What is and what is not ethical, what should be shared and what should be kept away from the internet library.
Most people who have a relationship with a child will have posted, or thought about posting something about them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter at some point. But is it safe, or even ethical to publish something about someone who can’t give their consent? And as the business models of social networking sites change and digital technology develops, could these innocent snapshots someday come back and bite our children on the behind?
As a newborn photographer I am capturing the most precious moments of a family’s life together, I have a responsibility to do right by them in every sense. Safety is at the forefront for me, I have to be confident that I can provide a professional service, create beautiful images whilst handling their baby with the maximum care.
As a self employed photographer, my Business survives through referrals, website and Facebook bookings. It has taken years to build up my client base, good reputation and 5 star review history. It would have been hard to do this without sharing client images online, people like to try before they buy and that’s impossible when it comes to photography but if they can view past shoots that you’ve done and read good reviews then they can make a good judgement before they book.
The only images I share online are a ‘Sneak Peek’ on the day of the shoot, I ask the parents at the end of the shoot if they would like one and if they say no because they don’t want anything on Social Media then I honour their decision but 99% of the time they can’t wait for me to share one.
The image I choose to share has to be carefully considered, sometimes my favourite image might be more of an artistic shot of the baby naked curled up in a fetal position reminiscing a time in the womb. But I never share these images, I know they would be loved by many but they will equally be judged by others, Facebook has quite strong rules and regulations now compared to a few years ago when I repeatedly had to report horrific videos and images that were on my newsfeed and it was too late to unsee them.
Our nudity policies have become more nuanced over time. We understand that nudity can be shared for a variety of reasons, including as a form of protest, to raise awareness about a cause, or for educational or medical reasons. Where such intent is clear, we make allowances for the content. For example, while we restrict some images of female breasts that include the nipple, we allow other images, including those depicting acts of protest, women actively engaged in breast-feeding, and photos of post-mastectomy scarring. We also allow photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures.
So I always choose a ‘safe’ one, where the baby is in an outfit and posed in a prop or curled up on a beanbag. Not to say that even that’s going to please everyone, that’s impossible, I experienced this around 3 years ago. My clients had requested a grey colour theme for their baby’s shoot and the baby was swaddled in the ‘potato sack’ wrap and lying in a dark grey fluffy flokati blanket. Biased I know, but it was super cute and just the look the parents wanted. After sharing their sneak peek somebody posted an offensive comment, and I didn’t notice until a few minutes after they’d done it and by that time the parents had already seen it. This upset them and they asked me to take it down, saying they absolutely loved the photo but were upset that someone (who turned out to be an arrogant family member) could scrutinise it the way they did. And they’ve since not shared anything of their child on Facebook which is completely understandable. So how do you decide what’s right to share?
In the book Visual Ethics by Paul Martin Lester he explains a situation that led him to re-evaluate his role as a photojournalist. Whilst on an assignment at an airport to photograph a reunion between two 80 year old twin brothers, he was distracted by the arrival of the Oscar winning actress Faye Dunaway. In a rash judgement he flash photographed her even though she had cowered away in protest before he’d even pressed the shutter. He wasn’t there to photograph her, it caused her emotional harm and it’s haunted him to this day and encouraged him to explore his judgement further. He describes a ten-point systematic ethical analysis (SEA) which will help determine whether actions can be considered ethical.
- Categorical Imperative – A rule that should not be violated. In regards to the role of a Photojournalist, anything newsworthy is part of their role responsibility and should be photographed.
- Utilitarianism – To emphasise something for educational purposes that will help others.
- Golden Mean – The Philosophy of compromise, respect someone and ask their permissions first.
- The Golden Rule & Veil Of Ignorance – Consider those in the picture and those who view it. Would you want to be photographed in such a manner in a similar situation and so you think someone needs to see it?
- Hedonism – An act based on purely selfish motivations, win favour, a contest or for monetary gain.
Photography ethics are the principles that guide how we take and share photographs. Photography ethics are subjective, contextual, and fluid, meaning that every person’s ethics will be different, because ethics are based on a person’s life experience and values.
Respecting that everyone’s ethics will be different because of events that have happened to them during their life and the influences that support their opinions. We as Photographers must make a conscious effort to gain the trust, have empathy and preserve their dignity at all costs. Sharing an image online that is purely for egotistical reasons to further someone’s career may gain a short term benefit but be detrimental to a long term career when trying to build trust within your client base.