As a photographer it is important to know your rights, when taking photos in a public space. The laws discussed in this article apply to North America, although many western nations have similar laws if you live an another country it would be in your best interest to look into them for yourself.
- Use your common sense, it is legal to photograph women and children in a public place, but you might think twice about following them around taking photos, if you do not have their permission then you may be asking for trouble.
- You can take a photo of anyone or anything in a public place. Public places include, parks, sidewalks, public squares, beaches and government buildings that are open to the public like libraries. Despite common misconceptions if you are in a public place you can photograph:
- Car accident
- Bridges and other infrastructure
- Private buildings and residents
- Criminal activity
- Police officers
- Places like malls can be a grey area, although they are private property, you can take photos because it is open to the public, unless there are posted signs. Security can not stop you from taking photos but they can ask you to leave, if you refuse you could face trespassing charges.
- If you can see it you can photograph it from public property, this means you can photograph private property if you like.
- You are not allowed to photograph some government buildings like military bases (area 51) because of national security.
- Although you can photograph anyone in public, there are some areas that you can not due to privacy. Such as Bathrooms, locker rooms, people’s ATM number…
- You are most likely to be approached by security guards to ask you to stop taking photos, know your rights and stand your ground. Often if you refuse they will leave you alone.
- You do not have to disclose why you are photographing something, or your name, you have the right to remain silent. If you do decide to talk do not lie, especially to the police.
- You do not have to show anyone what you are photographing.
- No one has the right to confiscate your camera, without a court order or ask you to delete a photo (that would be destroying evidence).
- If you are taking photos for a commercial purpose you may need to get permits, depending on where you are taking photos. If you are taking photos for an advertisement you should get the written permission of the people you are photographing, but if you are taking a photo to be used on a blog or newspaper you should be ok.
What should you do if you are confronted?
- Know your rights.
- Keep calm and respectful.
- Do not be afraid to ask to talk to a security guard superior.
- If you feel threatened, call the police.
- They do not have the right to see your photos, but if they think you are doing something nefarious you might be able to calm them down by showing them the photos you have taken.
- Write down what happened, names, badge numbers, locations, times, and photos or video of the situation.
- If need be contact a lawyer.
- Share your story with the world, your local media, Reddit, Pixiq (they write about this often), or your own social network.
If you are being photographed in public and you do not wish to be:
- Politely ask the photographer to stop (you will hopefully get a better response with a polite conversation than yelling at them)
- If they refuse than leave or move away from where you are being photographed
This is for informational purposes only and not to be taken as legal advice, please seek the advice of a licensed attorney.