Know Your Rights as a Photographer!

Photographers spend a good bit of time, money, and energy on craft and their equipment. This same focus, however, rarely extends to the investment of time necessary to understand their legal rights and obligations. Why? Investigating legal matters can often be less exciting than watching paint dry, eating plain yogurt, or listening to a State of the Union speech! It is far more engaging to have a raucous debate regarding the resolution of the Nikon D800 vs. the Canon 5D MKIII, zoom into the first full size RAW samples from the D4, or dig into the details of some other photography minutia! Well, at least for some…

Know Your Legal Rights as a Photographer

It is important for you to take some time to understand the legal aspects of photography, however, since if you are engaged in the field for any appreciable length of time (particularly in the area of photojournalism), you will eventually encounter a potential legal situation. The purpose of this article is to offer some tips and guidelines that may help you better understand and deal with common issues related to your rights. All of my comments are strictly from the perspective of United States law. Since I am not a lawyer, I cannot offer legal advice (at least not legally!). Should you find yourself in a situation that calls for legal advice, attempt to find a reputable attorney (preferably recommended from a fellow photographer or organization such as the ASMP) that routinely deals with such issues.

1) Lack of Understanding Galore

The main concern is the amount of misunderstanding regarding these issues. This applies equally to photographers, those they take pictures of, police officers and others that enforce the laws, and those that manage content, such as newspapers, magazines, and websites. Even those managing photo contests may not have the necessary depth of knowledge. This can produce quite a bit of confusion, confrontations, and unnecessary strife. 9/11 only aggravated this situation, with some in law enforcement becoming increasingly suspicious of those with professional camera equipment.

2) What Can You Photograph While on Public Land?

Just about anything and anyone, and you don’t need permission. If you are standing on a public sidewalk, and spy Madonna walking into Starbucks, you are free to take her photo. If you shopping in LA, and observe the police busting Alec Baldwin for impersonating an actor, you are free to photograph Baldwin and the police arresting him, assuming you are doing so from public property. If you encounter an accident scene, there are no restrictions to your taking photos of the scene, the people involved, the EMTs, and police officers.


The only areas that are off limits are military installations, TSA security checkpoints, and power generation facilities. For obvious security reasons, we don’t want to make it too easy for terrorists to observe some of the details of these facilities. And you do not have the right to photograph someone in an area in which they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as their home, medical facilities, etc. If you take photos of people in such situations with your 200-400mm zoom lens, be prepared to be accused of violating their privacy.

You don’t have the right to plop your tripod anywhere you feel like in public. In areas, the authorities have the right to restrict your use of tripods or other types of rigs, not so much to interfere with your rights to photograph the area, but rather to ensure that you do not create a safety hazard. Most cities and public parks, such as the National Parks Service in Washington, D.C. , have published guidelines regarding the use of tripods. If you are shooting for commercial purposes, you may be required to obtain a permit and pay a fee. But if you are simply using a DSLR without a tripod, you likely have no restrictions.

3) What Can You Photograph While on Private Property?

All businesses and public buildings are considered private property. Concert halls, sports stadiums, theaters, etc. usually have some restrictions on photography. As such, you need to understand the policies of each facility you enter. And don’t assume that because the IRS building in Washington, D.C. is part of our federal government, and you are a US citizen, you can simply stroll through the aisles of each floor with your DSLR and fill up your CF or SD card. You can try, but don’t call me after the fact!

Most mall security guards are not going to stop you from taking a family photo in front of a mall’s fountain or the 20 foot inflatable Godzilla, but if you walk into Victoria’s Secret and start photographing the merchandise and displays, expect to be warned about their policy of not taking photos and escorted out the store by the police if you persist!

4) What Can I Publish?

Just about anything you photograph that you photographed in a public area, apart from your zooming into buildings or facilities, as mentioned previously, in which people have the right to expect privacy. This is perhaps one of the most difficult issues for people to accept. I suspect if you polled a thousand people, the vast majority of them would get this wrong. It doesn’t “feel right” that someone can take a picture of some mom and her son or daughter in a public park and then publish it in a newspaper, magazine, or website. And yet, it is perfectly legal. Celebrities and politicians are another matter entirely. Since they live much of their lives in the public eye, and often owe their fame and fortunes are related to such exposure, there are few restrictions relative to photographing them. Some of the best paid photographers are paparazzi, because public simply can’t get enough photos of their favorite celebrities. Photos of a celebrity couple’s new baby can be hundreds of thousands, and perhaps even millions. Of course, some of the celebrities have wised-up – they are taking photos of their newborns and selling them directly to the grocery store tabloids for prices ranging from $3M to $11m, and cutting out the paparazzi altogether!

