Photography is experiencing a renaissance. Many people carry a camera everywhere they go, even if it’s the iPhone or Android in your pocket.
But before you start snapping, ask yourself a question: Is it legal to take a photograph in this situation? Test your knowledge with this quick quiz!
Local laws regarding photography may differ. I’ll tell you what is generally permitted. It should not be construed as legal advice.
1. You’re photographing the exquisite steps of a public library from a nearby sidewalk.
This one is easy. It is legal to take photographs in public places, including streets, sidewalks and public parks; however, you can’t obstruct other passersby.
2. You want to photograph an older couple holding hands in a public park.
You can photograph people in public places without consent. There are exceptions, though. If subjects have a reasonable expectation of privacy, don’t photograph them. For example, don’t photograph someone in a restroom or locker room.
3. You plan to photograph your neighbor’s house from the sidewalk.
Your neighbor’s house is private property; however, it’s visible from a public place, so photographs are legal. Get permission if you plan to stand in the driveway or yard, though.
4. You’re photographing your neighbor’s house from the street. Your neighbor is visible through the bathroom window.
Your neighbor has a reasonable expectation of privacy, even though the window is open. So don’t photograph your neighbor in the bathroom. The bedroom is also off-limits.
5. You’re on the street photographing a military base.
The military can prohibit photographs it deems detrimental to national security. Likewise, you may be banned from taking photos of nuclear power plants. And don’t expect to take photos in government buildings, like courthouses.
6. You witness an accident scene from public property. You want to sell a photo of it to a newspaper.
You can take such pictures from public property; however, don’t hinder police or emergency workers. If asked to move, do so. You may take photos from another location. The newspaper will use the photograph for editorial purposes; no consent is needed.
7. You’re photographing children in public. You will sell copies at an art gallery.
You do not need permission to photograph children in public. Art falls under editorial usage; consent is not required.
8. You take pictures of people in public. You want to sell the photos via a stock photography site.
Get a model release from anyone uniquely identifiable before trying to sell the photos. Companies purchasing your photos will use them for commercial purposes. They need a release to limit their liability; otherwise, they could be sued.
Stock sites have their own rules governing model releases. They won’t accept photos that don’t meet these requirements.
9. You’re photographing products at the supermarket.
You need permission to take photos on private property, but stores are private spaces open to the public, so owners can limit photography with clearly posted restrictions.
10. You want to photograph your son’s soccer game at a public park.
Amateur leagues often rent public parks for events. Some jurisdictions consider the property private for the event’s duration. The league can ban photography.
11. You’re photographing an NFL game.
Many professional leagues ban photography. Restrictions should be posted. Some venues only ban professional cameras, like SLRs.
Finally, you may encounter problems taking photographs in legally permissible situations. The best solution is to avoid conflict. If in doubt, identify yourself and ask permission before taking photographs.