Privacy and Other Laws in Terms of Photography

How many times do we actually think before taking photographs in public places? Does the privacy law protect the people on the street? When do we explicitly have to take permission? What about the model release and property release, when is it necessary? Do photographers have rights? To be very frank most of the times, I get these questions, as after thoughts. Until now, I have never tried to dig deep into this subject. As per my tutor’s suggestion, I decided to research on this aspect. This article is based on the information available on the public domain and a few discussions with professional photographers. However, this article is not to be taken as a legal guideline on these matters.

Everybody who owns a camera, everywhere in the world, commonly practices photography. However, there are no standard laws, which define the boundaries for photographers. The laws are country or region specific. It appears that at the moment North America and some parts of Europe have the most clearly defined laws to protect photographers and the people (subjects) being photographed. As it is this is a vast topic, and is open to endless discussion. I am presenting this article in two parts. Part I covers the worldwide point of view and the part II is oriented towards the Singapore / South East Asia specific laws.

Part I: Worldwide point of view

Let me try to put this in simple language.  The rules that protect the photography are copyrights or the moral rights. On the other hand, photographers are prohibited or restricted to publish certain photographs; this is to protect interests of different people. These rules fall under privacy laws. Let me explain this with an example. I don’t like to post my kids photograph on any social media website. Now, I go to a party and the host takes some photos and later shares it on some social media. The host is a friend and has no ill intentions. However, unknowingly he has violated the privacy law. I have a right to ask the friend to remove the photographs (only of my kids or me). No one goes to an extended of suing a friend for such a small issue. But, under the privacy law, I have a legal right here. In fact, for that matter in many countries taking photographs in public places that include children is prohibited, unless parents’ permission is obtained. This reminds me the image; I had clicked for the assignment 3 (Click here). I did take the parent’s permission, but it was verbal. This holds no value, in case of any dispute. I should have asked them to sign a model release.

For that matter, if you plan to get attached to any stock image gallery then it is advisable that you start getting organized with your model and property release permissions. As most of the stock galleries/publications would not accept any image for the commercial use, unless it has properly signed permissions.

Now let me lead you to a website “Photo Attorney”. I feel this website is quite reliable. It sums up many of the doubt we may have. However, it is oriented towards the laws in US. One very relevant question answered on this site is, “Is there a Statute of Limitations for Use of Photos of Persons … (n.d.). Retrieved from (accessed on 28/04/2012)

It is simple; first determine what is the purpose of the photograph. If one is a hobbyist photographer, then the permission to photograph in public places will not be that important. However, if the photograph is meant for commercial purpose then explicit permission is required. The term public places can also be slightly confusing. Normally a shopping mall or a restaurant is a public place. However, at times you might be required to take permission, as technically speaking these places are private places, which are open to public. Now, in a normal scenario there will be no objection to taking photographs here, but if the photograph is going to be used commercially, the owner of the building might have objection. Hence, it is better to take written permission, a signed property release form. As the building’s exteriors and interiors, are covered under the property law.

On the forum of the Digital photo school website, “NaturesPixel” has put together the following “List of links to Photographers rights” around the world. Read more: (accessed on 3 May 2012)

Unfortunately, there are no universal laws, and there is a lack of trusted common resource; hence most of the photographers are unaware of the laws and their rights. This means we may find ourselves in a situation like below. (accessed on 1st May 2012). I wish I could find out what happened at the end. Did the UK police finally allow him to take the photograph? Now other than access to the place there can be another problem here. Imagine a scenario, we make a photograph in a public place like this. Unknowingly in the background we have captured some brand name/logo. Now we used this photo for some commercial purpose. The company, whose logo or name has been captured, has a legal right to stop us from using the photograph or ask for the compensation. Hence, it is photographers’ responsibility to avoid such conflicts by using a thoughtful composition or prior written permission.

I have found (below mentioned) 3 websites that look reliable to source the information on topics like above. The first link is for the United Nations agency dedicated to the use of intellectual property (patents, copyright, trademarks, designs, etc.) as a means of stimulating innovation and creativity. (Accessed on 29th May 2012)

Below mentioned 2 links belong to the people who are legally qualified and would know the laws better.

