Can we see a picture of you

Posting pictures of people: what to look out for

Whether in distant countries or in street photography at home: people are often the best subjects for a photographer. But can you just take photos of strangers like that? And are you allowed to publish these pictures, e.g. B. on my website, on Facebook or on Instagram?

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In this post we will show you what you have to pay attention to and give you some practical tips on the way.

Before we really start, I would like to make a brief preliminary remark: We received a lot of positive feedback for our article about freedom of panorama, thank you very much for that.

This shows us that these legal issues are interesting for many photographers.

In this post, too, we explain our view of things that we have read to ourselves over a long period of time.

However, we are not lawyers and therefore cannot provide any legally binding information. So when things get serious, please always ask a lawyer.

Read our other photo tips as well

Can I just take pictures of strangers?

In Germany the right to one's own picture applies. This means that everyone can freely decide whether or not to publish their pictures.

Even just taking a picture of a person requires permission, even if you don't intend to publish that picture in any way.

To be really on the safe side legally, you always have to ask a person before (!) You take a picture of them.

In practice, of course, this is often unrealistic and counterproductive for many photos, which is why we will show you below how you can deal with this fact when taking photos.

Read our other photo tips as well

Practical tips for taking photos of people

Street photography in particular lives from the people who can be seen in the pictures. So how can you take such recordings despite the ban?

There are basically three options:

1. You make yourself noticeable before taking a photo

The legally correct act would be to ask before taking a picture. This is uncomfortable for many photographers. We don't particularly enjoy doing that either.

We usually try to make ourselves noticeable with our camera, to indicate to the photographed person by a short nod, a smile or a point at the camera that we want to take a photo. A brief nod back or a smile can then be interpreted as approval.

2. You take photos without asking

Everyone has probably photographed a person before without them even noticing. We would be lying if we said otherwise about ourselves. From a legal point of view, this is not okay, we personally find it justifiable for us, but everyone has to decide for themselves.

If you only want the photo for yourself and do not plan to publish it, there is nothing really wrong with it. But if you want to publish the photo, it will be problematic. Then you should read on now.

3. You ask for approval after taking the picture

Often you don't want to make yourself noticeable, especially from a photographic point of view. Of course, if your subject is looking around, lost in thought, you don't want to speak to the person beforehand. The situation would be destroyed and with it the motive.

Here we would just take the photo. If we plan to publish this picture, we would make ourselves known to the person afterwards.

Most people don't mind being photographed and it has never happened to us before that someone asked us to delete a photo.

The following picture of a meat seller was taken in a market in Ukraine. With her golden front teeth she has already illuminated us from afar.

We pointed to the camera for a moment, she smiled back and we took a picture. This is actually the ideal way, which unfortunately doesn't always work.

Can I publish pictures of people without their consent?

In principle, you are allowed to take photos of people without their consent Not publish. In Germany the right to one's own picture applies. This means you always have to get permission before photographing a person.

So you can't just photograph the old fruit seller in the market, the drunk on the park bench or the child playing on the street and then publish the pictures. If the person pictured takes action against the publication, it can be very expensive for you.

To be really on the safe side, you theoretically always need a signed contract: a so-called model release.

In street photography in particular, however, it is rather unlikely that a photographer will hold a contract under the nose of every person photographed.

We have already indicated a possible way above in practical tip number 3: You ask for permission for publication after taking photos.

It is always a good idea to have a few business cards or flyers with the address of your own website and verbally ask the people for approval for publication.

You will not have anything in writing then, but in 99.99% of the cases the person photographed will not sue you if he has given you verbal consent.

Fortunately, there are also a lot of exceptions that make your life a little easier.


No rule without exceptions. But they are rather positive for photographers, so let's not complain.

People as accessories

If a person is not the main subject of a shot, then you are allowed to photograph them. So if you take a picture of the Brandenburg Gate, for example, you will find it very difficult not to have people in the picture.

The main motif is the Brandenburg Gate, the people are only accessories. So you don't have to ask her permission to take a picture.

The limit to when a person is an accessory is of course fluid. If you photograph a single souvenir seller in front of the Brandenburg Gate, he is probably not an accessory, but the main motif.

