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The ubiquity of concealable camera phones and the popularity of DSLRs with telephoto lenses often poses the question “What am I allowed to photograph legally?”

The Right to Photograph:

In general you may take a photograph of whatever subject you want when you are in a public place or you have express permission. In general You don’t need consent to photograph somebody unless they have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” examples including dressing rooms, public bathrooms, in their homes, etc. Other limits may include military and nuclear sites. Permissible subjects include: law enforcement officers (but you may not interfere with law enforcement activity, investigations or risk officer safety) children, airports and more.

A lot of great photos are captured when the subjects aren’t aware that a camera is around. It captures people in their natural state.

Nobody can confiscate your film/photographic data without a court order or warrant or a law enforcement officer that has arrested you. If an individual threatens or ‘detains’ you, you may have a case for legal action against them.

A great resource on the subject is “Legal Handbook for Photographers” By Bert P. Krages and his “Pocket Guide” (PDF)

Next time you take a photo and the subject asks to see the photo to check if they blinked, or they “look funny” and demand you delete it, you can assert your rights

Next weeks photography law post will discuss copyrights and sharing licenses.

UPDATE: My photographer friend asked me about commercial uses of photographs. There is a distinction between Publisher and Photographer, but they can often be the same individual. Most often if you publish a photograph with a person (model) and the predominant purpose is for monetary gain,(Ex.advertisements) then you must get a release from the model. News articles and non-monetary uses don’t require a release.

This post is not legal advise and does not establish an attorney/client relationship. For specific fact situations consult with an attorney. please read our Disclaimer.