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August 08, 2011


Next time, inform these folks of the law and how you were not breaking it.

Curious you should post this now as yesterday on a walk with a local group a couple of us got into quite an altercation with someone. We were riverside and the owner of a boat strongly objected to us taking photos. Two of our group got quite angry (the totally wrong reaction in this situation) and the incident escalated.

Ironically the boat captain used as his argument that we wouldn't be able to do this in the US.

I've always made an practice of apologizing (usually after getting the photo) and quietly moving on, or trying to explain myself if the person seems reasonable.

At first though, it was quite difficult for me to moderate my temper particularly in light of the absurd reasons I was handed for not taking a photo in a particular place.


Top This: Photographing a policeman in Chicago without their permission is a felony.

Truth is always stranger than fiction.

You're just seeing the very start of the problem. In the UK, if you're spotted taking photos anywhere near children, there's a good chance that the police will be called to arrest you as a paedophile; taking photos of a building will usually result in hassle from security guards who then call the police to arrest you under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. The biggest photography magazine in the UK, Amateur Photographer, has for a few years now been running a campaign to reduce stop the police from interfering with photographers, and they've managed to get questions asked in Parliament. Have a look at these items (there are plenty more):


The thing that I find most interesting, mostly as an observer, is that the expectation of outcome depends on what side of the coin you are on. Briefly, most people seem comfortable with an 'I'll tell you what to do, but don't tell me what to do' attitude.

In a lot of ways, things haven't changed much in the perception of a photographer since the rise of the SLR. Then, as now, if you are seen using one you are perceived as a 'professional' and must have a financial motive to take a picture. I would be willing to bet that if you went back with a camera that you don't hold up to your eye, but rather almost at arm's length, no one would question you. (Since you would be perceived as an amateur.)

The short answer to the titular question is, "no, but many people think it is." As long as you're in a public place, you should be protected under the law. The danger is when your subject—or worse, the police—don't realize this.

Been shooting on the streets for a number of years now. Every person that you come across will be different. Every security guard, law enforcement officer, shop owner, and general schmuck will all be different. There is a lot of misinformation out there and all you need to remember is that people are afraid of the things they do not understand. Ignore it, keep moving. Keep your feet in public ground. Be polite, but defend yourself when and where needed. Expect the unexpected. Keep shooting.

For the individual that said photographing a Chicago law enforcement officer is a felony - wrong. Please see the following article:


Additionally, I was just there last week and photographed a few officers at work. They saw me, they didn't care and won't care as long as you are minding your own business.

I do not consider myself a street photographer but I have had a few experiences with photographing in public places.I was taking pictures of an abandoned home between a business & an occupied home when a "man on a mission" came up and wanted to know what I was doing. "I'm a photog & I like to take pictures of things that interest me." He proceeded to tell me that I was a real estate developer, he assumed an ulterior motive, what I do not know. That was the first time I was confronted. Another time I was photographing a motel sign, a large metal sculpture like sign, when an employee coming to work asked me why. I said I was documenting places in Arbutus, where I lived, which is true. That was enough for her. One more. I pulled into a road side store on Rt. 50 on Marylands Eastern Shore. I walked about 1/2 mile to take pictures of an old truck with a sign that advertised the store. When I got back to the parking lot someone asked why , what for. The assumption this time was that I was documenting a zoning infraction, which I was not. Maybe it is a sign of the times that people are besieged with free floating anxiety & suspicion. If you are seen with a camera it is thought that you are going to document that some one is breaking the law. After all, a picture is irrefutable. I would advise that you ask permission , if appropiate, and think about what you will say if approached, if you bumbble your answer it is a give away that your are "lying".
Sunday morning is a good time to go out if you do not want people in your shots & if you want to decrease your chances of being approached. And above all Protect Yourself at All Times, Be Aware of Your Surroundings & Do Not Get Boxed In.

Such has been the case in Japan---Tokyo at least for years. Many, if not most large corporations will send security guards out to confront you and tell you that you may not photograph their building. Usually they are polite but some are flat out rude in Japanese, which is not a usual way of doing things here.

Last year, In Jiyugaoka, Tokyo, I was taking photos on a street across from a McDonalds. I was photographing a sign on the building next to me, but which must have appeared to to young manager to have been taking photos of his greasy burger joint---which is not illegal. He came over and told me to stop taking photos of McDs. I said I was not photographing McDs and showed him the LCD in which Mikey's (in the shadow) was barely visible. He then told me not to take photos of the customers, who, had any been walking down the street when I took the photos, may have been visible. None were on the street in my photos.

Now I can understand why he may have assumed that his customers may not want to be photographed patronizing his Mcds, but this was about over the top for me to be told not to photograph an all-over-the-world burger joint, and I barely managed to hold my tongue. "Does McDs own this street?" I asked. "Don't take photographs of McDs", he replied and went back inside.

I do suspect that had I been using something other than an SLR, nothing would have been said. And had he tried such a cute little move with some Japanese photographers I know, he would have been either completely ignored, or given a nice dressing down. I would have been better off to have pretended not to understand Japanese.

I am quite sure that many of the same people that hassle someone with a camera will not think twice about using a cell phone to shoot someone/something/anything and then post it on the internet.

You might find this video interesting-- it documents six London photographers encountering resistance while shooting on the street. This was part of the London Street Photography Festival.


