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Street on the Beach... Oops, she's topless!
Old 08-14-2016   #1
ColSebastianMoran
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Street on the Beach... Oops, she's topless!

Shooting birds on a beach near a major metro area in the US. Very public beach. Yes, literally, birds, with a long lens.

I noticed two young adults playing in the distance. She poked him in the ribs, then took off running. This continued back and forth. I raised my long lens and started taking a couple of shots.

Then I noticed, oops, she's topless. I shot some more. I have a couple that are the best "street" photos I've ever made. Two young people having a great time, oblivious of the burdens to come in their future.

Dilemma: Can I do anything with this photo, e.g. post here on RFF? Put on my web site? I think it's an ethical dilemma. Is it OK to use this photo?

(No, I have no thought of using it in advertising. No, I have no model release. Yes, I think she's 18, but it's hard to know for sure.)

Your thoughts?
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Old 08-14-2016   #2
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Legally and ethically, is there any difference at all between what your describing and the same photo with the subjects fully clothed?
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Old 08-14-2016   #3
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Nick, that's the question. Is there a difference?
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Old 08-14-2016   #4
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Are their faces clearly visible?

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Old 08-14-2016   #5
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My first thought is that in public areas people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. For example, if you accidentally flash yourself in front of a crowd you can't sue them for watching.

One would think that this carries over to photography - with the usual caveats about street photography, of course.

Re: Jim's comment about faces, that should only matter for commercial use (if I'm right and you can still use it in a show or post it to a site).
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Old 08-14-2016   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mackinaw View Post
Are their faces clearly visible?
Yes, in the best shots. I do have one where she is looking back over her shoulder at the guy, face invisible. It's pretty good, not as good as the others. Joy in the faces is a key part of the best photo.
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Old 08-14-2016   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by YYV_146 View Post
Re: Jim's comment about faces, that should only matter for commercial use (if I'm right and you can still use it in a show or post it to a site).
I can't imaging seeking any commercial use for the image.
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Old 08-14-2016   #8
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as 'art' you can do most anything you want with it...they have no reasonable expectation of privacy on a public beach.
as a commercial shot, without a signed release you can only look at it.
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Old 08-14-2016   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ColSebastianMoran View Post
Nick, that's the question. Is there a difference?
I would say no.

I think exactly the same principles apply as would be the case with any other candid street photo. That's not to say that it is or isn't ethical, but rather that the fact the subject is topless shouldn't be the determining factor. Whether people have an issue with candid photography is a seperate topic.

If it was a paparazzi shot of someone sun baking topless in their backyard then obviously it would be a very different discussion. But a photo of someone in a public space, which displays them precisely the way they chose to be in that space...
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Old 08-14-2016   #10
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Much has changed over the years regarding public nudity in the US. In some places it is not illegal for a woman to show bare breasts in public.

In your area, any idea what the laws/regulations are with respect to this?
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Old 08-14-2016   #11
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I'm gonna be "that guy"

I wouldn't have even pressed the shutter. If I'm there to shoot birds, make sure they are of the flying variety.
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Old 08-14-2016   #12
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There is a difference between dressed and undressed.

Although there is no expectation of privacy regarding the law, she most likely did not expect to be photographed. Publishing a photo of a girl topless that can be identified could have lasting effects for the girls life. She would most likely be embarrassed, friends would treat her differently, employers would too. I believe that it is morally and ethically wrong to publish the photo for whatever reason. I would like to think that I wouldn't have pressed the shutter, but I do not judge you for taking the shot, I wasn't there.
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Old 08-14-2016   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nasmformyzombie View Post
In your area, any idea what the laws/regulations are with respect to this?
I checked; she was not breaking the law by being topless at this beach.
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Old 08-14-2016   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BLKRCAT View Post
I'm gonna be "that guy"

I wouldn't have even pressed the shutter. If I'm there to shoot birds, make sure they are of the flying variety.
I have to agree, but mainly because I find the whole "nude innocence" idea to be utterly uninteresting and cliche (and very often just a thin beard for ogling, which isn't ethically wrong, but merely interminably boring).

