Admiring the Universe - a fine-art photographer based in Perthshire, Scotland, with interests in landscape, nature and astrophotography

Ethics in Photography

Creative people - photographers, musicians in particular - are aware of the potential uses of their work. In particular, copyright exists to assign ownership of intellectual property rights to the creator so they are empowered to choose terms by which the work may be used by others. In this arena, nobody desires to feel exploited - the case where a company finds a photograph and reaps great profit from publishing it without crediting the photographer is obvious and all too common.

This concept is present in other aspects of photography. In most jurisdictions it is legal to take photographs of people in public places without permission. But many people would quibble the appropriateness of taking a photograph of a homeless person on a street - legality notwithstanding - and then benefiting from publicity or profit or valuable consideration of using the person's portrait. I recently stumbled across a good answer to this in a photographic forum: proposing a rule, "any photos of homeless street people must be accompanied by a link to nonprofit charity helping the homeless".

The same principle can be extended in other genres of photography. Photographs are judged and sold on their aesthetic and artistic merits regardless of circumstance, story or background. Wildlife photography uses photographs of animals, with their own circumstances of habitat. In both wildlife and landscape photography, the role of tour-guide is well known, particularly as social influencers bring traffic to locations causing erosion damage to the landscape, social pressure on the communities to accommodate the tourists, etc. The mantra of "take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints" is itself quite a problem.

Kinds of Ethics

There are two relevant fundamental systems of ethics that come to mind. The street-photography example above is easily addressed through the lens of Kantian ethics: in essence, "the more highly the more people are valued, the better". In other genres it might be appropriate to use the lens of Utilitarian ethics: enumerate the favourability of potential courses of action for all actors involved and choose the course with the most favourable total score.

In both ethical systems, we say the moral choice is the most ethical.


The cycle of value or karma does not end in the tour-guide-cum-photographer's wallet any more than it ends with the street-photographer. A monetary flow that stops at the point of "I've got my consideration out of this exercise" could be improved by also giving back more.

For some years I have held a belief that landscape photography is enriched by knowing or saying something about the landscape itself. Pithily, "no landscape without knowing what rocks you're standing on"; if all that can be said is "nice light" or "nice lines", that is unsatisfactory compared to setting the scene in some kind of context, be that geological, social, meteorological, environmental or cultural. The same principle can be continued into the wildlife genre: a photo of a rabbit or bird or monkey is just a photograph, but with a statement of its ecological status it becomes a story.

My Values

Given the above, I present a short list of organizations I support:


All the photographs on this site are Copyright (C) Tim Haynes 2019-.

However, that does not mean all rights reserved; I license my photos under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 UK: Scotland License which permits reuse subject to the following conditions:

  • NonCommercial: if you will profit from use of my photograph, please contact me to arrange a custom licence
  • NonDerivative: Photographs must be used as I present them without modification
  • Attribution: any use of one of my photographs must be credited and a link provided to ShinyPhoto

In particular, use on blogs is permitted - it's nice if you could let me know if you do so, but not required.

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