Carolyn E. Wright is full-time attorney whose practice is aimed squarely at the legal needs of photographers.  Carolyn… (Accessed on 29th May 2012)

Bert Krages is an attorney who concentrates on intellectual property and environmental law. He is recognized …. (Accessed on 29th May 2012)

Part II: Singapore / South East Asia specific laws

It’s a very common site to see people with various sizes of cameras on the streets of South East Asia. However, I found it extremely difficult to find any reliable source that mentions the laws to protect the interests of photographers’ and the people that are being photographed. However, there is some information available about copyright and intellectual property laws on this official website Still there are many unanswered questions, which come to my mind after reading the information available on the link provided above. See the section 12.1.4 (Duration of Copyright), 12.1.5 and (Ownership of Copyright) and 12.1.6

When it comes to the photographers’ rights on the streets, I found the information provided below very useful (click on the links), in some respect it addresses the issue. Please note, the following links do not express any legal practitioner’s views therefore, it should be treated as information and not as reliable legal source. Nevertheless, they do provide some direction in this matter.

A Foreword on Legal Discussions…. (Accessed on 2nd May 2012)

Is it Legal to shoot building……. (Accessed on 2nd May 2012)

Legal Issues on Photography in Public and Private… (Accessed on 2nd May 2012)

Photography Rules/Laws…. (Accessed on 2nd May 2012)

At times while shooting in the public places one needs to be aware of the public, cultural and religious sentiments. For example (as per my experience), people on the streets of India, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia are very open to being clicked, at times they would even pose for you. However, I found people in Hong Kong and Malaysia very reserved and not willing to be photographed. There are some sensitive occasions when you must restrain form-taking photos or definitely ask for permission before clicking. For example, people bathing in public places, death ceremonies, prayers in a public place etc.


Assignment 4 thoughts

It has been quite some time that I have posted anything on my blog here. My last article was around 3 weeks back, after that I had been in and out of Singapore and to top it up my kids also had their Easter break. 3 weeks include a trip to India and then a family holiday in Koh Samui. Everything put together I got bit distracted. Prior to my holiday, I had finished all the excises for the part 4: Reality and intervention. Now I was supposed to decide the subject/idea for the assignment 4. To begin with, I had many ideas, and I wasn’t sure which one to execute. Method of systematic elimination has helped me to reach a final decision for the assignment. I thought it would be apt to update the blog with my brainstorming details. The whole process lasted for 3-4 weeks.

I really wanted to maintain the balance between reality and fake. There are many choices, and the scope for creativity is also vast. However, I plan not to allow Photoshop to over power the photography. I also thought of using a shot from my Manny Librodo workshop last year. Though, decided against it, as one of the requirements is to take fresh shots specifically for this assignment.

(Just a thought) If time permits, it might not be a bad idea to use one of the images from the archives and have a fashion magazine cover page. That would give more option to play around with the Photoshop.

Photographic Approaches: Artistic Vs Unethical

I had been suggested to research photographers like, Henry Peach Robinson and Adana Hajj. This is the first time I have heard these names. Thanks to the Internet, I have been able to read up a lot of information about both the photographer’s work. Obviously the research has led me to the comparison between both the photographers. I have decided to take their most famous / controversial photographs and express my thoughts. These findings are going to be very relevant and helpful in the part 4 of the DPP course.

Henry Peach Robinson:

Henry Peach Robinson was born on 9th July 1830 in Ludlow, Shropshire – died in 1901. He was an English pictorialist photographer, best known for his pioneering ‘combination printing’ method (joining multiple negatives to form a single image). Pictorialist photographers used methods like soft focus, special filters, lens coatings, heavy manipulation in the darkroom, and exotic printing processes to remove the mundane from the photographs. At times, such processes created unnerving and a dreamlike feeling in the photographs. According to him “imagination is vital however, it must be based on the observation”. He always promoted photography to be considered as an art form. His photograph “Fading Away” is an all time stunner. However, I could not establish the true story behind this photograph. As different sites quote different information about the people photographed. It would have been interesting, if I could have managed to find out the technique H.P. Robinson used to create this photograph.

