When Is Photography Illegal – Guest Follow-Up

Editor’s note:  We received a number of good comments about Josh’s post on illegal photography. One of our customers, Robin Nathan, even went so far as to write about her own experiences, which we think are worth sharing.


Here are some things I learned from my time working for newspapers and my communication law classes. First off, these guidelines are for editorial work, not commercial. That is an entirely different ballgame where you need to get consent from everyone and everything.

Photographing on private property without consent of the owner is illegal: it’s trespassing. It can be confusing because there are many semi-private spaces such as the mall, stores and restaurants. If you’re allowed to enter a property to shop, that does not give you rights to photograph.

Consent of the owner can only come from the owner. If you are taking pictures of a police officer and he enters a private house and tells you to come with, the owner of the house can sue you for trespassing. With pictures posted online, it is incredibly easy for someone to prove where you were shooting.

What people put out in public, from a park to a window visible from the street is safe to photograph. They are making the choice to be in view of the public.

In general, public areas are fair game. People in public spaces have no rights to their image, children included. That said, no one wants to be a jerk and photograph someone who is uncomfortable with it (plus, you might get punched in the face.) But, they’ve got no ground to tell you not to take their picture.

You can shoot private spaces from public spaces, but limited to what your eye could see. So, you can set up on the sidewalk outside of my house with a camera aimed at my window with a 50mm but not a 600mm.

It’s up to each of us to understand the law in this area.  If in doubt, ask before you shoot.