Your Rights as a Photographer

In the spirit of protest, sometimes you gotta get your nose where it shouldn’t be to capture a shot, or make a statement. However, more often than not, you probably won’t get in trouble for it. Though this doesn’t relate to our current project per se, I still find this valuable knowledge to have on hand, and make a connection between your art and your rights!

As someone who has been escorted off a property more than once for *ahem* art, I find it very important to know what you can and can’t get in trouble for.

I will surmise some important points here, but I strongly recommend you do some research particularly related to what things you like to shoot.

What can I legally photograph?

-If you’re in a public space*, you have every legal right to photograph what is in view. That includes private non-public property (like someone’s house) if taken from a public space (like a sidewalk). Rule of thumb is: If you can see it, you can probably shoot it.

-You do not need a person’s consent to photograph them in a public. Yes really. Unless the person has secluded themselves purposefully (like gone into a dressing room, bathroom, etc) you have every right to photograph them. It’s your decision whether or not you care if people are irritated.

Some common myths

You can’t take pictures of other people’s kids

This one is tough (the short answer is yes, you very much can take pictures of kids if they’re in a public space, just like adults) but it is still frowned upon and spoiler alert: a lot of parents don’t like it.

You can’t take pictures of police officers

By all means, it is your RIGHT, nay the duty of citizens to monitor the law enforcement as it is a form of checks and balances. Some cops might not be a fan, but know that it is your right to do so!

It is illegal to take pictures of accidents, fires, criminal activity or scenarios where people are in danger.

I mean, if you’d rather watch an accident than help, you certainly may. Is a house burning down? Is someone being rolled away on a stretcher? You can photograph it if you choose. I think following Wheaton’s Law applies here.

When things get sticky

-Remember: A law enforcement officer cannot demand to see your camera without a warrant. Simple as that.

-A law enforcement officer cannot make you delete photos you’ve taken, even if he suspects you actually have taken pictures of something you were not supposed to.

-If you are challenged, you do not need to disclose why you are taking pictures, or your identity unless in cases where you are being questioned by a law enforcement officer.

-If someone tries to confiscate your camera you do not have to let them have it. Officers need a court order and anyone who tries to get ahold of your things without one (officer or not) can be liable for things like theft or coercion.

-Security guards, some law enforcement officers may and other people in power can try to tell you that what you are doing is illegal. Either because they don’t have a good understanding of the law, or are trying to frighten you off of taking pictures there. (Law enforcement officers are allowed to lie!) Just be assured in your rights, even if they imply you’re a terrorist. Which does happen.

After the Fact

Can I get in trouble for photos I’ve taken after the fact?

-When you start using images for commercial uses – things get tricky.  Though yes, you can legally take a photo of whomever you see on the street without their permission, you cannot make money off their likeness (where the photograph looks like them, shows their face, etc) without that person’s permission (This does not include art and academic purposes). If you are shooting with the intent of selling the images commercially (including stock images) then it’s nice to have a model release form laying around.


*Public space is not the same thing as public property. A mall for example, is private property, it is owned by some person or third party but is open to the public and therefore is public space. A mall however, can limit photography with clearly posted signs because it is private property.


More Resources for your fancy!

Photographer & Videographer’s Resource by the American Civil Liberties Union:

Good Summary of your rights:

Links to Adult & Minor model release forms:

Handy PDF to keep in your camera bag:


2 thoughts on “Your Rights as a Photographer

  1. This is really good to know! It was really interesting to hear about the law enforcement side of things and the common myths. Thanks for the info!

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