Image courtesy Wikipedia (

There are quite a few articles that provide in depth information of the artist, visit the links provided below for detailed reading. (Accessed on 20nd March 2012)—Henry-Peach-Robinson&id=2785850 (Accessed on 22nd March 2012) (Accessed on 22nd March 2012)

I found the topic of pictorialism very intriguing. Wikipedia has a lot of information on this topic too (accessed on 21nd March 2012). Scroll down to the 3rd point “Defining pictorialism”.

Adnan Hajj:

Adnan Hajj is a Lebanese freelance photographer, based in Middle East. He worked for Reuters, a London based news agency for more than 10 years. He was involved in few controversies, which subsequently cost him his job and probably credibility. Adnan’s photograph, capturing the aftermath of an IDF attack on Beirut was the first instance coming to lime light and challenged his credibility. A blogger Charles Johnson wrote an article on 5th August 2006, accusing Adnan of using Cloning technique, to increase the smoke. Reuter had to remove the photograph and apologies for such a mistake.

Image courtesy Wikipedia (

Another image of Adnan Hajj created even bigger stir. This image was capturing Israeli F-16 fighter jet firing during an air strike on Southern Lebanon. In this image blatantly one flame had been manipulated in to 3 flames.

Image courtesy Wikipedia (

In both the above cases apparently, the photographer claimed that he was just trying to remove the dust marks.

Immediately after the second incidence Reuter cut off all ties with Adnan Hajj. As of May 11, 2008, Reuters has removed all of Hajj’s images from its site. On January 18, 2007 Reuters reported that an internal investigation into the Adnan Hajj photo manipulation had led to a top Reuters photo editor being fired. (Information courtesy Wikipedia.

For more visit the link (accessed on 22nd March 2012) (accessed on 22nd March 2012)

My opinion:

Both the photographer used techniques to enhance the images. However, there is a huge difference in the way they approached the matter. To me what H. P. Robinson has achieved, is very inspiring and artistic. I feel this way because; he never claimed that he is depicting truth. He always admitted and promoted his medium of expressing photographs as an art. Though he presented the photographs based on his imagination, he never misled people by calling it documentary or truth. Hence, his work has been considered as a form of art, and I am sure there are many contemporary photographers who would look up to him for inspiration.

In contrast to Robinson’s artistic approach and honesty, what Adnan has done is unpardonable. He has not only violated the work ethics, but has also misled people by interfering with the truth. It is very important for a photographer to understand the ethical boundaries of type of work they are engaging into. Common people believe that the camera never lies. However, the truth coming out of the camera will be truthful, only if the photographer and the person editing the photograph are being honest. In documentary and photojournalism field, even staging or directing a photograph is also considered manipulation.

Today due to the advancement of technology at times the image manipulation goes unnoticed. This has made slightly savvy public doubt the truth presented by the photojournalist/media. I sincerely believe that there are more photographers in the industry with high ethical integrity. This number is also significantly higher than the photographers with misinformed knowledge or ethics.

Paul Martin Lester has written a detailed article on this subject of “Photojournalism An Ethical Approach”. (accessed on 21 March 2012). A must read.

Assignment 3 submission

I had parceled my assignment to my tutor on 1st March 2012. It took almost 11 days for the postal department to deliver the parcel. Of course, I was getting restless, as I was looking forward to some feedback on my assignment.  I knew my tutor John Todd is very through, when it comes to the feedback. I will get to learn a lot, when the document comes back with comments on each image and tips to improve in general. I was so pleased and encouraged to see the outcome.

I am uploading some documents associated with the Assignment 3.

  • A gallery of photographs submitted for the assignment

Photo Gallery

Assignment 3: Critical appraisal of the feedback

I had a lot of fun working on the assignment 3, and the hard work has paid off. Feedback, I received from the tutor was very positive and very encouraging. My tutor  has provided his valuable comments on all the 9 images, and there are some over all comments. Some of the points raised by him are very interesting. It will not only help me to better the images, but it also provides me directions to research more. The details of the feedback could be seen in the document attached above. I would like to counter explain some of the points mentioned by my tutor. This will help in analysing the photographs better.