The White House

5) Can I Sell My Photos?

It depends on who you are selling the photo to and for what purpose. If you are selling the photo you captured, of the beautiful young woman gazing into the sunset on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, to an advertiser looking for a model for their new fragrance named, “Freedom”, you are going to have a problem. This is considered a “commercial” use of the woman’s image, and thus she is entitled to the compensation. She may be open to a financial arrangement, but you need to check with her first and obtain her agreement before the photo can be used.

If you are taking a photo of an Occupy Wall Street crowd or a Tea Party rally, you have identifiable people in the photos, and you wish to sell them to Time magazine, you do not need to get the permission of those in the photos. Time may ask for a model release, however, if the photos have only one or two subjects. But this would be more for paranoia rather than strict legal requirements.


If Time magazine is doing a story on you, and showcasing some of the beautiful senior photos you have taken, they will likely ask for a model release form indicating that the people in your photos have agreed for you to use their photos in such a capacity.

Suppose you want to publish, as a “work of art”, the photo of the Washington Ballet trio you came across against the beautiful backdrop of the Tidal Basin cherry trees (on public land) during the National Cherry Blossom Festival? It is your right to do so. This applies to any photos you take of anyone in public. As long as you are not selling them for commercial purposes (e.g. used for advertising a product or service in a brochure, magazine ad, television commercial, etc.), you are free to sell such images. This too is one of the legal issues most people struggle with, since it may seem “unfair”. And yet it is the law.

Each state may have its own restrictions regarding photography taken in state parks. It is highly un-likely, however, that any state authority will take you to court should you capture and sell that once-in-a-lifetime photo of the majestic moose you encountered while hiking on vacation. It would simply be bad for tourism. If anything, they may ask you to sell them the right to them to put your photo on the cover of their “Come to Alaska” brochure!

6) Potential Sources of Trouble?

Police that are not used to dealing with significant volumes of people. Some in law enforcement are not provided with sufficient training in this area, particularly those in smaller towns or rural areas. They may not necessarily have bad intentions, but there have been quite a few incidents when police mistakenly told photographers that they did not have a right to photograph either the police or other people in public settings.

Police in more urban areas in high stress situations. In the middle of a confrontation, riot, or other stressful situation, police may momentarily forget the finer points of their training relative to the rights of photographers. Understandable perhaps, but it is still not legal for them to restrict your rights to take their photos and/or the scene.

Security guards. If some in law enforcement are not familiar with your photography rights, there is a strong likelihood that those in the security field, that has a high turnover rate, will have even less training.

Those managing photography contests, festivals, and other public-oriented events. One might expect those working for such groups to understand the laws, but I have personally encountered director level personnel in major cities, in charge of photography contests and events, that clearly did not understand the rights of photographers on public lands.

Individuals and groups you may come in contact with on public property. This may be the most confrontational group of those listed. As mentioned earlier, the vast people would likely not understand that you can legally take their photo in public, and then sell it as a form of “artistic expression” on your website. And most likely believe that they have the right not to have their photo taken.

Other photographers. Indeed, in the last two weeks, I encountered a professional photographer that thought I could not publish a photo taken of public entertainers, on public grounds, during one of our nation’s largest and oldest festivals, during one of the busiest days of the festival. While the photographer had indeed organized the photo shoot, they were conducting it on public grounds during a major event. In believing that they had some exclusivity to the subjects or the area, they erred on a variety of fronts (but thanks for the inspiration for this article, BTW!). And if a prominent professional can be so wrong, I have little doubt that there are plenty others in the ranks that are also misinformed.

7) How Do I Handle Confrontations With Police?

First and foremost – always stay calm and be respectful. Shouting, “I know my rights, buddy, and I can take as many high res photos of you and the rest of the police state as I want!!!” is likely not going to help in a tense situation. You are welcome to give it a whirl, but I won’t be answering any of your calls to bail you out!