But, to respond to the OP's real question: Asking other people to validate ethically your choices is unproductive. What matters is your conscience.

So, let's think about how you feel. From your post, you seem not entirely comfortable with having taken or "doing something with" these photos (long lens; they didn't know they were being photographed; their faces are visible; you aren't sure she's over 18, etc.). From your description, the photos sound like they depend on the nudity for their whole idea / impact, which it seems is lending them a whiff of prurience to your conscience. So, do nothing with the photos. At least for now. Someday you may feel differently, about them -- if you're less conflicted, then you can use them for art purposes. Or if you eventually feel that they're uninteresting, then you can continue to leave them unpublished. Doing nothing now leaves open the option of doing something later. Doing something with them now closes the door for good to doing nothing.

EDIT: If I've misread your post entirely and you're completely ethically untroubled, then use them (non-commercially) as you wish. As several posters have already said, rightly, the law, at least in the US, is pretty clear that they had no expectation of privacy. So you're legally entitled, assuming you're in the US that is.
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Old 08-14-2016   #15
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Posting may be legal but I don't think ethical.
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Old 08-14-2016   #16
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Yes, I am ethically concerned.

All of your comments are helpful and appreciated.

To answer one question, the images are, I think, great candid photography of two young people having fun in public. The bare breast makes it better, but it would be good anyway.

I want to hear your comments, so I'll wait till tomorrow to post what I've been thinking about this.
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Old 08-14-2016   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by michaelwj View Post
There is a difference between dressed and undressed.

Although there is no expectation of privacy regarding the law, she most likely did not expect to be photographed.
You could say that about any candid street photo, so where do you draw the line?

By her actions, the subject has demonstrated fairly clearly that she is not embarrassed about being in public, and being seen in public, topless.

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, I just still don't see the ethical difference between this and any other candid street photo.
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Old 08-14-2016   #18
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Were they on public beach? If so, I don't see it illegal. You don't go on the public beach to shake boobs and run like chicken and demand privacy. The question is - do I want to see some boobs?
And the answer is I have seen and not just seen them already.
Went once to take street pictures of riding bike naked action in Toronto Downtown. Boobs and else and close. But best picture is two ladies in focus laughing hard. And naked duderillo is in blurred background behind.
And street with birding tele is not the street, IMO. But if you have their picture where perspective is squeezed not just by tele, they are moving same like birds and we see what she is topless, but can't see boobs, I'm all for it.
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Old 08-14-2016   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nickthetasmaniac View Post
You could say that about any candid street photo, so where do you draw the line?

By her actions, the subject has demonstrated fairly clearly that she is not embarrassed about being in public, and being seen in public, topless.

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, I just still don't see the ethical difference between this and any other candid street photo.
I draw the line where the person being photographed will potentially be harmed by publishing the photo. A candid in the street is fine unless the person is in a compromised position, I think that is the line for me. Most good street photography I see is a connection between the photographer and the subject, the subject and photographer both consent to some extent. However, I think that shooting candid photos with a long lens does not give the subject the choice.

As an aside, my wife works as a criminologist in sexual violence, and I hear a lot about what happens to the subjects in candid "nude" photos. They are actually referred to as the victim, not subject. If a person known to the girl gets a copy of the photo they can literally destroy her life. It happens and poses an unacceptable risk.

Another point, if you did this on a beach in Sydney of Briabane, you'd likely be arrested as a peeping tom.