Image 1: I agree that I should have mentioned the absence of a tripod. I felt, the candid moments on the street were more appropriately capture without the tripod. Though tripod can eliminate the camera shake, it can also act as a distraction in street photography. People surely do get more conscious, and that would make me miss the candid moment. Hence, the way my tutor said, I decide the style over technical consideration.

The aspect ratio of the image has not been altered here. However, to correct the horizontal alignment, I have rotated and cropped the image a bit.

Image 2: Here is a comparison between two images. I had cloned out the flags hanging from the top, in the photograph summited for the assignment. As per my tutor’s suggestion I am attaching the “Before” and “After” here.

Before After
a2 a1

After the assignment 3, I have worked on all the exercise of part 4. I have reached a conclusion that such modifications are not my cup of tea. I actually prefer the “Before” version for this. Not including top part in the composition of course is one legitimate option. But that way, I would have lost the play of light and shadow in and around the ceiling area.

This was a straight on shot. I had observed the pattern people were forming. From this angle, the lines and shapes were very visible. The contrast of dark clothes against the light coloured wall was standing out. I was happy that the camera was capturing what I had visualised.

Image 3: Feedback suggests may be slight rotation of the image to align the water edge to horizon level. I tried implementing this. However, that did not do justice to the image. As it is a very minor correction, I feel I would like to leave the image in its current state.

Image 4: I agree with the comment about the crop and the burn. I have rectified both the things and posting the comparison below:

Before After
b2 b1

Just as I had thought, my tutor also found the white paper bag distracting. However, with basic and local adjustment this is the maximum I could achieve. Beyond this, it is introducing abrasions. Of course, I can import the image in CS 4 and do magic. However, I am reluctant to go down that path.

Image 5: This was a very spontaneous image. I reached the scene and saw the little girl in the window and the man in the background. It was an instant composition in my head. I was still setting the camera, and the elder girl on the left passed from there, to support the visualization. However, all the things happened so fast that I did not get a chance to think of the horizontal or vertical alignment. After this shot, neither the little girl in the window nor the man in the background was standing in that position. That had weakened the composition.

As per the feedback, if I try to rotate the image to get the horizon right, then the image is getting cropped (as I am not willing to change the aspect ratio). More over I feel, as it is the image is pretty strong. Hence, I would not meddle it, any further.

Image 6: The image surely could have looked better without the rectangle in the background. Must confess, I noticed the rectangle only when my tutor mentioned it. Surely I would keep this point in mind for my future attempts, in such a situation.

Image 7: Definitely, getting closer to the subject was my intention too. However, they woke up, and I had lost all my chances. I would like to admit; this image and the napping people have given me some ideas that I would be implementing in my future personal project.

Image 8: Besides the point mentioned in the earlier comment, regarding avoiding the tripod, another reason was to be consistent in my approach. Definitely, a point to consider in other situation.

I completely agree with the other comment about the stalls being too dark on the right hand side. I have tried retrieving the details be dodging and burning see the images below for comparison.

Before After
c2 c1

Image 9: I agree with the feedback. I also had the same feeling. However, that is the challenging part of street photography. You are presented with the opportunity just for a very brief period, and that your chance. That was the case in this situation too. I will try to be more observant and quick in future.

Other comments:

I will also try to expand and talk about the strength and weaknesses of the images on the blog and include small images to illustrate other crop or compositional possibilities.

Assignment 3

Exercise 22: Addition

First of all, this exercise is divided in to 2 stages.

Stage one: multiple exposure technique

Stage two: superimposing images.

For the first stage, I am required to capture two images, on a day when there is overcast.

  • In one image, the clouds are perfectly captured (in the process the foreground is under exposed).
  • In the other image, foreground is exposed properly (resulting over exposed clouds/sky).

Off late, Singapore had been experiencing very grey sky (evident in my earlier two posts). That is the reason; I decided to do the exercise 23, before completing ex 22. However, there was a day with very dramatic sky, and I did take advantage of the weather.

I opened the above-mentioned two images, as smart objects in the Photoshop. I am used to doing this just in case the original layer needs any basic adjustments (accessing RAW file with this method is flawless, and saves a lot of time). Exercise brief specifies not to make any significant changes to the images. Hence, I have left the images, ‘as shot’. After that, I copied the lighter image on top of the darker image. With the help of the erase tool, I erased the sky of the lighter image. Due to this properly exposed sky, on the layer beneath is now visible. Then I fattened the layers and saved the image. See the result below.


