Morality and professionalism vs Legality – The Hillary Duff question

For those who don’t know, there has been some publicity around a situation where Hillary Duff posted a video to her followers of her confronting a random photographer who was filming a sports event that her child attended.

Now I don’t want to get into whether he was paparazzi or not. For now I want to assume he isn’t and approach the issue of whether he was wrong or right from a pure photographer perspective.

Lots of people have been quick to defend the photographer from a pure legal perspective and that’s the issue I want to address here. It’s a classic case of “It’s legal, so it’s not the photographers fault.”

This is the part I want to talk about, and approach…

Firstly, there is a big difference between legally, professionally and morally.

Lets talk about what you can legally do in today’s society:

  • You can legally drive to the front of a queue of cars and push in but that doesn’t make it right.
  • You can legally walk up to a fat person eating in McDonald’s and ask them why they are eating junk food when they are fat, but that doesn’t make it right either.
  • From a photography business perspective, you could legally ask a customer on a date but that’s unprofessional. This is one of the reasons why companies have something called a “Code of conduct”. It’s to bridge the gap between legal and acceptable behaviour.

So why is a photographer okay simply because it’s legal? Someone I saw posted an apt response to say that there were a lot of morally reprehensible things in history that were legal and using legal as a benchmark isn’t sound.

Slavery, apartheid and the holocaust were all legal. Killing homosexuals is still legal in some countries. Stoning people for adultery is legal. Whilst this isn’t close to the severity of the actions of the photographer in questions, it shows that the line drawn for legality is not a line that we should aspire to. We should aspire to more than that.

It doesn’t mean go out and break the law, but it means think about your actions, even if they are legal. If people are uncomfortable with what you are doing, stop and think about it from their perspective.

The problem we have is that if photographers don’t curtail their actions, the laws will be changed to curtail them and when that occurs, everyone will get punished.

5 thoughts on “Morality and professionalism vs Legality – The Hillary Duff question

  1. You use some terrible analogies. Slavery? Killing homosexuals? Give me a break, we’re talking photography here. Simple freaking public photography! The other analogies you use constitute rudeness and at its worst public photography could potentially be rude, period. As far as the risk of changing laws, public photography in the US is constitutionally protected, and that trumps any attempt at legislative proscription.


    1. Now you’ve gone from terrible analogies to a terrible straw man argument. Clearly if a ‘pervert’ is producing pictures of minors for sexual purposes this crosses into illegal activity not protected by the constitution. Do you have any other examples where photography in a public milieu is anything more than rude? Bruce Gilden gets invoked a lot in these arguments.


      1. PS I genuinely like your site and I should acknowledge that you are Australian and I am US and despite the many similarities in law and culture we could be arguing apples and oranges here. And yes even here in the us if i choose to practice legal rudeness by photographing somebody’s little girl I’m liable to be assaulted and would probably find little sympathy from the authorities. Cheers mate, and keep up the good work with your site! Oh and My ‘street’ photography is on insta: if you’re curious.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You have to remember that laws and rules are typically made for the exception. If we didn’t have the exceptions, we wouldn’t have drink driving laws, assault etc. There are a small minority that screws it up because they can’t exercise discretion or they are engaged in illegal activity. Street photography is one thing, but in the example with Hillary Duff, the photographer in question went to a kids soccer game. He didn’t go to an adults soccer game where kids were playing. And when he was asked to stop, he went into the usual “it’s legal” approach instead of just walking away. These are the kinds of people the laws will change for, it’s the people like this that screw it up for everyone.


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