Do’s and Don’ts – Photography in Public Places

There are several reasons why photographers (not necessary professionals) go around town to take photographs in public places:

  • they want to photograph an interesting building (architecture photography)
  • they want to photograph in the botanical garden or local museum
  • they want to photograph life on the streets (street photography)
  • they want to photograph an interesting event occurring in a public place (photojournalism)
  • they want to photograph a model in a public place background (portrait photography)

What is wrong with these reasons? Well, nothing… mostly.
But some countries and states have regulations that will prohibit taking photos in certain places.
Some rules will state that you cannot shoot any picture at all, while other rules will only state that you are not allowed to use your photography for commercial purposes.

Why is it important for you to know if you are allowed to take your photo? – Because if you don’t know, and still decide to take the risk, you might get in trouble. There is a perception out there that photographers have bad intentions (which is clearly not true in most cases).

How should you proceed if you find yourself in a situation when photography might not be allowed:

  • If you are on the street and want to photograph a person in action, make sure to ask permission first.
  • If you are photographing outside or inside public buildings, search for a sign showing that photography is not allowed.
  • Also, if you don’t find a sign, ask the employers working in the area if photography is allowed and /or in which conditions (for example no flash)

About this, let me tell you about what noticed in my experience:no-photos
The happy scenario: I used to go to the botanical garden in my town very often. There was a clear sign saying that photos are not allowed unless I pay a certain amount of money (which I did not want to ). So, i went to the botanical garden a couple of times without takes photos, until one day the employer at the entrance, while giving me my ticket, told me that I could take photos for free as long as I don’t use them for commercial purpose. Imagine how my smile grew at that point.
The not so happy scenario: I was in the park taking random photos of kids playing, without a particular focus as in portrait photography, but rather on the action overall. I barely took 2 pictures when a young mother came angrily at me requesting me to do not take photos of her son. I explained to her that I was not particularly takes photos of him, and that we are in public park, but she was angry enough to make me uncomfortable and leave. A little while later I bought a 70-300 mm lens which allowed me to have a bigger distance for this kind of situations.

So now that it is clear what are the do’s of photography in public places, let’s go quickly to the don’ts:
First risk while shooting photos in public places is that the employees (most likely security officers) will come to you and ask you to stop, maybe even delete your photos.

  • Don’t try to argue with them aggressively even if they look angry, because you might get arrested.

I got an example for you – a photographer that became famous for getting arrested and going to court to defend his point of view. His name is Carlos Miller, arrested a couple of times but acquitted of all charges except resisting arrest. You can find out more information here
What you need to do in this tense situation is to maintain your calm, know the regulation and request written proof of the fact that you are not allowed to take photos in that particular place (a friend of mine actually carries the printed law of photography in public places in his bag for this type of situations).

  • The second don’t is simple: don’t be a stalker.

People don’t like it when they become subject of too many photos all the time. This is to consider while taking your photos for a photojournalism story and street photography.

By Laura

I started photography as a hobby in 2005, during college. My passion slowly became a more important part of my life since 2008. Because of using a combination of my photographic knowledge, with those of internet marketing, I like to call myself a "photomarketer".

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