(Results achieved by erase tool)

After that, I reverted the file to the state before erasing the sky. Selected “Magic wand” tool and changed the tolerance to 70. Clicked on the sky area with the “Magic Wand” > From the tool bar’s the Selection tab > selected refine selection > moved the sliders in the pop up window, till I achieved the desired selection > Clicked OK. Once the selection was highlighted, I hit the delete key. This deleted the over exposed sky, revealing the perfectly exposed sky underneath. After that, I flattened the layers and saved the image. See the result below:


(Results achieved by deleting the selection)

Both the results are quite comparable, and definitely sky and foreground details look more realistic. Between both the methods, the second method gives more control over the selection, and it was less time consuming.

However, as the exercise brief correctly mentions there are many ways to achieve the same results in Photoshop. In my opinion, above two methods (mentioned in the exercise brief) are very basic and actually have many negatives. Hence, I prefer the following method.

  • Open the lighter image (over exposed sky) as smart object
  • Paste the darker image (with sky correctly exposed) on the top layer
  • Add a layer mask
  • Select the brush with enough “feather” around it, changed the opacity to 80%
  • With the layer mask highlighted, paint the foreground with the black colour


Unlike the first two methods, this method actually gives more control over modifying the results. As long as, I save this psd file, I can go back to the file and make an adjustment to the selection or modify the effects and do much more. Whereas in the first two methods if, I have made a mistake or I feel like modifying the selection later I cannot do it without starting all over again.

Second Part: Superimposing the image

In this part, we are required to take the above image (or any other image with sky) and paste it in another photograph, in such a way that it looks like the part of the new image.

I have used the sky from the above image, and super imposed it in the new image by following the 2 different methods.

  1. Copying and pasting the sky
  2. Bit more extensive method generating more natural results

For the first method, I selected part of the sky and copy – pasted it on another image. This image was captured few years back in Jodhpur, India. Then selected an eraser brush with “feather” around it, and erased the unwanted area of the sky. See the image below:

Again, I have the same problem with the above method. If required, I would not be able to modify the image at later date. Hence, I would like to demonstrate the method I would normally follow.

Open the image with two men as a smart object > added a new layer > copied the other image (not part) on to this layer > Adjusted the positioning of the sky > added a layer mask > with the brush tool painted over the foreground (ensuring I am painting on the layer mask and not the layer > clicked on the layer containing sky > Changed the blending mode from “Normal” to “Hard Light” > clicked on the smart object on the bottom layer, and adjusted the exposure.

This method has blended the sky very well, and it looks very natural now. See the image below:


Conclusion: The first part of the exercise is more about managing camera’s limitations, by taking two multiple exposures and merging them. This ensures that the image we present to the viewers is closest to what our eyes had experienced. I would not hesitate to use this method to improve the travel images. However, I will keep away from any such adjustments, if the images were for any reportage.

In my opinion the second part of the exercise, is beyond my ethical boundaries. This is clearly tempering with the reality. Unless the photographer clarifies to the viewers about the alterations, putting up such image is violation of truth. Mention, it is digital manipulation or fine art, to indicate the use of imagination, and then I guess it should be reasonable.

Weather Still pretty bad…..

Yesterday just for few ours the sky had changed from being boring grey to dramatic. I picked up my camera and went to near by reservoir to get some specific images for the exercise 22. I am happy with that, but once more the sky is back to boring grey see the clip below to see todays weather.

Singapore experiences monsoon twice in a year: Northeast Monsoon Season (December-March) and the Southwest Monsoon Season (June-September). The Southwest Monsoon Season experiences showers and thunderstorm activity between predawn to midday. Note Singapore has one of the highest rate of lightning activity in the world For detailed weather information click here.

Views from my previous apartment (image has not been modified at all)

However, don’t get discouraged. All most all the buildings have air-conditioning (to the point that I always carry a sweater), and pains have been taken to make the out doors as comfortable as can be. When it does rain, it’s generally only for a short period. I have been living here for almost 3 years and have no complains whatsoever.

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