That's my 2c.
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Old 08-14-2016   #20
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How about another scenario. You've been surfing and are getting changed in the carpark. Your towel falls down as you pull up your pants and someone snaps a shot of your tackle with your face with a long lens and posts it online. Someone you know gets a hold of it and posts it to their Facebook page. All your friends and family see a photo of you naked in a carpark. You never knew the shot had been taken.
Now, you were in public so you knew you would be photographed. Did you therefore consent to that photograph being published? Is that the same as someone waiting until you've gotten dressed taking you photo up close, where you can engage with the shooter - even if just to tell then you'd prefer not have your photo taken? I don't think so.
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Old 08-14-2016   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by michaelwj View Post
I draw the line where the person being photographed will potentially be harmed by publishing the photo. A candid in the street is fine unless the person is in a compromised position, I think that is the line for me. Most good street photography I see is a connection between the photographer and the subject, the subject and photographer both consent to some extent. However, I think that shooting candid photos with a long lens does not give the subject the choice.
I guess where we differ is that I don't think someone playing around topless on a public beach is in a 'compromised' position, and implies as much consent as you can ever have short of the photographer actually asking for consent.

I agree that candid photos with long lenses does not give the subject a choice, but again, this is an issue for any public space photography of people, not just topless people.


Quote:
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How about another scenario. You've been surfing and are getting changed in the carpark. Your towel falls down as you pull up your pants and someone snaps a shot of your tackle with your face with a long lens and posts it online. Someone you know gets a hold of it and posts it to their Facebook page. All your friends and family see a photo of you naked in a carpark. You never knew the shot had been taken.
Now, you were in public so you knew you would be photographed. Did you therefore consent to that photograph being published? Is that the same as someone waiting until you've gotten dressed taking you photo up close, where you can engage with the shooter - even if just to tell then you'd prefer not have your photo taken? I don't think so.
As someone who has tried to get out of a 4/3" wettie in far too many carparks without showing the world my 'tackle', I see your point. The difference however, is that while the carpark is a public space, the fact that I'm trying (and failing) to cover up with a towel indicates that I do not consent. I would consider this a very different situation to someone taking a photo of me playing around naked on a public beach.
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Old 08-14-2016   #22
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Just my two cents.

First, it is the USA, they are in a public place, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy - legally you're okay. But you already knew that.

In the nineties in Europe all women were topless, now none. Something changed. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't post your pictures. You described the beach as a "Very public beach" and that means they knew people would see them. It is just something that came before your camera, it isn't your "fault" she was topless. So, showing these pictures isn't unethical.

However, if you feel uneasy about it, don't. It is more about you then about them.

One remark on the "Publishing a photo of a girl topless that can be identified could have lasting effects for the girls life" argument. If you go out and shoot a couple in the street, that could have " have lasting effects" as one of the couple could be with somebody else then their partner, resulting in divorce and children from broken homes... By that argument you can never do street photography. This is, by the way, the reason in Germany photo's from speeding cameras don't show the passenger side of a car.

So, listen to your own sense of what is right. If you have to ask, you probably shouldn't.
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Old 08-14-2016   #23
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Somehow I can't imagine how a telephoto shot of a topless couple on the beach is not either creepy or very clichť, most likely both. Might be a matter of taste though - I've never seen any 'street' or 'candid' shots taken with long lenses that I really liked...
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Old 08-14-2016   #24
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Lets not be too simplistic about this. Yes I agree about the legal position - on most beaches you are perfectly within your legal rights to make photos as you are anywhere else. But it ain't this simple.

We live in an age of public shaming and faux outrage for rank political reasons. There are those with a certain political orientation (who are particularly adept and have "form" for doing just this) who think nothing of using public and social media to shame anyone for little and, all too often, for no reason at all. Too often its all about virtue signalling and symbolically messaging that they are within the relevant group. And these same people will often also make police complaints which sometimes involve wildly speculative and exaggerated claims.

And yet again, all too often, the supine, weak, politically-correct authorities cave in and demonstrate their eagerness to be seen to be compliant (even if they later quietly drop the case for lack of legal cause to prosecute or lack of evidence). Its all BS of course and here in Australia many of us have had it up to our eyebrows with this kind of behaviour which is becoming more, not less prevalent. And it has become more virulent, shouty, accusatory and ugly by the day while authorities have become weaker by the day. Virtually no politician in Australia will now stand up and speak in support of freedom of speech, expression etc as non "crimes" like "objectifying women" and "causing offence" are constantly being thrown up as just the worst things a person can do.