Remember that the police have a job to do. The vast majority of them are good and decent people, with many being former veterans. Despite the Dunking Donuts types of characterizations, each police officer may eventually be called at some point to put their lives on the line for us. As such, always show them the respect they deserve, even when they may not understand issues pertaining to your rights.

That said, you don’t have to, nor should you, surrender your legal rights, should a law enforcement officer mistakenly prevent you from exercising your rights under the law. You should know our rights and always be confident in stating so.


8) Can the Police Confiscate My Equipment?

No, unless you are breaking the laws or restrictions I referenced above. If they attempt to take your camera, you should, in a calm manner, ask them to inform you of the specific law or statute involved. They need a court order to seize your equipment. They “should” know this, but you may have to remind them. Again, how confident and rational you behave will likely dictate the outcome of a tense situation. Another reason to know your rights before you need to recite them to others that either don’t know or have temporarily forgotten them in the heat of the moment.

9) Can the Police Force Me to Delete My Photos?

No. Even if you are in Victoria’s Secret as outlined before and acting strange. The most they can do is ask you to leave, and arrest you if you refuse to stop taking photographs in a private facility that does not allow photography. They cannot ask you to turn over your camera’s memory card either.

10) What to Do If My Rights Are About to Get Trampled On?

Attempt to stop it before it happens. Always carry a notebook and pen while out taking photos, and make sure it is easily accessible. But whatever you do, don’t reach inside your jacket quickly to retrieve it during a stressful situation! If a police officer, mall cop, or other security professional attempts to detain you unnecessarily, began asking questions regarding their name, supervisor, department, reason for your detention and/or confiscation of your equipment, the specific law they believe you are breaking, etc. Make sure that he/she understands that you are going to take notes so that you clearly capture his/her responses. Some security guards have been known to offer rather vague responses such as “security concerns,” when asked what law they are citing, but that doesn’t pass the sniff test. They are obligated to inform you the specific statute they believe you are violating.

Nothing (short of a 200 lumen flashlight aimed straight into their eyes!) gives people more reason to pause, as your hand beginning to calmly commit their answers to paper. Again, I believe that your ability to work through such situations will likely be a function of how calm and confident you appear. If you don’t believe me, watch the “Princess Bride” once again. Westley, confined to a bed because he is temporarily paralyzed and able to do nothing more than deliver an extremely confident sounding speech, convinces Prince Humperdink to lay down his sword and surrender:

If you know your rights, you will indeed have that same confidence during a stressful situation! In most cases, your calm demeanor and understanding of the law will most likely prevail, and prevent any further escalation.

Here is another video on knowing your rights as a photographer:

11) Ok – That Didn’t Work. What’s Next?

If, despite your best efforts to remain calm, avoid an escalation, and educate those involved, your rights are violated, you have legal recourse. That could include anything from approaching a newspaper, news network, or other outlet to run a story, filing charges, initiating a lawsuit, or some combination thereof. You would have to, with guidance from legal counsel, understand your options in detail, the costs involved, estimates of any settlement, the probabilities of the various outcomes, and your willingness to undertake any and all actions associated with them. Only you can make the final determination of how much time, energy, and money you wish to expend to resolve the issue to your satisfaction.

Occupy Movement

12) Summary

Since 9/11, those in various aspects of law enforcement have become much more attuned to security threats. Unfortunately, they have sometimes turned their attention to those carrying professional camera equipment. Education regarding the rights of photographers can be spotty at best, and perhaps forgotten in stressful situations. Thus your ability to defuse a confrontation may rest in your your knowledge of your rights, skillful and confident communication of them to others, and using good judgment. Bert Krages has published an excellent summary of the rights of photographers.

I suggest printing a copy, laminating it, and storing it in your camera backpack. Keep a few extra plain paper copies with you in case you need to provide one to a police officer or others involved in a potential confrontation. The simple act of handing someone a printed copy of your rights alone may help avoid a potential confrontation. If you are a member of ASMP, print out a copy of their legal section covering their legal FAQs, and review them on occasion. There are other books from Krage and others, such as Nancy E. Wolff, that cover the legal rights and specific case law regarding photography in much more detail. At all times know your rights. And should you still find yourself embroiled in a legal situation, ensure that you contact an attorney that regularly deals in these matters.

If you have experienced any legal situations that may benefit others, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.


