Aoimirai - People Watching Principles


As well defined in Wikipedia, "People watching or crowd watching is the act of observing people and their interactions, usually without their knowledge" ... "This includes speech in action, relationship interactions, body language, expressions, clothing and activities.". However, that definition it also mentions eavesdropping and guessing, which sometimes leads to mockery. Artistic People Watching should be the act of People Watching without such invasion of privacy or fantasies, thus only exploring the subject image in their natural and casual daily life.

This guideline is aimed at those that want to keep peoples heart at interest, to not inconvenience people and, sure enough, to be lawful. Unfortunately, too many people don't care and will put their photography on top of it, and even go for illegal activities such as trespassing and ignoring private space, This article is not aimed at those sorry excuses of human beings.


There is an incredible amount of pictures of people floating over. What most people don't know, is that some of those pictures are either illegal, inconsiderate, or quite the contrary, hard to get down even if the subject wanted.

While most of these pictures are either accidental or malicious, they serve as a warning to anyone who likes People Watching, or even further, want to perform Artistic People Watching (publishing pictures of people).

In this page you will find the most obvious and common principles of Artistic People Watching, as well an important disclaimer about normal, healthy photography, and perverted or creeping practices. As a Guideline, most principles are required for our definition of fair and safe act. Also, since most countries have minor differences in legislation and interpretation, we adopted the most stringent approach to try to encompass most countries. Care should be taken in countries such as Brazil, Switzerland and Spain that have the most strict rules on People Watching - other than that, this principle cover every other country pretty well.

1. "Expectation of Privacy" is the golden rule of any Photographer. (Also known as "Expectancy of Privacy Principle")

Basically, a person who is, or is led to believe he/she is in a private, protected place, is not allowed to be photographed

Expectation of Privacy is explicit if the person is located in any private place. Therefore, Pictures of people inside their or any other private property is not allowed. In private public spaces, such as Restaurants or Bars, Expectation of Privacy is in a gray area if-and-only-if no sign regarding photography is present: Should a "Photography Forbidden" sign be present, then Expectation of Privacy is also present.

Note that it doesn't matter if the camera is in a public space: the subject of the photography is what defines Expectation of Privacy. Therefore, taking pictures of people inside a private area with a zoom from outside is breaking the Expectation of Privacy.

Expectation of Privacy can be named differently in laws and different countries, so take a note if you are looking for legal basis.

In different countries, explicit local laws usually override the Expectation of Privacy principle. However, in very few cases, pictures are allowed to be taken and published by exceptions that are covered on the remainder of Artistic People Watching principles, as below.

2. Inconveniencing the subject or anyone involved is not allowed. (also known as "Non-inconveniencing Principle")

People Watchers should in no way inconvenience the subject (focus of the picture) or anyone around it. As such, under no circumstance should the Photographer affect the ones they are photographing. Also, under Artistic use principles, unless explicitly consented by the subject and the aim of the Photograph, subjects should never be looking (or look like they are) to the Camera. People who notice the Photographer should also no longer be targeted to avoid the chance of inconvenience.

As an obvious result of this principle, close photography is almost impossible, and the use of Zoom lenses is advised. It is also advised not to stand on the same area for too long to prevent people being aware of the Photographer and, thus, not fell comfortable.

An important extension of this principle is that the subjects define what is and what is not inconveniencing them. As such, should they complain of your presence, or come to request their picture removed, you should immediately comply, even if legally you were not breaking the Expectation of Privacy or local laws.

3. No derogatory or negative pictures. The "Good Light principle"

All pictures should always portrait people in good light. While the aim is to capture people on their most natural and casual situations, if any of these situations can be seen as derogatory or in any way negative to the subject, these pictures should not be considered part of Artistic People Watching and, therefore, are not allowed.

This principle comprises of two approaches: One, because usually any form of derogatory image is illegal in most countries (even though in some, they are allowed as part of Freedom of Press), and two, because one should always consider what the subject would feel about the picture. Should the person be obviously inconvenienced by the picture, it abstractly breaks the Non-inconveniencing Principle (to better understand this, think of it as a preemptive "Consent expectation" action).

4. Anonymity principle

Pictures should under no circumstance allow the subjects to be identified by peers or the general community. As such, care should be taken if the subject is using any kind of identifiable mark, tags or an obvious time/place that can trace back to the participants. It is also a good practice to avoid extreme zooms where only the person's face is focused, since it looses the aspects of People Watching and becomes just a portrait, which has an increased chance of being identified.

Needless to say, any form of known person, celebrity or not, are not allowed under Artistic People Watching.

Should an subject be recognized post publishing, the picture should be taken down immediately regardless if the subject was notified or not as a preemptive action. Also, any publication of photographs must contain contact information for removal or identification communication.

5. No commercial use

No photograph taken by Artistic People Watching can serve any commercial purpose. Also, brands that are displayed on the photograph should be removed if possible unless clearly not intentional, or present with multiple brands, at the photographer's discretion to avoid commercial use claims. 

It is important to notice that this principle serves mostly to cover the artist from legal moves based on lack of consent, since commercial use of pictures of people without consent is illegal all around the world.

Important Notice: Most social medias, as well some sites, reserve the rights of the uploaded contents to them, for promotional uses of their platform, and notify the users that they should be aware of that. As such, posting photography that cannot be used commercially (thus, those herein) is not allowed. Therefore, you cannot post them to social medias or any site that reserve such rights.

6. Expectation of Consent

Should all principles above be strictly complied, Expectation of Consent is expected since the pictures where (a) taken in public space, (b) not inconveniencing anyone, (c) not degrading anyone's image, (d) be sufficiently anonymous, (e) serve no commercial purpose and the implicit (f) artistic goal of such pictures, as part of Artistic People Watching. However, there are still a few exceptions: People who for any reason cannot give consent (either post-mortem publications or locked-in people) must be considered not consented. In any case, should someone show interest on the photograph not being published (and that can include in-place deletion just after you snapped the photography), the images should be removed and never published (should deletion be impossible for any reason).



Some people frown upon the concept of People Watching, labeling it as a sort of voyeurism, being just creepy or unethical. Unfortunately, most often they are correct. Most people who perform "People Watching" ignore all societal and legal values when doing so, specially "Expectation of Privacy" or "Good Light" (there are communities who use people pictures to mock and jerk about them). For this reason, the form of People Watching herein described is labeled "Artistic" to try and separate such inconvenient normal People Watchers from those who care about their subjects and art.

It is important to note that all forms of People Watching that fail the above principles are not only prone to societal repercussions, but also legal action, and therefore, it is important to adhere to those principles at all times.

Artistic People Watchers should refer to these good practices to illustrate that their actions are an form of Art and expression, and that no ill actions are intended. 

Remember that you cannot post these pictures in any social media. Social Media usually take the rights of whatever you post to themselves, but since this pictures do not hold rights and break the "No commercial Use" by means of "Anonymity Principle", the only safe way to post pictures like these on social media is blurring other people's faces so it becomes impossible to identify them, and thus, even if Social Media use he picture somewhere else, you are safe. Pay attention about this to any site you upload these pictures, if they retain the rights, you need to blur faces.


Sources and articles on the subject

Wikipedia Commons Consent Requirements

Legal Beagle - Pictures of people without permission

Life Hacker's "Photography in Public"

People Watching

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