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Photoshare - A Service of Knowledge for Health (K4Health)

Communicating health and development issues through photography


Informed Consent Guidelines

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). Photographers
must respect their photo subjects, preserve human dignity, and take into consideration whether their
photo subjects may experience negative consequences of having their photo taken and used. Staff is
expected to obtain verbal consent from all photo subjects (either before or after the photo is taken). Use
the chart and tips below to help guide your approach to photo subjects.

Consent not Needed

Obtain Verbal Consent

Written Consent Encouraged

Non-recognizable individuals in
public (faces and all other
identifying features are

All individuals in all settings

when possible.

Recognizable providers and

clients in clinical settings.

Public figures in public (e.g.

celebrities, MOHs at campaign

Parents, guardians, or teachers

of children.

Recognizable or nonrecognizable 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 genderbased violence, etc.)

Crowds in public (e.g. an

audience at outdoor concert).

Directors/Managers of clinics or
other service programs.

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.

Based at:
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health / Center for Communication Programs 111 Market Place, Suite 310 Baltimore, Maryland 21202, USA
410-659-6300 / Fax 410-659-6266 Web site: www.photoshare.org

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 the clinical director before you begin
photographing health workers or clients, e.g.:
"I am taking photos for XXXX, an NGO working to improve health in [your country]. Do I have your
permission to take your photo for non-commercial use?"
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. 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, in situations where written consent is the
best practice, 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.
Additional Tips for Protecting Privacy
Avoid using images of identifiable clients in clinics. When photographing a counseling session, position
yourself so that you see the back of the client's head.
Use a model in a clinical setting, rather than an actual patient. Obtain a signed release from the model.
Carefully consider the implications of your document layout. Is the reader likely to misinterpret the
subject of a photo based on its placement? Ask yourself, "will the nature of this photo and its proximity to
the headline lead our readers to imply that persons in the photo are ---- [fill in the blank, e.g. HIV positive,
actual clients, program participants, etc.] when in fact they are not?"
To prevent any possible misunderstanding on the part of your reader, include a disclaimer in your print
or electronic material. For example:
"The images used in this publication are for illustrative purposes only; they do not imply any particular
health status, attitudes, behaviors, or actions on the part of any person who appears in the photographs."
Based at:
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health / Center for Communication Programs 111 Market Place, Suite 310 Baltimore, Maryland 21202, USA
410-659-6300 / Fax 410-659-6266 Web site: www.photoshare.org