  1. 1) Michael Baker
    March 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Regarding the article on the legal rights of photographers, I note that
    there are a couple of states in the USA that have enacted legislation
    prohibiting taking photos of the police. I doubt that this would hold
    up as it worked its way up in ever higher courts, but there it is until it
    becomes an issue and gets challenged…

    For one of many articles about this issue, see:

    • March 29, 2012 at 4:43 pm

      Indeed, if the police cannot be photographed, how would we ever uncover abuses? And according to this thinking, I can’t be videotaped during a bank robbery I am committing unless they first get my permission! ;)
      Thanks for the reference.

    • April 1, 2012 at 8:15 am

      techdirt ( ) covers this issue with some regularity. David Brin (a sci-fi author, ) talks about it a fair bit, also.

  2. 2) Martin
    March 29, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Indeed very useful article on some sensible issues

  3. 3) William Jones
    March 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    A point you did not mention: These are our AMERICAN rights while on U.S. soil. Those rights do not go with us when we travel to foreign countries. Other countries will have different laws, and penalities for violation thereof.

    Question: What about photos of sporting events? For example, I take my camera to a MLB game, get a picture (or sequence of pictures) of a great catch, and go to sell it. Will the MLB people be all over me? My impression is yes (due to copyright of their uniforms or such). And that the same would apply to NFL, Basketball, etc. Extend the question not only to professional teams, but also college (the NCAA seems to have a lot of control over content). I believe I can take all the photos I want for personal use, just can not sell any (unless I sell them to a news source, maybe).

    • March 29, 2012 at 4:52 pm


      Perhaps I wasn’t as clear as I could be – my references to US law were based on US citizens on US soil. Laws are very different abroad.

      Each sports stadium likely has its own unique rules, many of which technically prohibit photography. Most of the time, they simply can’t do much (and don’t care to) relative to point and shoots and/or cell phone cameras. Show up with a 300-400mm lens on a pro or serious amateur digital body, and you will likely draw the attention of one of the security personnel.

      I had to store my D300 and 70-300mm lens in the safe at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field one Saturday, when upon showing up to see the University of Pittsburgh play, I was informed by the stadium personnel that “pro” camera gear was not allowed.

  4. 4) John
    March 29, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Great article, I am sure knowing more definitely will help a lot of people to remain ‘calm’ in confrontational situations.

    I know the article describes US laws, but if I am not mistaken, I think Canadian laws are similar as well.
    If not, it would be much appreciated if anyone could spell out the differences.

    • March 29, 2012 at 4:53 pm

      Thank you. I too would be interested in understanding the rules that those from other nations could share with the mansurov audience.

  5. 5) Dave
    March 29, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    I have a question. This is about cameras in a private property. Can anyone legally confiscate your equipment without a warrent? I’ve been to many minor evens during my time where I’ve heard a version of if your seen with a camera we’ll take it and kick your out or something to that effect. I know they can kick me out but do they have any right to my gear?

  6. March 29, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    No one can should be able to take your gear without a warrant, anymore than they have a right to take your shoes. That would be considered “theft” under most circumstances.

  7. 7) DavidB
    March 29, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    A great site for legal information is The Photo Attorney.

    and, in particular, this entry:

  8. March 29, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    Thanks for recommending it, David. It is always helpful to have a few sources that one can check periodically, particularly as cases are filed/settled, laws are enacted/overturned, etc.

  9. 9) Srini
    March 30, 2012 at 1:08 am

    Important piece of information by Bob…I think this piece should given an easy access link. Although it is relevant in a general context anywhere in the world, it is probably directly relevant in the US. The local laws are different; if I am not wrong, under current circumstances, I am not sure if a warrant is required to confiscate an item in the UK in public places.

  10. 10) Gerald
    March 30, 2012 at 4:20 am

    Great article, thanks. In the UK we’re lucky to have a very informative website which visitors might find useful, it has been going for a few years now, outlining and discussing photographer’s rights, …

  11. March 30, 2012 at 6:07 am

    That is a good summary regarding your rights in the UK. We have some helpful sites as well. The challenge is ensuring that everyone pays attention to such information and understands it! Such issues don’t always get top billing! ;)

  12. 12) Tim Layton
    March 30, 2012 at 8:29 am

    This is the type of information and articles that photographers, of all level, need to know about. Great job on the article. Keep them coming.


