Legally speaking-a word about taking photos in public

A recent incident brought to mind the legalities of taking pictures in public. It is a subject that is getting more and more attention for a variety of reasons. Earlier today, while attending a local fair, I was snapping pictures of various scenes. While walking past a man with his daughter in a stroller, I had my camera out and was checking the focus. He evidently thought I took a picture of his daughter and got very confrontational. Being a polite photographer and not wishing to escalate anything, I showed him the last picture taken, which was not one of his daughter. End of confrontation.

But it got me thinking about how to handle situations like this in the future. Legally speaking, no one has a right to privacy while in a public place, such as a park, or a public street. And I could have been an asshole and taken the picture any way, but it would have resulted in an altercation, and would that really have been worth a photograph? When taking pictures in public, especially of children, it’s always polite to ask first, and if the parent or subject says no, say thanks and walk away. It’s also wise to use common sense when shooting in public. Going alone to a play ground and taking pictures of children without the parent’s permission is an invitation to trouble from the police, as well as irate parents. It’s just not worth the legal hassle even if you have the law on your side.

There are a number of places on the web to find the legal guidelines for shooting in public. There are a few links at the end of this article.

So the upshot is, to avoid hassles and harassment from people or law enforcement, either be discreet about shooting in public, or be upfront about it and talk to your potential subjects. If you approach people in an open and friendly manner it is also an opportunity to market yourself and your business, and possibly pick up some new customers. Introduce yourself, (it helps to have a business card or two handy), and tell them why you find them interesting and would like to take their picture. If they refuse, do not pester them. Simply smile, say OK, and walk away. Most people would not mind such an approach if it is in a friendly manner, and they think you are a professional photographer, not just some creep with a camera. Continue to talk to them while shooting them and after ward. You might be able to market some additional work to them after you show them the photos on your camera. Always leave on friendly terms, leave your business card with them and say thank you!

Again, if someone objects, keep your wits about you, be polite, and do not escalate the situation if you can avoid it. But stand your ground if you are in the right as well. This is a freedom of speech issue that has been trampled upon quite a bit in this age of paranoia about pedophiles and terrorists. In the links below is a downloadable PDF of a photographers rights, and it is a good idea to carry a few copies with you when shooting. They come in handy to explain your actions to law enforcement. No guarantees that they will read it of course! And be ready to defend yourself if you are hassled by someone for shooting in public. This could come from someone not even involved in the shot. If a bystander decides to be a busybody and interfere with your shooting, you do not have to back down or explain yourself. Defend your right to shoot. The law and the courts are on your side if you are not shooting where someone has an expectation of privacy, such as shooting into someone’s window, or in a restroom.

In the end, use good judgement, be polite and as discreet as possible when shooting in public and you should be OK. But also be on your guard and aware of the situation at all times.

Happy shooting!

Links: (download the PDF of your rights and carry it with you always!)


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