Issues of social justice associated with photography based educational research (PBER) are under-explored and under-theorised. In Part 1 of this paper, a practical synthesis of social justice in education is used to interrogate the purposes and processes of PBER, which then frames discussion of the particular affordances of images and the ethical issues involved. In Part 2, the ‘contact zone’ (Pratt, 1992) theorises PBER as a process of generating autoethnographic texts which work for social justice while acknowledging the external researcher’s position in relation to structures of injustice. A published study involving teacher educators in an area of conflict in Burma demonstrates this approach, which we term ‘contact zone pedagogy’. The approach offers a resolution of the associated ethical issues, with consequences for the way researchers and co-researchers are positioned in relation to social justice, and their creation, interpretation and presentation of photographs.