We worry over whether and how to take photos of strangers as we travel. What do you do? An old Chinese man gave us a nod and pointed to his rather large camera, as if to ask, “May I take your picture?” We nodded with a smile, and he happily took his photo of this older American couple visiting China. How nice of him to ask!
The problem with asking is the result – a posed picture. We hope to capture people doing what they do. The decision to take photos of strangers without their permission is a judgment call; the choice is made in a gray area. We consider the place (probably OK at a rock concert in the UK, we’re guessing not alright in an Orthodox Church service in Russia), the social setting (fine at weddings, not at funerals), and who the people are (never acceptable for the Amish). Generally, when we’re in a public setting, such as a park, taking a photo of a stranger seems OK. A private setting would be off limits.
We wanted to take more photos in Shanghai but weren’t sure if our judgment on what was acceptable would hold up in China. Visits to the Bund and various parks gave us an opportunity to start taking people photos. We proceeded with caution and at some distance, and we hope that the subjects would approve.