Home Repair Photography Ethics
Last month we encouraged you to take a lot of photos this summer so that you can more effectively share your organization’s stories year-round. Visual images are a wonderful way to convey your mission and evoke strong emotions, which can lead to monetary or in-kind donations, new or returning campers/volunteers, and goodwill for your organization. Remember, though – you have an ethical responsibility to depict people in a way that preserves their dignity. Here are some things you can do in order to demonstrate respect and sensitivity:
Obtain a signed image consent from your campers/volunteers and clients (aka families or homeowners); verbal permission isn’t enough. A parent or guardian needs to give permission for minors. If anyone refuses to sign the form, no pictures should be taken of him/her. (Association members can see examples of volunteer and homeowner image release forms in the resource library.)
Even if you have signed waivers, consider using pseudonyms, code name or no names when captioning photos of clients – especially minors. You should disclose that you are using pseudonyms by saying something like, “We’ll call her Mary,” or, “This worksite’s code name is Green Bluegrass.” Or you could simply say, “We assisted this woman with repairing her roof leak.”
Be cautious when writing photo captions about a client’s situation. Limit yourself to general information that a neighbor or casual observer might know, but nothing too specific. For example, say that you are building a wheelchair ramp for an elderly person or a person with a disability, but don’t post the exact age of the person or what ailment they have that causes them to be wheelchair bound.
Exceptions to the two previous points can be found, of course. A client may be so appreciative of your work that they want to share details about their situation including their name so that they can be an ambassador for your organization. If that’s the case, great!
Consider your purpose for taking a photo. Are you going to use the image to promote your cause in a manner that will do no harm to the people in it? Make sure that you are using photos in a context that fairly represents the real situations you are documenting. While it is fine to portray the poverty of clients in some photos, others should also convey their strengths.
Try to establish a rapport with people before you photograph them. If it’s a week long home repair project, consider waiting a few days before taking pictures of the client. If it’s a one day project, you could wait until the afternoon to take pictures instead of pulling out the camera first thing in the morning.
Whenever possible, credit the photographer (whether professional or amateur).
Make sure that all pictures show your volunteers/campers following proper safety protocols. Images of people using saws should include them wearing ear and eye protection, folks on ladders should have someone holding the ladder, etc. It is a liability for your organization if you are displaying pictures with safety violations; if someone gets hurt, the picture could prove your negligence. It’s also bad publicity; potential donors or volunteers/campers may not want to be involved with your organization if they have reason to be concerned about your safety procedures.
While you can’t control what others do, you can encourage your campers/volunteers to follow the above guidelines, especially when posting their photos on social media sites.
In addition to serving as the Executive Director for ReFrame Association, Becca Davis is the owner/photographer of Becca Davis Photography. She offers outdoor, natural-light portraits for couples, children & families and also teaches photography workshops in the Tri-Cities, Tennessee/Virginia area. Becca photographed Appalachia Service Project‘s home repair work for many years. Her current favorite photography subject is her baby boy, Avery.