldn’t have appreciated having your photo taken without giving your consent, and the same applies for all people – we prefer to be asked. In other words: treat people the same way you would like to be treated. So before getting your camera out, make sure that the people in the photo are aware and okay with you taking their photo. Ask for their consent, and inform those you are photographing that you might publish their picture on social media or elsewhere, if that is what you intend to do. Taking pictures of people in vulnerable or degrading positions must be avoided. This includes pictures from hospitals and other health care facilities. Your health status is a private matter, and you would probably want to be in control of how such information is spread.

If you are travelling as a volunteer for an organization, they might have their own guidelines for imagery, specifying when and how to get consent from those you photograph. Read and follow them, and consider the four guiding principles presented here as a means to move beyond the bare minimum of what should be expected of you, and towards a way to make a difference through how you communicate your experiences. If they don’t have guidelines, help them improve and encourage them to create one.

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Taking and sharing photographs of and together with children is perhaps one of the most common examples of where ethical dilemmas we tend to ignore comes up (and with all those cute kids running after you, what a great photo opportunity!). The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that every child has the right to privacy and to take part in decisions which in any way concern them. This means that they should be asked and you should explain how you are going to use the photo. Always remember to ask their parents, caretakers or guardians for consent, but the voice of the child should never be ignored.

Be aware that in some cases, individuals might agree to have their photo taken with an assumption that they will get something in return. Be also aware of power imbalances that exist in the relationship between children and adults. However, it is important to note that consent is not a free pass to do whatever you want with the photo afterwards. Even though children might be running towards you to have their photograph taken, this does not mean that they understand the implications of having their photo shared on social media.

Consent is not always necessary. You probably don’t need consent when photographing crowds of people, or when the your motive is a situation, and not the people in it. Consent is in general not necessary when the people portrayed aren’t recognizable.