Photo Ethics: Aim High When You Shoot


This article originally appeared in Issue# 13

Chitrabani, a Christian communication center in Calcutta, India, has developed a set of guidelines for still photography which provide thoughtful insights for all who go around 'shooting pictures.'

    What to Photograph

  1. What you shoot and how you shoot is determined by why you shoot and whom you shoot for.
  2. Then photographing people do not treat them as if they were things.
  3. Do not take people's pictures, give images, especially to the imageless.
  4. Never depict people as useless or inadequate. It is their helplessness which has to be Shown.
  5. Do not invade anybody's privacy except when it is necessary for depicting certain social situations.
  6. Yet, boldly reach into personal life, bearing in mind that the photographs you take are your brothers' and sisters.

    How to Photograph

  7. Never art for art's sake, just try to make the best possible picture.
  8. There is no need to prettify people and objects; they have their beauty, and a good photograph exudes beauty.
  9. Sensationalism diverts attention from the essential.
  10. Shun extra long lenses. A short lens draws you near your subject.
  11. Try to establish a rapport with the person you photograph.

    Social Concern

  12. Let not your photographs drift away from context.
  13. Earn the right to see what you wish to show.
  14. Your social concern is to document life with empathy.
  15. Be true to the image people want to have of themselves, but at the same time do show what you believe is their real image. The dignity of the poor, in particular, demands that their situation be known.
  16. A documentary coverage can never be total. Complete a biased image by another biased image.
  17. Be an iconoclast – a destroyer of established images.

    Your Public

  18. Photos should not be used to exploit the persons portrayed.
  19. Refrain from showing a photograph if undesirable manipulation cannot be averted.
  20. Your photos have no place in art shows.
  21. Lending your photographs for "illustrating" articles that have hardly anything to do with the persons photographed is like lending your voice to somebody else's speech.
  22. Destroy the myth that photographs are duplicates of reality.
  23. Ethical documentary photography is not your sole responsibility. But your photographs encourage certain responses in the viewer.