This paper discusses six categories of key ethical issues that are important to consider when using visual methods in social research. The categories were identified during workshop discussions with researchers working across disciplines and using a range of visual methods. They have been used to inform guidelines for the ethical conduct of research using visual methods. The categories represent both familiar and emerging ethical challenges. They include widely accepted strategies for meeting ethical obligations to ensure participants’informed consent, to maintain confidentiality, and to design and conduct research that minimises harm. Three further categories represent more novel ethical issues that are particularly prominent in visual methods: managing fuzzy boundaries around the multiple purposes that visual research may serve, addressing questions of authorship and ownership of visual products generated during research, and dealing with representation and audiences when disseminating research findings. In this paper we reflect on the tensions and challenges these issues raise for researchers working with visual methods, and consider potential strategies to address these challenges. By identifying and critiquing ethical issues that are prominent in visual methods, this paper contributes to a growing body of work that aims to ensure the ethical conduct of visual research.

Jenny Waycott, Marilys Guillemin, Deborah Joy Warr, Susan Cox, Sarah Drew, Catherine Howell (2015).