As the title says:

How should you react if you notice someone taking pictures of you without your consent?

Background: It happened to me yesterday on the bus that a woman, of about my age, sat across to me. At one point her cell phone flash light turned up for a split second which caught my attention. I noticed that she had her phone on the leg, slightly angled in a way that the rear camera was pointing at me while holding it with one hand.

I didn't think much of it, phones can act up every now and then so I wondered if she was doing it intentionally but gave her the benefit of a doubt and didn't do or say anything. But then it happened again just a few more stops down the road. At this point I was sure she was doing it on purpose as it was even more obvious. She didn't even turn off the camera flash and I started to feel uncomfortable about it. I am not a particular attractive guy and never experienced anything like this before so I was quite stunned and wondered what to do about it until she got out of the bus quickly after.

Just for clarification: I never met or talked to her. I didn't even look at her until the camera flashed for the first time.

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    Are you really sure this wasn't a message light? Some phones flash to show you've got a message when you put them in silent mode... She wasn't typing anything afterwards, which could indicate this was the messaging light?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 11:20
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    A useful source about consent, as a side note for various answers : commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/…
    – WoJ
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 17:08
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    @Fildor good point. I was born in Germany but live abroad. I was taught that something like that is, not only inappropiate, but illegal. Maybe that framed the way I was feeling about it. Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 22:08
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    Why was she photographing you? Were you threatening her with your behavior, or appearing in some extraordinarily objectionable manor? Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 4:17
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    @BillyC. inappropriate counter-question
    – René Roth
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 19:28

9 Answers 9


You confront directly.

Excuse me, do I know you? Are you taking photos of me?

Obviously, do this if you're fairly sure someone is taking photos of you, but it does seem pretty likely to me from what you're saying.

In cases like this, directness is appropriate.

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    Note that you ask a question this way - no direct accusation.
    – user10085
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 11:28
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    And if the flashes were in fact message lights as Tinkeringbell mentioned in another comment, then she will realize why you thought she was taking pictures of you and you two can laugh about it.
    – kscherrer
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 14:25
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    One good thing to keep in mind (and I don't know French law) is that in some places (Japan, for example) taking unauthorized photos is a criminal offense. Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 13:25

Short answer: I would not waste energy trying to solve or worrying about this.

In this day and age where virtually everyone has a video camera in their pocket, I would not concern myself with this at all as this is not any where near in your control.

What are you going to do, confront everyone who could potentially be taking a photo or video of you? I would be more worried about the person who is taking photos or video of you with malice in mind and without you being aware.

IMHO, photos and video being taken in a public or semi-public area is just something so common these days that it cannot be controlled and is becoming more and more a part of our lives.

The fact of the matter is that I agree with you in that they should not take a photo or video of you without your permission from a politeness perspective, but in any sort of public setting, you should assume you're on camera.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – John
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 5:26

Asking that person directly if they are indeed taking pictures of you, and maybe continuing with asking why if they answer affirmatively, is probably a good way to clear up any doubts in your own mind about whether they are actually taking those pictures.

It may also serve to indicate to that person that you are not necessarily very happy with your picture being taken like that.

Do bear in mind that you may have absolutely no right to insist they stop doing that or that they delete the pictures, depending on where you are. In many countries, one is allowed to take pictures of just about anything they like, as long as they don't need to trespass to take them. In some situations, taking pictures can still be explicitly forbidden (military installations and the like).

As for people in the pictures, their portrait rights are usually only relevant if any publication of the picture would somehow present a problem (but even then there are things like the rights of the free press that can make it difficult to protest against pictures being taken).

A conscientious photographer will try to take into account the feelings of the subjects they photograph, and it certainly is not a bad idea to communicate those feelings in a non-aggressive way.

As an aside:
I can not know what the aim was of taking your picture, but street photographers have taking pictures of strangers for ages, and some of their pictures have become iconic. Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau certainly didn't always ask permission to take their pictures (before or after the fact).

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    There are some odd exceptions. If I take a picture of Taylor Swift in public and publish it in a magazine, she has no rights. If I take a picture of a nobody and publish it in a magazine, they have some rights because they have a degree of privacy, and also defamation if I make them look bad, including defamation per-se if I make them look immoral. Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 5:51
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    In France, taking a picture of someone requires consent. This means you do have the right to insist they stop taking pictures of you. (Source). The publication of such pictures require another consent!
    – kscherrer
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 14:41
  • Robert Doisneau used actors, actually. Reference: bbc.com/culture/story/…
    – nic
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 15:05

I just wanted to add a few words from a photographer's point of view. I'm an [amateur] street photographer. This, virtually by definition, means that I take pictures of people in public places without their permission.