  13. March 30, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Thank you. Unfortunately, many people don’t familiarize themselves with such information until after the fact! It is probably helpful for all of us to refresh our understanding from time-to-time, and keep abreast of the latest developments in this area.

  14. March 30, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    You have some sensible laws and America is a nation that is built on freedom and espouses the right of people to hold itself and its society to a mirror of accountability. Photography is, of course, a form of expression and its freedom of practice within the law should be cherished and protected. Alas, the same should be true of the United Kingdom, but here police routinely confiscate the cameras and memory cards of even tourists with no explanation or reason, often just to score points for their own personal progress report. This is actually forbidden by our laws but many people aren’t fully aware of their rights enough to challenge them. More often than not, someone wearing a uniform and carrying a baton is not interested in hearing about your rights. The only other places on Earth where this routine infringement by police happens is North Korea and China. The UK is a great country and the oldest functional democracy on the planet, which is what makes it all the more abhorrent. I realise that photographers are often regarded as parasites, but then who consumes and demands all the photos they take? There needs to be a climate shift in attitudes towards them by authority, otherwise they will continue to be harassed unlawfully.

    Just my 2 cents worth :)

  15. March 30, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    I didn’t realize the UK was so restrictive, but come to think of it, I seem to recall some former British subjects getting fed up with being told what to do, without having sufficient say in the process. They started a little revolution you might have heard about, way back in 1776… :)
    Our Founders were suspicious of pure democracies as well, likening them societies of 100, where 51 wolves could decide that it was ok to eat the 49 sheep! :)

    • March 30, 2012 at 2:33 pm

      I believe I’ve heard of that minor upstart back in 1776 :)) The first revolution in the history of Man, and resulting in probably the only constitution on Earth, that decreed that the people should tell the government what its privileges are, and not the other way around. That’s my understanding of a true democracy :)
      God Bless America!

  16. 16) Nora
    March 30, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    This article couldn’t have a better timing. There are a lot of protests going on in Montreal and I was wondering to what extent I can photograph the crowd and the police officers using their pepper spray. I understand that the article refers to american law, but it still gives me a good idea!

    • March 30, 2012 at 10:37 pm

      I am not familiar with the laws of Canada, but suspect that their are indeed websites/references similar to those in the USA, that can provide the guidelines for your rights. Good luck and be very careful!

  17. March 30, 2012 at 11:01 pm


    I am sorry to hear of your run-ins with the authorities and your arrest in front of your children. That had to be tough on them, not being able to understand what was happening to their dad. I am not aware of any HIPPA law that prohibits photography, but will do some additional investigation.

    I suspect that some are using HIPPA much in the same context as, “National Security” – a means to control citizens behavior, but without much of anything objective that they can point to to back up their claims.

    My wife and I are strong supporters of the police and our veterans (many of whom are in the law enforcement field). That said, we are always cognizant of the fact that power can lead to all kinds of abuses, as history clearly shows. The vast majority of police are good and decent people, and as I mentioned, can always be called on in a moment’s notice to lay their life on the line.

    As with any profession, however, there are always a few that tarnish the reputation of the group, and cause problems for everyone. I know it is hard to fight the tendency to view those in law enforcement in an unbiased manner, but you must make an honest attempt to do so.

    I am sure that you wouldn’t want all police officers to look scornfully at everyone that carries a DSLR, simply because they had a few run-ins with some obnoxious photographers. During the G20 Protest Marches in Pittsburgh in 2009, I witnessed the police display an amazing amount of restraint the extremely disrespectful, mocking displays toward them by the anarchists that took over our streets. I am pretty confident that most people would not have been able to demonstrate as much self-control in a similar situation.

    The police exist to uphold the laws – and that responsibility includes protecting your legal rights as well.
    Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with the subscribers of mansurovs.

    All the best,

  18. March 31, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    Outstanding and necessary article, Bob. I’d like to suggest that an addendum be added. Take maybe 10 small pix of various people and places FROM various places and give us readers the opportunity to, in our own minds (e.g. not an online poll), decide which pix are examples of photos that we have a constitutional right to take and which ones violate a law. Then put the answers (as you see them) at the end. I think it might reinforce what we’ve all learned from your fine writing.

