Editor's note: the following is a tongue-in-cheek, often irreverent, question and answer column published in the ASMP News solely for the entertainment of our readers. It does not necessarily reflect the views of ASMP, the local chapter or other ASMP members. All opinions and answers are solely those of the author, and he is welcome to them.

Readers' questions about any aspect of photography, or life in general, are welcome and Dr. Photography will answer them in future columns, if he happens to feel like it. Send mail to:
Dear Dr. Photography

Dear Dr. Photography,

I've been a professional photographer for 15 years. From time to time, while on location, someone will come up to me and ask me to take their picture with their camera. I guess they figure that since I do photography for a living, I wouldn't mind giving them the benefit of my expertise by doing a quick snapshot. How should I deal with these situations?

Fed Up in Foster City


DP: This has become a serious issue of late. There is probably not a single photographer, who sometime in his or her career, has not faced this dilemma.

Most of us are familiar with "Good Samaritan" laws, which are designed to protect the average citizen from liability when rendering first aid to an injured person. These laws were created to encourage us to help those in need of immediate medical attention and to protect us if our well-intentioned assistance somehow causes further injury to the victim. Medical professionals, such as doctors and paramedics, are not, however, as well protected by these laws. Their profession mandates that they give a higher standard of care and assume a higher level of exposure in the event of negligence.

What a lot of people don't know is that professional photographers are affected similarly by these laws.

If the average citizen on vacation at the Grand Canyon approaches you to take their family picture, you should be aware that, as a professional, you have a responsibility to render a professional level of care to that picture. Any other member of the general public could accidentally put their thumb over the lens or cut off the top of grandpa's head without suffering more than a simple "oh, this shot didn't come out" from the victim(s). However, as a professional, you could find yourself in court faster than you can say "autofocus" if you make such a mistake. You could also be held liable for the entire cost of your victims' vacation, along with punitive damages for emotional distress.

This is no small concern to the professional photographer. Legally, if you accept such a request for your services, even though you are not receiving compensation, you have a responsibility to deliver professional results. You must control the lighting, test the camera equipment and film, carefully monitor the storage, processing and printing of the exposed film -- just as you would if this were a paid client. It becomes your responsibility to give them studio quality results from their waterlogged, disposable camera and to "do no harm" to their precious vacation photos.

One option for handling such a situation is to do as many doctors do when they witness an accident -- don't walk, but run as quickly as you can in the opposite direction and avoid giving any indication that you might be capable of rendering aid. If you can make your escape unnoticed, you may avoid any legal responsibility whatsoever.

The second option for a photographer is to clearly present himself to the poor pilgrims. Saying something like "I'm a professional photographer... what can I do to help you?" is a good introduction. Once they've taken the bait, you can then ask them what their usage of these photos is going to be. Most will respond that the pictures are only for display in their homes and offices. They might also send a few copies to relatives. Now, you have them pinned and can invoice them for a minimum half day at your $1,500/day corporate rate with additional duplication and national distribution usage fees. At this point, your responsibility has begun and you must push the shutter button at least once in order to collect your money.

Granted, most tourists will think you're a real jerk if they receive an invoice like this out of the blue -- so you are better off advising them of your rates prior to accepting their request for your assistance. The practical photographer will carry pre-printed forms describing liabilities and limitations for such requests, which he or she can simply hand to the tourist, saying "please read this and sign at the bottom." While such a form is not currently included in the ASMP Business Practices Guide, most creative photographers can put one together pretty fast.

At the very least, such a practice will work as a "tourist repellent" for those of you who would really rather not be bothered by pesky members of the general public. However, with a little bit of luck, you might even get a new client out of it! Granted, it's a somewhat sleazy practice -- not unlike an ambulance chasing lawyer or a doctor asking for your credit card before rendering aid in an emergency. But what the heck -- it might work!

(Liability Disclaimer: Dr. Photography is neither a lawyer nor a medical practitioner. The ideas presented here are only recommendations based on his own vast resource of misinformation. Before starting any photography program, consult your personal lawyer and physician.)

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©1992 Scott Highton
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