Habana blues

While travelling I often end-up taking photos that prove to be a cross between a formal portrait and a street photograph. I took this photo in an overly touristy bar in Havana. As touristy as it was, the music was fantastic and the mojitos and cubatas were cold and tasty, a perfect combination to shake the days dust and heat.

I talked with the band for some time and asked if it was okay to snap some pictures. They didn’t mind at all. The band seemed to mind even less when, after taking photos for a while, we bought their CD. If we hadn’t been taking pictures that day, I would have likely bought the CD anyway, they were great.

While I snapped away, the lead singer, the drummer and the guitarist hammed it. The bass player on the other hand, as all bass players playing jazz in Havana tend to be, stayed as cool as a cucumber and just played away. He stared off into the street as he played, occupied, or so it seemed, with something more important than where he was. Perhaps that’s why I focused on him. I digress.

This brings up the point of this post:

Is it okay (ethically) to pay people on the street to take their photos? Is it okay to buy someone’s wears that you wouldn’t otherwise buy just to get a photo or two?

There are at least two streams of thought. First, you shouldn’t pay as that taints the ‘moment;’ commoditizes an innocent interaction. Doing so makes it more difficult for the ‘subject’ of the photo to be real, essentially the subject becomes a posing model. Or, second, you’d pay a model in a studio, so you should also pay someone on the street

What do you think? Is it okay to pay to take someone’s photo on the street?


  1. ~EvidencE~

    Great Post & Image love the color also love the cash register in the background
    seeing all our cash registers are so boring and all we seem to use is debit.

    I myself never pay the people. I most often take the photos first. Then try to approach the person and tell them that I just took some photo’s of them and I show them on my camera back, and give them my card and tell them I will email them some from the shoot. I mention if they want I will delete the images but to this day has not happened. It makes me feel comfortable shooting and as you mentioned in your post does not take the moment away or they pose if they know. If this helps and you need some cards printed let me know have them on your porch by Friday….Have a great day.

    1. Author
      mark millar

      I do agree Mike, that it really does take away the moment and often leads to posing. What do you think if you want something a little more formal? If you need to ask for permission first, how do you feel about offering money, or to buy what they are selling at that point?
      I’m often of two minds.
      Thanks for the offer. I ordered a free tester of moo.com cards last week. I’m hoping to get them this week. When I do get them, I’ll come by and show you and we can talk about cards and what I should use going forward.

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