Photographers and the law...

One of the topics hotly debated in photography forums (besides Canon vs. Nikon) is what are the rights of photographers, the do's and don'ts of what we can do with our cameras and where we can do it.

So instead of speculating or listening to the well intentioned (but misinformed) advice of a someone on a forum I thought I would give you the information that will arm you with the (real) facts.

Here is a link from the ACLU that spells out clearly what you can and cannot do with your camera and where you can do it.

The important thing to know is: "When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view".

It is also important to know your rights when photographing the police, this link spells out pretty clearly what those rights are.

My favorite resource for photography and the law is "The Photographers Legal Guide" from attorney (and photographer) Carolyn wright, it's packed with useful (and important) information regarding our rights as photographers, it's an easy read and just as easy to understand.

You can buy it as a PDF for only $9.95 or in print for just $14.95 here, a little to pay for a lot of information.

One of the important things I heard Carolyn say during in interview was that when we as photographers cave in and stop taking pictures when we clearly have the right to do so WE are giving away our rights (they are not be taken from us), and will have no one to blame but ourselves when those rights are gone.

Be sure to check out (and bookmark) her blog "The Photo Attorney", not only is if full of great info, she takes a darn good picture as well.


Danice said...

Thank you for this. It is very helpful.

Drayke Larson said...

We were just discussing this in my Media Business class and continues to be a hot button issue in the modern world. I appreciate the concise summary and links!

(Small editing note: After you say "WE are giving away our rights", the phrase "(they are not be taken from us)" doesn't quite make sense. Thought you might want to be aware!)

Scott said...


Not making sense is one of the things I do best!


The point I was trying to make was that we are losing rights because of our own actions, not those of others.

thanks for coming to the blog and taking the time to comment.


half blind said...

Thanks for this post, Scott. I've been instructed by the police on a few occasions to stop taking photographs and move on, even though I was in a public space, not obstructing the officers from doing their job in any way, and the public was walking all around me!

The reality is you can either follow the unlawful instructions of the officers and move on with your day of taking photos, or be subject to harassment, be detained, and any other unlawful act(s) which may occur. And then spend a great deal of time, effort and money trying to rectify the situation.

One time when faced with just such a choice, I actually stood in front of the policeman and thought through my options while he waited. I was absolutely certain I would be taken to jail if I did not move on. I chose to move on and continue shooting. Sad though. When walking away, I felt as if I did in fact, give up my rights.

Scott said...

You are right, doing what you have the right to do can prove to be a great deal of trouble and expense.

Though I am not always a big fan of the ACLU I know that would defend our rights as photographers.

I would love to think I would stand up for my rights but faced with spending the night in jail (and all that goes with it) or in my own bed, I think my own bed would win out.