I'd encourage you to consider the possibility that the photographer had very little interest in you personally, or your appearance. It's quite possible that she was simply capturing an interesting lighting scenario, or an amusing juxtaposition of passengers' profiles with a billboard outside, or...

That being said, I realize that some people will be uncomfortable if they realize they're being photographed. You could just ask her, as others suggested. (I always stop if anyone notices and asks.)

Another simple option might be to move slightly (may or may not be feasible on a crowded bus). I noticed someone photographing me in an airport, and simply moved to different part of the waiting area. This was simple and easy (especially as I, a young woman, wasn't comfortable confronting the older male photographer).

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    Thank you for your answer. I do enjoy street art myself very much and wouldn't have minded if it happened in such a setting. But given that the camera used was a smart phone and the photographer tried to hide their actions, I felt really uncomfortable and don't think there was an artistic component involved. Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 11:37

Be polite, non-accusatory, and mention that a flash went off on their phone; ask if they took a photo.

You might be able to leave it at that, the people next to you might object now that you have pointed it out.

Ask if they took a photo of you. They might say no, that it was something behind you, the person next to you, or yes.

If you object to a photo being taken you could say so, or first enquire about the purpose of the photo.

If you do object you can ask that they delete it, and they can refuse.

If they took a photo of you, you ask for it to be deleted, and they refuse, you could take a photo of them.

If you're in a public place there's not much you can do.

[I read Article 9 of the French Civil Code and spent some time searching before giving this answer. This site is limited to interpersonal skills and doesn't serve as a forum for legal or other advice. I have limited my responses to that.]

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    I believe you can cite the part of the Civil Code that is relevant to this question as a back up to your reasoning behind your answer.
    – Vylix
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 7:16

Ignore it.

As other have commented/answered, in general in public places you have limited/no rights to not be photographed by anyone in particular.

Additionally, there are accessibility options on both iPhone and Android that allow deaf/hard of hearing people to use the camera flash as a way of notifying them of an incoming message. I have seen many people, use this option even if they can hear just fine.

At this point I was sure she was doing it on purpose as it was even more obvious. She didn't even turn off the camera flash and I started to feel uncomfortable about it.

Without having seen her screen, you do not know if she in fact was taking a photo, and so you could not know her actions or intentions. Given that she could have a legitimate need for the accessibility option on her phone, you could look like quite the fool picking a fight with a deaf person over a notification flash.

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    It's okay to look fool. It's okay to ask when uncomfy. What you say about the OP's rights may or may not be correct depending on the country. Could you support your claim with regards to France specifically? Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 0:52
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    In France, taking a picture of someone requires consent. This means you do have the right to not be photographed. (Source)
    – kscherrer
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 14:39

I'd simply grin, raise your hands and act like you're photobombing your own picture! If they are trying to take your picture without your consent that will likely immediately turn them off as now you obviously know what they are up to. You also avoid any awkward confrontations and have a little fun with it at the same time. If they had no interest in actually taking a picture of you, they will probably completely ignore you and move on with life.


Know your local laws. If taking pictures in public without consent is legal, you should definitely not make a scene yourself. The internet is full of videos of people doing that, and you don't want to be part of that. If it is illegal, you should still avoid making a scene because they will still likely post it online. Don't feed the trolls.

Let me re-emphasize: Do not confront them! If you do, it is much more likely that you will create interesting content for them to share with the world.

That being said, it is rude for people to take pictures of you without your consent. Two ways to keep people from recording you are to:

  1. Make it difficult to record you. You can leave, put a barrier between you and them, or angle your body differently.
  2. Make yourself less interesting. If your appearance is conspicuous because of an injury, out of place garb, disheveled grooming, etc. you can try to cover this up if possible. If your behavior is conspicuous, then you can try mirroring the people around you. The more you fit in with those around you, the less likely people will be to record you.

Since the question was tagged France, where the article someone else cited suggests that consent is required, I think I would pull out my phone and take a few pictures of her.

Now she has a problem: She can say she does not give consent to which you retort, "Nor do I!" Or she can worry for a few days what you are going to do with those photos.

Either way, she's likely to stop photographing you.

Come to think of it, I might even cross the aisle and take a selfie with her. :-)

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    Responding to an offense with counter-offense is never a good idea. For one, you can rarely be 100% sure that an offense was actually comited (a photo was taken and saved, eg. she might be scanning QR code that OP wears on his t-shirt). Secondly: your judgement might be (and in heat of the moment almost certainly will be) off, so your offense is likely to be larger than perpetrators and law enforcement will focus on you. If a law is broken, you call the police. Vigilantism belongs to comic books.
    – Agent_L
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 15:39

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