    Phil Wells
    San Diego

  19. March 31, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Bob, nice article. I just wanted to take some time to clarify some important issues. I know you preface it with the caveat that you are not an attorney, but there are a handful of inaccuracies or suggestions of inaccuracies that I’d like to mention in case it could help someone.

    “What can you photograph while on public land? … the only areas that are off-limits are military installations, TSA security checkpoints, and power generation facilities.”

    If you are on public property, you absolutely CAN take photos of all three of these areas. The only questionable scenario is photographing a vital military or naval installation without obtaining permission from a commanding officer, and almost all lawyers would tell you that this restriction is unconstitutional, and would not hold up to a court challenge. Without getting into too much detail of the law, this info is also easily accessible on popular photo news blogs if you simply googled it:

    “You do not have the right to photograph someone in an area where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as their home….[you can publish] just about anything you photograph…apart from your zooming into buildings or facilities, as mentioned previously, in which people have the right to expect privacy.””

    To clarify, if you’re on public property, you can absolutely take pictures of someone within their home. They do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy if you can see them in their home while you are on public property. So if your neighbors dance naked in their living room, and you can see them through the open window from the sidewalk, you can legally snap away. Also, “reasonable expectation of privacy” is no longer the legal standard.

    “All businesses and public buildings are considered private property.”

    Nope. Not all.

    “Can the Police Ask Me to Delete My Photos?”

    A minor point, but police can ask you to do anything they want. You don’t always have to do it, and you don’t even have to respond to them. It should probably be phrased, “Can the Police FORCE Me to Delete My Photos?”

    Anyway, thanks for the article, and thanks for letting me point out those issues. Feel free to e-mail me any time for clarifications.

    Michelle Murtha

    • April 2, 2012 at 10:23 pm


      Thank you for clarifying these points. My commentary regarding the military, TSA, and energy facilities was from the perspective of being very close something that might be confidential in nature, but I did not explicitly state it as such. Indeed one could imagine taking a photo of a nuclear power plant from some distance without any issues, as it contains nothing that would betray any critical information. This would of course be different than aiming a high resolution camera at the controls/settings of a TSA screening machine.

      I suspect if we are taking photos of our neighbors dancing naked in their living rooms, we probably have other issues, but I understand your point! :) I had read some information that suggests peering into someone’s home with a high magnification lens might be considered a violation of privacy.

      Can you provide an examples of the public/private building issue? I had done some research and it seemed to point toward the fact that even public buildings could set their own rules, one of which might include, “no photography”. I suppose that doesn’t make them “private”, but it does mean that they can set rules that are different than being on public land such as streets and sidewalks. Any insights would be appreciated.

      Yes – the police can ask you anything, and as many pointed out, have done so despite the lack of a legal basis!

      Thanks again for taking the time to help clarify and correct some of my points.

  20. 20) Michael
    April 2, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Thanks for this great and informative article!

    For those in Aus the Arts Law website is the one with the info:

    Also more NSW specific:
    is very detailed and links to the various legislations, court cases etc that apply.

    • April 2, 2012 at 10:25 pm

      Thank you for sharing some helpful links. My article was meant to foster some awareness and help spur people to familiarize themselves with the various aspects of the law.

  21. 21) Scott
    April 8, 2012 at 7:50 pm


    This is one of the better written articles on the subject that I have come across. I think it is important that photographers know and defend their rights. While many may not want a confrontation with authorities it is still beneficial to know when you are right and when you are wrong.

    There were a couple of points that I thought needed some clarification.

    You say that you can photograph Alec Baldwin getting arrested “assuming you are doing so from public property”. I don’t believe there is any law that states that you can not photograph in this instance if you are standing on someone’s lawn or the stairs of a building. While our rights to photograph from or on public property is pretty well known I dont think that we are precluded from shooting from many private property locations.

    TSA security checkpoints are not off limits –

    Can I Sell My Photos – “It depends on who you are selling the photo to and for what purpose.” – We can sell our photographs to anyone we choose. We are not required to know what they are going to do with them. If a model release is needed then it is up to the end user to know that and to make sure that they have one of needed. As long as the photographer does not misrepresent the existence of a model release they would not be found liable for the end users use of the photograph. Not all commercial uses of images require a model release and there is no way possible that we can police the intended uses. In fact many photographers license their images on a website where there is no interaction with the buyer. There is no way that we could possibly know what their intent is and even if we did we should stay out of any discussion involving our opinion on whether or not a release is needed.

