Everywhere you turn these days, it seems someone has a camera. We have disposable cameras, digital cameras and now, even our phones come with cameras. Everyone’s a budding photographer – and why not? The world’s a beautiful place.
But with the ability to shoot pictures also comes a degree of responsibility. Who is safe to photograph? Are there any rules you have to follow, when taking pictures in a public domain? Can you take pictures of government facilities or are there special steps involved? In the movies, we see people confiscating cameras or destroying film. Is this legal? Are there special rules for your state? For your country? One of the most important things that you can do, as a photographer and as a citizen, is to know your rights.
While you should familiarize yourself with your individual State laws, here are some basic rules of thumb, when it comes to shooting pictures:
Photography and the Public Domain
Did you know that anyone in a public place can take pictures of whatever they want? It’s true. While many photographers and their subjects often don’t realize this, there is no need for permission to be granted in order to snap pictures of someone walking their dog or of children playing on a swing set. If both the subject is on public grounds, they are subject to being photograph.
But wait, there is an exception – If someone believes they have secluded themselves in such a fashion, so as to grant them privacy, then you cannot take pictures of them without their consent. This pertains to obvious things, such as someone in a restroom or a person entering a PIN number at a cash machine, but it also covers the person who steps off to the side and pauses to read a letter or a person who steps around a column to take a moment and collect their emotions. If a person believes they have done something to grant them a degree of privacy, this should be honored.
Taking Pictures on Private Property
If you are on private property and asked to not take pictures, then you have to honor that request. However, if you are standing on public property and are taking pictures of private property – that’s perfectly fine, provided you’re honoring what was mentioned earlier about seclusion. In other words, taking pictures of someone’s house is fine. Taking pictures of someone who has come to the window to wave at you is fine. Taking pictures inside the house, of the family eating dinner or of someone taking a bath, is a rather obvious violation. Hopefully, it also goes without saying that you cannot use a high-powered lens to shoot pictures inside of windows or onto private property either.
Some Common Photography Misconceptions
Did you know that you are allowed to take pictures of things like military bases and nuclear facilities, provided photography is not prohibited? Just be forewarned that photography may be prohibited and your equipment confiscated if it’s believed to be a threat to national security. Before you snap some pics of such sensitive areas, I would recommend asking permission first, just to cover your own tail feathers.
Likewise, despite popular misconceptions, you can also take pictures of things like bridges, roads, utility buildings, airports and train stations. Many people believe that city infrastructure and transportation facilities are taboo since 911 but, in truth, it’s legal to take photos here. It is also legal to take pictures of fires and accident scenes, law enforcement officers and criminal activities.
One thing that you cannot do, however, is shoot at weird ‘hidden’ camera angles. Panty shots and their ilk are not appreciated nor allowed.
When Security Steps In
We’ve all seen it in the movies – the big beefy security guard/officer/henchman step in and claim the camera as their own. Sometimes they crush it in a manly fashion or destroy the film within. Is this for real?
Of course not – that’s Hollywood. In truth, most security interventions are seldom valid. You can take pictures in the lobbies of various businesses and you can snap shots of celebrities on the street. They may not like it, but if they’re on public property, you can snap away. Do you have to disclose your identity or show your credentials? Not unless it’s an officer of the law asking to see them. Do you have to explain what you’re there, taking pictures for? Absolutely not. And if they attempt take your camera or film – you don’t have to hand it over. In fact, if they force the issue and take it from you, they may be liable for stealing your camera or for coercion. Before you allow them to take anything from you, always remember that even a police officer needs a court order before he can confiscate your camera.
What To Do If You’re Being Hassled
Whenever I’m hassled about something, my first rule of thumb is to always keep my cool. You shouldn’t let people get you riled up as it often causes you to make careless mistakes, as well as giving the other person reason to escalate things. In a confrontation, your strongest weapon is your mind.
If the person will not listen to reason, ask to speak with a supervisor or head of security. If no one is available or if you think the person is overstepping their boundaries, consider contacting the police. If things are definitely out of hand, you can also try contacting the local television and radio stations about what is going on and how it’s infringing upon your civil liberties. The worst thing that you can do is to stay silent.
There are very few legal restrictions about what can be photographed when in public view. Know your rights and help to educate those around you.
http://www.photographybay.com/photography-laws/ – Photography laws by State
http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm – The Photographer’s Right