Informed Consent

Note: The information provided here is not a qualified legal opinion. You should seek legal advice if you have any questions or doubts about your use of images.

Informed Consent

Although model releases are not always legally required for editorial photography, it is always good practice to obtain written consent when possible, particularly when sensitive, personal, private information is revealed in the photo or corresponding caption (e.g. HIV status). Feel free to download the following documents as sample consent forms.

Editorial Subject Release Form [word document]
Commercial Model Release Form [word document]

Use the chart and tips below to help guide your approach to photographing human photo subjects. The chart summarizes some of the approaches to informed consent that we have observed in the context of international development photography. Use this table as a place to begin thinking broadly and practically about ethical considerations in development photography.

 

Consent not Needed Obtain Verbal Consent Written Consent Encouraged
Non-recognizable individuals in public (faces and all other identifying features are obscured). All individuals in all settings when possible. Recognizable providers and clients in clinical settings.
Public figures in public (e.g. celebrities, MOHs at campaign launches). Parents, guardians, or teachers of children.

Recognizable or non-recognizable individuals in any setting where personal, private information is exposed in the photo or documented in the corresponding caption, such as:

  • Health status (e.g. HIV-positive persons, persons living with AIDS/STIs, abortion history, TB, diarrheal disease, etc.)
  • Health behavior (e.g. sex work, sexual orientation, alcohol and drug use, contraceptive use, female genital cutting, etc.)
  • Criminal behavior (e.g. perpetrator or victim of gender-based violence, etc.)
Crowds in public (e.g. an audience at outdoor concert). Directors/Managers of clinics or other service programs.  

We invite you to share your informal and formal guidelines, unique challenges, practices, experiences, and knowledge of legal requirements in various countries.

 

Tips for Obtaining Informed Consent

  • Cultural Sensitivity

    Keep in mind that how you approach individuals and communities creates a relationship that can have a lasting impact on field staff and future travelers. Before traveling to another culture, talk to your colleagues or consult a guidebook to learn about the views of that culture toward photography and the issues you are interested in documenting. Find out if photography is generally considered rude or sacrilegious. Show extreme care and sensitivity when photographing taboo practices or stigmatized populations. Some issues are sensitive in most societies (e.g. abortion, prostitution). At the very least, obtain verbal consent to take and use a photo for non-commercial purposes.

  • Verbal Consent

    When possible, establish a relationship before you start taking photos. When you approach photo subjects in the field, briefly introduce yourself, be courteous, and explain the purpose of your visit or the reason you want to take photos. In clinical contexts, speak with clinical director before you begin photographing health workers or clients.

    e.g. "I am taking photos for CCP, an NGO working to improve health in [your country]. Do I have your permission to take your photo for non-commercial use in educational media?"

    • If you don't speak the same language, communicate with your body language. At the very least, smile, nod, and point to your camera before shooting. If you sense any reluctance, confusion, or disdain, refrain from taking the photo. Respect a person's right to refuse to be photographed.
    • If you are traveling with someone who speaks the local language, ask him or her to translate your request for verbal consent.
    • Identify an adult who can give you verbal consent on behalf of children.
  • Written Consent

    Obtaining written consent is not practical in all circumstances. Furthermore, written documents may have little or no meaning to people who speak a different language, people of low literacy, and people who live in cultures where photography or publications are not common. However, if it is your organization's policy to obtain written consent, consider these tips.

    • Prepare your consent forms ahead of time in the local language of the area you will be visiting.
    • If you are unable to prepare written consent forms in the local language, orally translate the consent form to your photo subjects. Use an interpreter if necessary.
    • For low literate subjects, ask the subject to make a mark on the consent form. If the person does not want to or cannot use a writing tool, obtain verbal permission. Have the consent witnessed by a literate witness who can sign or countersign the document and confirm that the form was read to the subject.