Photographing children – the law vs. Mamma bear

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There’s a very fine, thin line when it comes to photographing people in public places (I’m completely avoiding the public vs. right to privacy places.)  The law generally says you can photograph to your heart’s content, and even post online, sell (commercially is another can of worms,) or use as a promotion or part of your art work.

In reality, people expect more privacy from a photographer than the law allows.  Especially when it comes to children.

I AM a photographer, and I absolutely hate for people to take pictures of my kids.  I’ve asked that none of our family post my kids’ pics online, especially on Facebook, and most of them have honored that request.  My husband pointed out that I blithely post photographs of them on this blog so Facebook shouldn’t matter that much.  Somehow that’s different.  I know anyone with a halfway decent photo editing program could edit my watermark out of the pics, but using a watermark makes it a bit more difficult.  Plus, it stamps a “This is MY photo, by gosh, leave it alone!” comment all over the image.  For the casual copy/paste thief it’s probably enough deterrent.

This weekend we had a purely negative experience at our neighborhood’s fall festival over just this issue – someone taking photographs of my kid.  This kid.  Kelton.  And if some of my neighbors happen to read this and get upset because they know the offender, I’m sorry if I offend you, but I stand by what I said to her.

The two older kids were decorating pumpkins at a small table and I was keeping an eye on them and watching Kelton at the same time.  Kelton was sitting in his red wagon watching all the action, close enough to see everything, but not close enough for the wagon to get in everyone’s way.  I turn around from trying to keep A from sticking foam on her nose to see some random woman with a wanna-be SLR crouched down on Kelton’s level.  At first I thought she was talking to him.  No big deal.  Then I saw her raise the camera and start snapping pictures of him.  I should point out that these were head shots – close up images of just Kelton.  No one else was in the shot, and no festival activity was included.

I asked her what she was doing, and she replied that she was taking pictures of the event to post on the community website/Facebook page.  Not cool.  I asked her not to photograph my kids, saying that I didn’t want them posted online.  She became very offended and defensive.  I told her that she needed to ask first, and that set off a nasty escalation of personal insults.  Since I got the results I needed I backed down and avoided making the situation worse.

Now, you might think I’m crazy to be so cautious and paranoid.  And in reality, you’re probably right.  But did you ever think what kind of social/economic/private information might be gathered simply by compiling information about your kids online?  For example, one mom I know has multiple social networking accounts and work networking accounts.  If you Google her name, what pops up first?  Images of her little girl.  If that’s not scary, I don’t know what is.

Add that to the multiple information accounts that are so easily hackable (doctor’s office network, anyone?) and I think being cautious isn’t a bad thing.  In just our family alone our credit cards have been stolen from routine transactions and our medical information has been hacked.  This included critical information like Social Security ID numbers, contact information, and birth dates.  That information breach was for all of us – the kids included.

The crux of the matter is control.  Who has control over the kids’ information?  Is it us, the parents, or is it widely spread out and easily searchable online?  If I take an image of my kids, my choice of where to post it is critical.  Facebook’s rules on ownership make me very wary as a photographer.  If someone else takes an image of my kids I have no idea where it might end up.

As a photographer mom, my own personal rules rely on common sense.  I will not take close-up shots of kids without asking permission first, and I make sure that parents get copies of those images whenever possible (playgroup, sports events.)   I’m fine with some group event shots but I still try to blur out other kids and focus only on mine if that’s the intent.  I will not post images of other kids online and I even avoid putting images of other kids in the photo books that we hand out for family Christmas presents most years.

I dread the days of teenagers being rebellious and crazy with internet access, but I hope that I can instill this caution in them as they grow.  Who needs a future employer rejecting you as a candidate because your mom posted naked baby pics (bad idea all around, that!) on Facebook when you were little?  Given the way technology evolves, we may face discrimination if our pattern of behaviour online doesn’t fit an HR department’s criteria.  Who knows?  I only know that I will do my best not to sabotage my kids before they even become a teen.

And people with cameras?  Ask first before shooting pictures of my kids.  Don’t make me go all Mamma bear on you!

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