Permission to Photograph People
It's a tough topic and one that most of us like to shy away from rather than embrace, but the honest truth is that the shots of people that you get - the best kind - are the ones that are candid, journalistic or spontaneous. That usually means asking permission afterwards, or not asking permission at all - which can appear quite odd, to some. One of my biggest concerns and anxieties is having my camera out in public. I recently went to a beach, of all places, and was shooting the coastline when a horrible feeling crept over me and I realised that there were lots of people around and that I was invading, a little bit, on their privacy. These guidelines are useful for shooting on the street, at public gatherings and events and at more formal occasions such as weddings.
If the person is going to be the main subject of your photo - then it's kind to ask permission, get permission, and then snap away. This is in particular quite important when you're travelling in other countries. I once decided to snap an accordion player on the tube in Paris. I was subsequently followed for three stops whilst he demanded money in payment for me taking his picture. Be careful about your subjects, things can be delicate, especially in countries that are foreign to yours.
Getting permission doesn't always involve that piece of paper with a signature on. At weddings in particular, you can simply raise your camera, and capture your subjects eye hopefully. They will often, with just the smallest nod, pose all of a sudden and then they're yours. At big gatherings like this, it would be impractical to ask each and every person so sit down and scribble their signature on a permission slip.
You need to start getting signatures if you're planning on publishing your shot and it shows a person quite clearly, and particularly if you're planning on using the shot for promotion or some other such thing. There was recently an article in the newspaper about IKEA and the fact that a family walked into a store and saw a picture of themselves hanging in frames that were for sale...they had no idea such thing was happening and it turned out that IKEA had trawled the internet for a stock shot, and found them - the perfect family! Be careful about your intentions, and be open and honest.
No permission? Hostility? Move on respectfully and try something else. There's no use arguing, being covert or trying to wrangle somebody into your view finder. A no means no, and you should, as a photographer and a human being, respect that.
When photographing children, regardless of all of the above, permission needs to be gained. Preferably from a parent or guardian. Additionally when shooting a wedding professionally, it's worth checking beforehand whether any parents would mind their children aka bridesmaids and such, being snapped. It's really important to be careful in this area, there's no sense in getting into trouble just because you were too lazy or forgot to ask.
Travel light - if you're looking to shoot candidly then lots of equipment and lots of people can be quite daunting. Try and be as minimal as possible to make it easier for your subjects to adapt to the situation.
Don't bribe - it's best not to tip or give gifts. Arm yourself with a business card or a website link to your facebook page or blog so that if people are interested they can go and see their photographs, but try not to offer money. If you're photographing a street busker however, it's polite to give a few coins in thanks. (Which I should have learnt!)
Ultimately, think about how you'd feel about being photographed covertly. Additionally think about how protective you'd be if you have children. Apply the same rules to those around you as you wish to have applied to yourself - and give the utmost respect as much as you can. Happy Shooting!