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Smile, You're on Candid Camera

Many years ago, I was shooting in a restaurant in the Netherlands, and a waiter came up and asked if a man, sitting alone in a corner, was in my photos. I said no, but wondered why he asked. The waiter was simply relaying a question from the dining guest. He added, 'The gentleman did not want to appear in any of my photos.' I assumed he was a famous European actor or something, but a few minutes later, when a woman half his age joined him, I realized he did not want anyone to know he was there.


Privacy is a buzzword which has taken on a life of its own since the inception of social media. In the good old days, taking someone's picture was no big deal, as the only people who saw it were the photographer and a few of their friends.

News media, such as magazines, newspapers, etc., have always been able to publish anyone's image without consent. 'Public' figures could be photographed anywhere by anyone.

When I was a budding photographer, it was a courtesy to ask permission, and I never exploited religious or private settings. Of course, photographing children was totally off-limits. Today, however, when publishing images on the internet is a daily occurrence, I thought I would look at what the laws in Canada say you can and cannot do.

The owner of the photo (unless sold), is the person who takes it. That means no one can publish, print or distribute your photograph without your permission. (Publishing also includes posting on any social media site on the internet).

You do not need anyone's permission to publish photographs of people, including the people in the photo, with a few exceptions.

The picture must be taken in a public place, i.e. outside, in public buildings, in parks, etc.

Although there is no age limit for the subject of your photograph, a moral obligation should be adhered to, when photographing children.

You cannot take photographs of people in private places, i.e. through windows of houses, etc.

You are allowed to take photos of private places (residences, etc.) from a distance (as long as the inside is not distinguishable).

Buildings such as the CN Tower, the Galleria at Brookfield Place or the lighting on the Eiffel Tower are copyrighted and cannot legally be photographed.

If you post a pic of people and they ask you to remove it, you are not legally obligated to do so, but morally you should.

In short, you can photograph anyone, post it on social media and even include their name, as long as the photo is obtained without breaking the law, is not altered to reflect a different meaning, and is not taken in a private setting (through a window, etc.)

The laws of photographic privacy do not protect the privacy of individuals in a photo. If you are at a wedding or populous event, it is expected your image may appear in other people's photographs. If, on the other hand, you are strolling along a street, you may not anticipate ending up on the internet. If you do, and you find out about it, you can do little. Perhaps you can contact the publishing individual and ask to have the image taken down, but it is up to the photographer to do so.

Be aware of your surroundings, and when people take photos of you, expect to have them published. If you want privacy, keep away from the front of a camera.


Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award-winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, 'Jonathan van Bilsen's photosNtravel', on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube.

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