  22. April 8, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    Thank you. With respect to Baldwin, I was thinking that you could not be trespassing on private property to get that shot – slight difference in thinking about it, but I do understand your point.
    Someone else commented on the TSA issue. I believe there may be some limits, such as taking detailed photos of the equipment, which I might understand.
    Regarding the selling of photos – I cannot sell a photo I took of you to a potential advertiser. That is the situation I am describing. “Commercial” use of photography usually refers to advertising. If I sell a picture I took of you as “art”, that is my right.
    Thanks again for commenting.

    • 22.1) Scott
      April 8, 2012 at 11:29 pm


      It is true that many people confuse ‘commercial use’ with making money. I understand that art would not be considered a commercial use even though there is an exchange of cash. There are some circumstances where an image of a person can be used commercially in an advertisement and a release would not be needed. In any circumstance it is not necessary for the photographer to know if the buyer/user of the image would need a release. You can, in fact, sell a photo you took of me to an potential advertiser.

      • Profile photo of Bob Vishneski 22.1.1) Bob Vishneski
        April 9, 2012 at 7:21 am

        I suspect those situations are almost always ones in which there is a crowd of people and it is the scene, action, feeling associated with the photo is much more important than the specific people involved. That might not stop someone from trying to sue you, however! The company buying the right to use the photo may still want a release to avoid any types of legal or PR issues.

        • Scott
          April 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm


          Anyone can sue anyone at any time. I would hate to run my life thinking that a lawsuit is lurking around every corner. Hopefully we can just go about our business in a smart manner and the lawsuit will never surface.

          Any company may request a model release but that does not mean that you can’t sell an image without a model release.

          For some good reading on myths regarding model release see the following article which specifically addresses when a model release may not be needed for advertising/commercial use.

          • Profile photo of Bob Vishneski Bob Vishneski
            April 9, 2012 at 6:23 pm


            As with any good start of a legal document, I should have defined the terminology I used. By “commercial use”, I meant to promote or endorse a product. I cannot take your photo and then use it to claim that you are supportive of my new iPhone application.

            And while I agree in principal with your notion of not letting the notion that someone can bring a frivolous lawsuit against you, you have to be someone appreciative of the fact that some clients may simply not want to take the chance. If you do take a photo of someone and they are identifiable, they may require a model release form.

            So while you may be “correct”, they may simply not want to use your photo that does not include a model release for those in the photo. Different companies (and individuals) have different propensities for risk. If the goal is to sell your photo to someone, you will still need to take their concerns into account – rational or otherwise!

            I am a big fan of Heller. He has an excellent website and very practical advice.


  23. 23) Michael Dixon-Brooks
    May 3, 2012 at 6:40 am

    Hey I read a photography article that wasn’t gear reviews or techniques, yeah I am learning great stuff here. Keep up the great work, awesome information here.

    Wait, the neighbors are up and naked, time to grab the camera j/k

    • May 3, 2012 at 6:55 am

      Try the Pinterest article. More non-review info. Thanks for the feedback.

  24. 24) Stuart
    November 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Hi, Ive spent the past 8 hours reading articles on your website at work in my white space. And I have a question loosely related to rights of photographers and models alike.

    If a photography take pictures of a model, and both parties have agreed that they can both keep the photos, what rights does the model have to use said photos of herself and re-distribute them for other people to edit and display etc?

    I know you may only be able to give me the specifics according to US law but it will give me a basis to look into further

    Thanks in advance.

  25. 25) Elissa
    March 13, 2013 at 11:26 am


    I have been having some issues on photographing at some dog agility events. it was a public event and we went in and took some beautiful shots of the dogs and then posted them on our website and began selling some prints. We then were contacted by the person who is with the business that hosted the agility trials (Not the owner of the arena) that asked us not to sell the photos as we did not complete a vendor agreement to ‘vend’ at the event. What are the rules/laws in that area? We have many more events coming up that we’d like to shoot at but don’t know if we should contact the owners of the facility/area or the event coordinator of each and every different event that will be hosted there. Any feedback is welcomed!

