Responsibilities of Being Behind the Lens

What We Should Think About Before Taking the Shot.

Carrying a camera of some sort these days is about as common as wearing a pair of shoes. So I figured I would spend a few lines discussing the responsibilities that we have when we get behind the lens. Whether your shooter is a smart phone or a Mamiya M645 (if you prefer the former or don’t know the latter you are of a particular age group). My question is whether you believe you have any responsibilities to your subject and/or the medium when taking a photograph? I don’t intend to get into an in-depth discussion but, I would like to mention a couple of points I ponder when I get behind the lens.

There are two considerations we must address when taking a photograph, one is legal and the other is ethical. Although laws concerning photography may vary from place to place they are relatively consistent. Knowing and following the laws regarding photography can keep you out of some serious legal issues. As photographers, it is our responsibility to know the laws and to follow them accordingly. But knowing the law is not our only responsibility.

We must also have a clear sense of ethics when taking a photograph. The law, what’s legal, and the ethical, what’s right, aren’t necessarily the same thing. It’s all too easy to use the law (to hide behind it) when asked to explain or defend why we took a particular photograph. But arguing it is legal to take a particular photograph doesn’t always make it right to take that photograph. There isn’t any one set of principles that all photographers can use in all circumstances. One of the responsibilities of a serious photographer is to have his/her own set of ethical principles when taking photographs. These principles of how we act and think behind the lens should reflect how we would think and feel if we were the subject in front of the lens.

Learning the laws regarding photography is not a difficult task, but developing a sense of ethics requires some serious thought and dedication. Investing the time and effort necessary to develop ethical principles will help us move beyond saying it was legal to take a photograph to knowing it was right to take a photograph.


13 Ways of Looking at a Photograph

1.   Aide-memoire
Visual record for a potential memory. The photograph functions simply as a way of recalling, a way of summoning up the past.
2.   Reportage
The photograph serves as a testimony. The photographer chooses to go where most of us dare not.
3.   Work of art
The photograph presents itself as a quasi-painting, a pseudo canvas.
4.   Topography
Photograph tries to reproduce the effect of a painted landscape, etc.
5.   Erotica and pornography
Perhaps a field of photography can claim as its own. The gamut is extensive, the nuances of the erotic are manifold.
6.   Advertisement
These are photographs that are meant to function wholly as a form of allurement.
7.   Abstract image
The photograph functions simply and purely, being judges, like an abstract painting in terms of form, pattern, texture, and composition.
8.   Literature
To ‘read’ a photograph as if it were part of a narrative or a short story.
9.   Text
Photography of writing or printed signs. Something about words seems to provoke the desire to photograph them.
10. Autobiography
Every photograph, if we know enough about the circumstances of its taking, will contain some biographical information about the photographer. Will all the photographs a person takes in his/her life be as much a record of that individual as anything written down?
11. Composition
Could be argues as a sub-class of ‘work of art’ but the tradition fine art concepts and composition apply to photography.
12. Means to end/tool
The pragmatic advantage of photography. What was the photo’s initial purpose? Once the pragmatic task of the photograph has been satisfied it may transmorgify into something else.
13. Snapshot
Ties in all of the above. What distinguishes photography from all the other visual arts is its particularly intense relation to time.

-William Boyd-
Anonymous: Enigmatic Images from Unknown Photographers


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