We should also not forget either, that against the above background, local authorities in Sydney a few years ago banned all photographs at the beach at Bondi, the most famous Australian beach, because of such complaints that people were photographing topless or scantily clad women. (Judging by the lurid media reports at least, admittedly some complaints may have had some substance as pervy types were claimed to be surreptitiously going out of their way to make suggestive photos). It never the less seems to me to be a gross over-reaction, but there you have it! Never doubt the capacity of scared and timid authorities to over react for any reason when frightened by sternly glowering shouty types who get onto social media to stir up a storm.

In short, honestly in this Orwellian climate I would be very careful about publishing images of topless women on the beach, even if taken accidentally even if in the best possible taste.
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Old 08-15-2016   #25
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Quote:
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One remark on the "Publishing a photo of a girl topless that can be identified could have lasting effects for the girls life" argument. If you go out and shoot a couple in the street, that could have " have lasting effects" as one of the couple could be with somebody else then their partner, resulting in divorce and children from broken homes... By that argument you can never do street photography. This is, by the way, the reason in Germany photo's from speeding cameras don't show the passenger side of a car.
I think you'd be surprised at hope many f*d up people there are in the world. There is a vibrant research community studying "technology facilitated sexual assault" which is basically using a sexually explicit or naked picture of someone (mostly a girl) against them.

As for getting your photo taken cheating on your partner in public? Totally different kettle of fish here, you could also be directly seen by the other half.

Personally, I agree with others where I can't see a photo taken from afar of a topless women as anything but creepy and deviant.
The argument that it is art? It's not, else the OP wouldn't have to ask.

I'd like to reiterate that I don't know what I would have done had I been in the OPs position taking the pictures (I think I would have stopped once I realised she was topless), but I wouldn't publish them - not even as art. I'm guessing the picture is quite a strong one, having received fantastic postcards from the OP over the last few years and I'm glad he hasn't felt the need to post it.

*In case no one realised, I have kind of strong views about this
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Old 08-15-2016   #26
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What a lot of paranoid prudes there are on this forum! Then again, we live in paranoid and prudish times.

Addy101 sums it up perfectly: "So, listen to your own sense of what is right. If you have to ask, you probably shouldn't."

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Old 08-15-2016   #27
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Since we have a wealth of experience and wisdom on this forum, I think it's best that you post the image herein and let us decide!

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Old 08-15-2016   #28
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Would you have felt better making the photo with a wide angle?
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Old 08-15-2016   #29
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Post it with black bars over the faces. Instant social commentary.
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Old 08-15-2016   #30
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In short, honestly in this Orwellian climate I would be very careful about publishing images of topless women on the beach, even if taken accidentally even if in the best possible taste.
Excellent post, thanks.

That Orwellian climate, mixed with all those new pesky religious moral diktats and such, has spreaded all over the western world.

Here in continental western Europe the difference between what happens now and what used to happen fourty years ago is huge. Quite frankly I don't recognize the very society I grew-up in.

I often remember those two funny young long-haired fellows suddenly asking my father (who was shooting this and that on that beach with his - excellent - Minolta PF-Rokkor 200mm f/3.5, i.e. Sealink ferries leaving to the UK but probably something else too...) on a Normandy public beach in June 1976 to take photos of "that terrific woman over there", and my father accepting with a candid smile (after having noted the guys' coordinates to send some pics their way after they get developed) to shoot that topless brunette who actually was... my mother.

Now such a situation would be totally impossible. And not only because there are way less topless women on our public beaches (I'd say that the topless habit has decreased by around 95% since the 1970s). That short period of time during which people had a different relationship with the naked body is over, for some reasons. Not good.

