Photographers’ Rights

December 29, 2011


As we near the end of 2011one thing I look forward to in 2012 is an absence of hassles for taking photographs in public places. This year I had no less than three incidents with authorities:

• At Sun Fest, a complete stranger accused me of taking pictures of women and children. I was detained while a security person called a police officer and I was questioned. This incident is detailed in a post on Flickr (click photo at bottom).
• I was told by a security person that I could not photograph children playing in Centennial Fountain without permission from their parents.
• A sheriff deputy asked me to stop taking photographs of the county courthouse. He said I could do so from the public sidewalk, but not while on courthouse property. (is that not public property?)

With the popularity and accessibility that digital photography offers society, it seems that everyone is taking photos of someone or something. Is the ubiquity of photography causing people to be oversensitive? While this has been discussed frequently on photo sharing websites, my own observation has been that other than one’s demeanor, the ability to freely take photos of anything anywhere seems to depend on where you are. SOme cities are photo-friendly while others are downright hostile. Suburbs and mid-sized or small cities seem to be the worst places. I was in New York this summer and spent six or seven hours taking pictures in the city and was barely noticed. Other than a dirty look from a couple women, no one even acknowledged me. In the past, I have never had any problems photographing in rural towns either.

It does help to know your rights. The American Civil Liberties Union has been circulating pamphlets outlining photographers’ rights. The piece of information that I found most helpful was:
If stopped for photography, the right question to ask is, “am I free to go?” If the officer says no, then you are being detained, something that under the law an officer cannot do without reasonable suspicion that you have or are about to commit a crime or are in the process of doing so. Until you ask to leave, your being stopped is considered voluntary under the law and is legal.

Here are some additional resources for photographers.
ACLU Photographers Rights
Photographers Rights, Bert P. Krages III attorney
Know Your Rights (UK)
Photography is not a Crime

Now get out and take some photographs…you have every right to!

Portrait of an Asshole

TOP: New York City street corner 2011

ABOVE: Sun Fest incident, West Palm Beach 2011


8 Responses to “Photographers’ Rights”

  1. lempkin Says:

    I think we’re all hoping for an end to this trend. I don’t know how it is in other places, but I can tell you that in New York, the police have absolutely no interest in your interpretation of your rights. If they believe they are being defied you will spend several hours sitting in a police station when you could have been outside taking pictures. You’ll probably win in the end, but if it escalates to the point where you need to hire a lawyer, as the saying goes, how much justice can you afford? Most people are simply going to move along when told to. Fortunately, New York, Manhattan in particular, is somewhat camera friendly.

  2. graphicgreg Says:

    Thanks for your comment Michael. That sounds brutal! There does seem to be a tide of change worldwide. Some of the SPNP photographers last year were relating stories of unpleasant encounters in the UK. Here, a local photo intructor at an art center was told that her and her students could not take photos in a public park. It certainly was not like this in the 70’s! Let’s hope for a change of attitude.

  3. PatMinNYC Says:

    I keep a copy of this PDF in my camera bag:

    Click to access photo_rights_1_sheet.pdf

  4. graphicgreg Says:

    Uesful and interesting document Pat – thanks for sharing. Surprising that the use of tripods is allowed. I know from a commercial shoot years ago that in the town of Palm Beach, if you intend to put a tripod on a sidewalk – you need a permit. I will download that PDF next time I go to NY!

  5. Malcolm McCorquodale Says:


  6. go to the beach and take some pix of a 14 yr old…i dont think her father would give two shits about your rights as he shoves your camera down your throat

  7. graphicgreg Says:

    Hah…you are probably right Bob. I hope I am never in that situation. Thanks for your comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: