Can I take photos of strangers?

I got to fly to Philadel­phia recent­ly all on my own, no kids in tow. At the var­i­ous air­ports on my way there and back (Kansas City, Indi­anapo­lis, Philadel­phia, and Detroit) there were a num­ber of times when I want­ed to take pho­tographs of strangers. Won­der­ful­ly crag­gy faces, dis­tract­ed busi­ness run­abouts, or can­did­ly tired trav­el­ers. But I was a) scared, and b) not sure of the legal­i­ty. So I did a lit­tle research after I got home.

If you want to read just one arti­cle about this, read this one by Dan Heller.

Turns out, you can take pic­tures of strangers in pub­lic places if they have no expec­ta­tion of pri­va­cy (pub­lic restrooms are pub­lic, but pri­vate) and you can do what­ev­er you want with them, as long as it is not for com­mer­cial use, which is to say, you can’t use them to sell a prod­uct. ((On pub­lic vs. pri­vate and com­mer­cial vs. edi­to­r­i­al here is a post by law pro­fes­sor Nan­cy Wolff. Also, a list of links to your rights as a pho­tog­ra­ph­er, handy in a post-911 world.))

If you are not in a pub­lic place (like say, a stu­dio, a school, a busi­ness) or you are unsure of what you will do with it (and com­mer­cial use is a pos­si­bil­i­ty), or if you are just not sure, you can always get your sub­jects to sign a release. ((Here is a link to an index-card sized release, and a link to anoth­er Dan Heller arti­cle, on releas­es.)).

Of course, there’s also the issue of brav­ery ((An inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion of the brav­ery of street pho­tog­ra­phy is here on the pho­to­jo­jo forums.)). Do you dare?