Some years ago, just before he died, the great Willy Ronis was sued by a woman he had shot naked more than fifty years before, for a superb photo which had become famous, because it magnified the beauty of that woman... Getting money was of course the dirty goal.
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Old 08-15-2016   #31
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That short period of time during which people had a different relationship with the naked body is over, for some reasons. Not good.
Could it be that the way women think about their own body has changed... and that it could be good in some way?
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Old 08-15-2016   #32
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Could it be that the way women think about their own body has changed... and that it could be good in some way?
Possible. Yet I know more women who'd still want to behave freely with their own body, and who can't, because of how men do behave (men as individuals and also men as people who have the power and who put the social rules up, whatever the country), than women enjoying the hard social rules we have to live with nowadays. I am quite nostalgic of the era I mentioned above, when the religions were quite off and when naked bodies on beaches seemed quite normal to everyone (at the same time you would wear classy clothes downtown, even in the summer, even if you were a young and pretty woman). Now there is something twisted, like a threat of some sort upon our individual freedoms.

Actually the Internet, the "social networks" and the worldwide digital images inflation are part of that complex problem, as well as dirty pornography all over the map and deep social and politics diseases which tend to soil everything related to the body. This isn't difficult to imagine how someone like Donald Trump would call women being topless on public beaches, and someone taking pictures of women being topless on public beaches. Ditto with the Turkish president, etc.
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Old 08-15-2016   #33
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I agree with giggling Helen.
No need to post the images if this makes you feel uncomfortable. Follow your feelings.
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Old 08-15-2016   #34
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...the great Willy Ronis ..
Thank you for bringing him up and making me re-discover his images.

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Old 08-15-2016   #35
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Don't post to the internet if you're concerned with the impact it could have on her career etc.
Print them, frame them, hang them. Or publish in a book if you want. Treat it as art, instead of the usual peek-a-boo snapshot posted online.
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Old 08-15-2016   #36
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I think you confused https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Booby
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Old 08-15-2016   #37
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I draw the line where the person being photographed will potentially be harmed by publishing the photo. A candid in the street is fine unless the person is in a compromised position, I think that is the line for me. Most good street photography I see is a connection between the photographer and the subject, the subject and photographer both consent to some extent. However, I think that shooting candid photos with a long lens does not give the subject the choice.

As an aside, my wife works as a criminologist in sexual violence, and I hear a lot about what happens to the subjects in candid "nude" photos. They are actually referred to as the victim, not subject. If a person known to the girl gets a copy of the photo they can literally destroy her life. It happens and poses an unacceptable risk.

Another point, if you did this on a beach in Sydney of Briabane, you'd likely be arrested as a peeping tom.

That's my 2c.
Three good points. Many thanks.
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Old 08-15-2016   #38
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Yup... Back to birds, where I started this.
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Old 08-15-2016   #39
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Would you have felt better making the photo with a wide angle?
Excellent question. Yes, that would be very different. Different because it opens the possibility of two-way contact. She could say to me,"Hey, no photos!"

I'm not a street shooter. I would not have been there, up close, in her space, with my camera. Not my kind of shooting.
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Old 08-15-2016   #40
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OK, now I'll share my thinking.

Comments reminded me of the notion of test questions to investigate an ethical situation. The standard one is "What if everyone did that?" That's actually interesting, because basically everyone is doing that: putting photos into media on the net. With consequences we all see. Then the followup point is clear: Just because everyone is doing it, doesn't mean it's OK for me to do so.

One of you suggested "What's the worst that could happen?" To me, that's a better question.

I'm a dad. If my daughter did something crazy, I would be quite angry at a photographer who memorialized and publicized it. That's a starting point for me.

Then, "What's the worst that could happen?" The experiences of @michaelwj's wife are important; someone with the photo could make the young woman miserable.

Both these scenarios I clearly want to avoid.

This leads to my conclusion:
- I'll use the photo in small settings (e.g. show to friends, maybe even display it),
- in a way that it can't easily be reproduced (printed, not digital, modest size)
- and never on the internet where it could go viral

Thanks, all for the comments. This has helped clear my thinking.
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