In those states that prohibit electronic recording unless both parties consent (the justification for arresting photographers), I wonder if a photographer using an all manual film camera would be accosted by the authorities? A Pentax K1000, Nikon FM, FM2, Leica M2,3,4,6, etc. do not have electronic shutters, but manual, spring driven ones. To be safe, in those cameras that have light meters, you can even remove the battery so there is no question that no electronics are involved. Photograph all you want! You are in a public place, there is no expectation of privacy and no electronic recording occurring.

Actually, I'm a retired chief of police and have been a passionate photographer for over 41 years and I'm appalled at how law enforcement have been treating photographers. There is no excuse for it. When circumstances permit, I spend time "educating" law enforcement personnel about photography in public places. It is the least I can do.


What states are you referring to? I'm unaware of any such prohibition here in Pennsylvania.

Interestingly enough, I don't recall ever being hassled by law enforcement for taking photographs. (I've been hassled for other reasons, but that's another story.) The people I find to be the most annoying are those who lack any real authority yet feel entitled to push their weight around. Security guards are often the worst perpetrators. Their primary allegiance is to their employer rather than the fine details of the law. Companies these days are aggressive about protecting their property and care little about the distinction between public and private except where it serves their interests.

When I'm approached by hired or self-appointed guardians I try not to escalate the situation. One or two pictures aren't generally worth a full-scale confrontation, at least not to me. The exception--again, for me--is when someone is being rude, disrespectful, or antagonistic, in which case I would feel obliged to call their bluff.

That said, I would not make a point of taking pictures outside high-security government or military installations, nor would I hang around playgrounds taking pictures of other people's children. There is such a thing as looking for trouble.

Gordon, take a look at http://www.rcfp.org/taping and it gives you a pretty good rundown on what the federal government as well as those 12 states which require all parties who are being electronically recorded to consent require. If you look at the news stories which highlight photographers who are arrested for photographing or video recording authorities, they pretty much are all in the 12 states. When you electronically record a law enforcement officer without his or her consent, they then utilize these "wiretapping" laws as a reason to make the arrest. Personally, I think it is an appalling abuse. Dennis

I've run into a similar situation when we transfer old home movies into digital and then a family posts them to Facebook, et al. If the video happens to have captured someone other than the family, we've actually had people question the legality of distributed the likeness. In this world where every citizen has a pipeline to mass media, it is going to be incredibly difficult - and interesting - to see where it all shakes out.

According to that site, in Illinois:

"It is also illegal for any person to “videotape, photograph, or film another person without that person’s consent in a restroom, tanning bed or tanning salon, locker room, changing room or hotel bedroom,” or in their residence without their consent. 720 Ill. Compiled Stat. Ann. 5/26-4(a)."

And, in Pennsylvania: "A person commits a misdemeanor if he views, photographs or films another person in a state of full or partial nudity without consent, under circumstances where the nude person has an expectation of privacy. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7507.1."


The statutes you refer to have nothing to do with street photography--but maybe that's your point. The more pertinent issue is the one raised by Dennis: that some law enforcement agencies are using laws on wiretapping and surveillance to limit our right to practice photography on city streets--and all this in "the land of the free."

The issue with the statue may have been an artist trying to protect their IP. In a lot of cases at art shows, galleries, etc, artists have signs up asking that no photographs be taken of their work. We were just traveling out east, and I saw signs on everything from wood carvings to embroidery.

Maybe the artist would have a copyright case, and maybe not. Personally, I try to respect the artist's wishes.

I've been shooting in the street since the mid 1970's, and I never had the slightest trouble until about 2001. Of course it's partly security paranoia, but I think it also has to do with the Internet. People seem to think that you're going to post their picture somewhere in an embarrassing way, even if they're just walking down the street. And everybody's afraid that you're going to sue them, or turn them in for some imaginary infraction.
It's so unpleasant that I just don't shoot much on the street any more.
(It's true that I am hassled less when I use my Canon S90 than when I use a more serious looking camera.)
Amusing things do happen though. Last summer I was in the alley behind a famous-name-coffee-place, taking pictures of some abstract paint smears on the wall. A hip young barrista came out for a smoke, watched me for a few seconds, and asked, (with a smile) "Are you making art, or collecting evidence?"

Most of the laws in the states mentioned above are about audio recording. I other words the audio that accompany s video. I don't think still images, whether taken electronically or with film are the issue. It is unfortunate that police and AGs try to use these laws to criminalize innocuous behavior. I think a federal law should be written that overrides these laws, allowing such photography and audio recording where there are no expectations of privacy. A law officer performing his duty, in public, should have no expectation of privacy.

I cant't go into any long, reasoned, disertation on the subject,I can only go with my gut feeling. And it is this: Privacy is being invaded on so many levels these days that even things that were, in the past, viewed as inocent intrusions are now seen as invasions of privacy or possible sources of liablity. As throughout history, if you stand up for your rights, i.e. your right to take pictures of the public domain, you may pay for it...... its the way things are.

I agree 100% with the poster who theorized that it stems from the internet. And the perception that the image is going to disseminated in some way embarrassing to the subject.In the past, the means of 'publication' always meant that the photographer would have to convince an 'editor' that the image had some value to the publishing entity (in other words, that the publication of the image would increase sales of the paper, whatever). But the internet has allowed anyone to publish any image at any time. The checks and balances are gone. People are scared of being abused.

Yes-yes, my wife flashes that same smile when she sees me coming with a camera. It kinda hard to get those unposed shots at home.Also how did the "don't sell my cat " shot come out? I would think it must have been a really slo-o-o-ooow day for that poor fellow. Hopes he gets a life.

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