As a rule of thumb, you can always ask yourself the question: Is the picture still a good picture without the person depicted or does the picture just live from the fact that this person is in it? If the person is important to the picture, then they are not an accessory.

This can be clearly seen on the following picture. Several people can be seen here, but they are not important for the picture. So they are accessories.

People in crowds

It is permitted to photograph crowds of people at certain social events without asking permission from each person being photographed. This applies, for example, to carnival parades, demonstrations or the spectators of a concert or football game.

However, it is important that you do not highlight a single person from the crowd. If your picture only focuses on a single screaming football fan within a fan block or a drunken carnival visitor on the sidelines of the parade, you cannot simply publish this picture.

Basti took the following picture at a soccer game in Altona 93. None of the people shown is in the foreground and is particularly noticeable.

All together, however, give a good impression of the event and show the wonderful sadness of a regional league game. Since it was an event, we are allowed to publish this picture.

People of contemporary history / celebrities

Another exception applies to people from contemporary history, which usually include celebrities. But that doesn't mean that you can take and publish a picture of an actor sitting in a café with his girlfriend.

The exception only relates to images that are related to his work. So if you photograph the actor on the red carpet or in the foyer of a cinema at a film premiere, you can also publish this picture.

The following picture shows the soccer coach Hans Meyer talking to a referee. It was created halfway through a soccer game and shows him as a person of contemporary history in the context of his work.

For reporting on this game or in general about its work, we are allowed to publish this photo. If we had photographed him in a restaurant in the evening, we would not be allowed to publish the picture, as this has nothing to do with his work as a football coach.

The publication in this article is a bit borderline, because this is not actually about the work of the football coach. Here we would rather refer to the photographing of several people in the context of an event. Pretty complicated, right?

Artistic freedom

If you look at the pictures of famous street photographers, it is noticeable that none of these exceptions apply to these pictures. The pictures often don't look as if the photographer had spoken to the people depicted.

So how do the famous street photographers, whose pictures of people in everyday situations are world-famous and can be seen in exhibitions? Are these photographers simply disregarding the law?

Not quite, because there is another exception and that is artistic freedom. So if you intend to show your street photography recordings in the form of an illustrated book or in an exhibition, then these fall under the freedom of art. You then do not need the explicit consent of the person pictured.

Everything that now falls under art is, of course, a matter of interpretation.

If you publish an illustrated book and print ten copies of it for your friends, not every dish will certainly recognize that as art.

There is currently an ongoing court case by the photographer Espen Eichhöfer.

He was sued for pain and suffering by the person depicted because of a picture he published in an exhibition.

This case is likely to become very important as a precedent for the future.

We conducted an interview with Espen Eichhöfer, in which you can find out more about the background to the case.

Nevertheless I see pictures of people everywhere - how is that possible?

Basically, because of these many regulations, you shouldn't freeze in fear and stop taking photos of people. A lawsuit against the violation of personal rights can only be brought by the person depicted.

To do this, this person must firstly discover the published image, secondly have a problem with the image and thirdly want to have a legal dispute with you.

Pretty unlikely, right? Especially when it comes to travel photography, it is very unlikely that the old fisherman from a remote part of Myanmar, for example, will sue you.

That might sound a bit arrogant, but in the end it is in practice. Nor does it mean that people who cannot defend themselves are fair game. With common sense and a certain level of morality, every photographer should be able to make the right decisions for themselves.

To conclude, we would like to give you a short checklist of what you should keep in mind when photographing people and publishing these pictures:

  • Don't post pictures that make a person look in a bad light - for example, drunk or in any other disadvantageous situation.
  • If possible, identify yourself when you are taking a picture - even after you have pressed the shutter release button.
  • If someone asks you to delete a picture, do it!
  • If you want to photograph children, always ask the legal guardian BEFORE.
  • Don't post photos of celebrities' personal lives. The chance of a lawsuit is much higher than with a "normal" person.
  • Always be respectful with your camera. People in foreign countries are not zoo animals when you hold the camera in front of their faces and pull the trigger without being asked.

We hope we were able to relieve you of some uncertainty with this post and hope you enjoy taking photos.

Be sure to also read our other photography articles:

Gifts for photographers: 22 great gift ideas
Photo bags don't have to be boring: stylish and beautiful photo bags!
13 reasons for blurry photos and how to avoid them