Tips for taking better pictures: Ethics

Ethics in NGO photography is very important, particularly when working with children and vulnerable populations. The number one guideline to remember is Do No Harm.


To ensure that you are working in a sensitive and respectful way, follow these basic tips:


  • Get verbal consent from a parent or guardian before you start taking pictures. When working in a school environment, you should first obtain verbal permission from the principal, and then the teacher. When in the community, ask the child if you can speak with their parent before you start photographing. (Written consent is legally required, and is covered below.)
  • Always explain why you are taking the photograph to the child and their parent or guardian. Don’t assume that the child won’t understand your reasoning, or can’t have a say in the decision of whether or not to be photographed.
  • Respect the word “no”. If someone does not want to be photographed or wishes to remain anonymous, you must respect this no matter what.
  • Legally, you need a signed consent form for every person you photograph (and intend to publish), no matter their age. As the photographer, you may also need to sign the consent form stating you have received verbal consent as well (this depends on the NGO).
  • If photographing a crowd, or group of 4+ people, you do not need signed consent forms from everyone. It is very important, though, to explain why you are there and receive verbal consent from everyone in the group.

Taking the photograph

  • Ask people how they would like to be photographed. Do they want to change their clothes, or protect their identity in some way?
  • Respect your subject’s modesty. Ask people to cover children’s private parts and stomachs, and women to cover their breasts.
  • Take photographs in context. This can be the difference between a child appearing to be abandoned or being cared for by their parent or guardian.
  • Don’t reinforce stereotypes or prejudices about vulnerable or impoverished people.
  • Take thorough and accurate notes about everyone you photograph so that your caption information will be truthful and complete.

Concealing Identity

  • Steps should be taken to conceal the identity and location of particularly vulnerable people, and in particular children. These may include people formerly associated with armed groups, survivors of physical and sexual violence, and people affected by HIV.
  • People, and in particular children and families, should always be informed of how their information and photographs will be used and the impact it may have on them. They must give fully informed consent.
  • You can conceal a person’s identity by taking photographs of the person in silhouette, showing details of their body without showing their face, or photographing them from behind. 

* Adapted from the Save the Children Photography Field Guide

Jenn Warren specialises in photography, communications, Communications for Development (C4D) and graphic design for humanitarian and development clients. Jenn has worked for a wide range of government, donor, UN and NGO clients. Her photography and writing has been published internationally.