Photographer’s Rights

I’ve been reading a lot about photographer’s rights lately.  Not that photographer’s have any more rights than anyone else – but there seems to be an unspoken war on anyone with a camera – and God help you if you actually carry a tripod someplace.  It seems that anyone that has anything that resembles profession equipment outside of Disney World is watched very closely as though they were terrorist suspects.  (Not that they shouldn’t be watched closely – there are a lot of freaks out there.) 

Now I’m not talking about professional photographers here.  I’m talking about the hobbyist that want some pictures for their own use (although, in Texas, the term “their own use” can get you a prison statement from 6 months to 2 years, if it can be proven you took the pictures for sexual pleasure without getting permission first.)  Copyright issues and commercial endeavors add too much complexity in trying to figure out who, or what, you can take a picture of.  I wanted to confine my research to just the hobbyist photographer – who is not going to commercially gain from the photographs. 

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and the below is NOT to be consider legal advice.  It’s just what I put together for myself for some guidance.

In my research around the issue, there isn’t a hard fast answer of what you can and cannot take a picture of.  The rules vary from state to state, so you have to do a bit more research. has an excellent forum and blog set up to cover this very subject.  Here is my understanding – if you are on public property, you can take a picture of just about anything, or anyone, you want.  Except if the subject (in this case a person) attempts to create some sort of privacy.   For instance if a person just ducked into a corner to check out some mail they just opened — probably not a good thing to shoot.  Everything else is fair game.  You can even take pictures of private property – as long as you are standing on public property!

Private property and US Government buildings/Installations are a completely different matter.  US Government buildings/installations – just forget it.  Keep the camera in the bag – you don’t want to be messing around with this one.  Private property is a mixed bag.  Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t. The one thing that is scary is if you sit back and think about all the places you visit in a week – how many of them are actually public property?  The mall – private property.  Convention centers/stadiums – private property (although a ton of your tax payer money went to paying for that convention center/stadium.)  Even some renovated town centers are considered private property (wish I had bookmarked a link to the article on this one.)

Basically you can take pictures while on private property provided that you have not been informed personally, or if the information is posted (aka a sign on the front door of the mall.)  This is is where it gets sticky – if you are asked (in most cases demanded) by the owner, or a person that represents the ownership of the property, e.g. Mall security rent-a-cop or bookstore cashier/inventory stocker/aspiring actor, to stop taking pictures, you are obligated to stop.  Of course, the next thing the person is going to tell you is that you have to surrender, or erase, the images you took.  Guess what – they don’t have the authority!  Unless the person asking you to do so is a law enforcement officer(LEO) WITH A COURT ORDER – you do NOT have to comply with the surrender or erase demand.  (Now if you are being arrested, the LEO has every right to confiscate your equipment.)

Of course, being confrontational in this situation could get ugly depending on the insistence of the property owner/employee.  Bert P. Krages, an attorney with a focus on patents, copyrights, and photography issues, has posted a great PDF flyer called the The Photogragher’s Right.  It even includes a nice section on how to handle confrontations.  I wish this would have been one of the first things I read as the flyer basically re-affirms my other research on the subject.

One of my favorite photographer/blogger/author, Scott Kelby, just recently had an interview with Ed Greenberg, an expert in this subject, on an episode of Photoshop User TV.  Check it out – it is very informative.

Now I’m off to find out what are my State’s laws on the subject.  I’ll post what I find for those interested.


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