    • March 13, 2013 at 8:34 pm

      Here is a good explanation by Dan Heller. In general, as long as it was an event on public land (private event organizers have the right to impose restrictions/conditions on photography), I believe you should be fine with selling the photos legally. I am sure this may not “feel” right to the pet owners, but then again, feelings and the law are two different things! ;)

      • 25.1.1) Elissa
        March 13, 2013 at 8:50 pm

        Thanks for the reply, bob! But my problem isn’t the people and their dogs.. They actually love the photos and want to purchase them. It’s the person who organized the event who says that since we didnt sign a “vendor” agreement we can not sell any of the photos we took. My questions was geared toward events in places deemed public (like an arena) am I suppose to have a financial responsibility to that particular person who has paid for the space and arranged that particular event? Again thanks for your feedback!!

        • Elissa
          March 13, 2013 at 8:56 pm

          We were also told that the county in which this particular arena is in, requires a vendor fee. Once we sell our photos, does that mean we technically have crossed the vendor “line”?

          • Profile photo of Bob Vishneski Bob Vishneski
            March 13, 2013 at 9:44 pm

            Is this not public property? If so, it would not seem lawful that they could charge you for taking or selling photos of anything in the public domain.

            • Profile photo of Bob Vishneski Bob Vishneski
              March 13, 2013 at 9:56 pm


              If a person organizes an event on public property, I do not believe they can trump your rights to take photos. If that were true, the paparazzi would be out of business! :)
              What fee did the organizer charge people with cell phone cameras? Point & shoots?
              I think you are just being shaken down for some cash. I would ask him/her to quote the law which he believes you violated. Chance are he/she can’t come up with one. ;)

              I have pushed back on people claiming that I could not take/post photos of ballet dancers that were part of a photographer’s photo shoot in the middle of the DC during the Cherry Blossom festival. This lady thought she had some “exclusivity” for taking the photos in the midst of what was literally 10,000 people in DC that weekend. She was dead wrong. I suspect the dog show organizer is as well. Unfortunately, many people simply don’t understand the laws.


            • Elissa
              March 13, 2013 at 10:28 pm

              I will find out if this arena is public or not. Thanks again, Bob for all your help!!

            • Profile photo of Bob Vishneski Bob Vishneski
              March 13, 2013 at 10:34 pm

              Good luck! We are counting on you to stand up and defend the rights of pet photographers everywhere! :)

  26. 26) Tim
    April 10, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Great article. I learned much about my rights that I didn’t think I had.

  27. 27) Patrick T.
    January 27, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    Though this article didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know, it is still god too see fellow photographers learning their legal rights. As a hobby I take pictures and video of trains among many other subjects. In my town I was walking down a bicycle lane of a street since it didn’t have any sidewalks and snapped some photos of a locomotive.

    I was confronted by a man who didn’t identify himself, only to say that those were his trains and that I couldn’t take photos of them. I asked him if the street was his property to which he replied no. I then informed him that I have every right too photograph him and his trains from a public street.

    He escalated the situation and threatened to call the cops in reply I laughed and said go ahead. He gave a sarcastic laugh making fun of me and said see how you laugh in prison. I said go ahead sir you can use my cell phone to call the cops and offered him my phone. He restated that I cannot photograph his trains and I walked past him down the street and said please stop harassing me and continued to photograph the trains as I walked down the street taking a good 20 minutes to do so. The cops never came but the blowhard eventually went away.

    Pushing back is the only way to firmly assert you know your rights. Merely stating them will sway no one who is so closed minded to shout at other people to get their point across.

  28. 28) Junegreg Cual
    September 20, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    Hi sir, I would like to ask questions about someone using my photo. For example, I am taking lots of action photographs in a game inside our school(but held in an open field/football field). A day passed and the publication office used my photo in their newly published school newspaper(assuming they got my photographs in my Facebook album), do I have a right to tell them to turn it down or to sue them or to give credits to me? And how can I tell if someone is an AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER? :) Do I have to take a test to become a Prof. Photographer or to become a Amateur Photographer? Do I have a right to place watermarks on my photographs (e.g. “Bob Photography” or “©Bob Photo”)? To what extent can I only place watermarks on my photographs? I would like to hear your response. By the way, I feel so genius after reading your article. I was indeed a nice article. :)

    P.S. I’m just a 15-year-old who takes photographs(actions,portraits,landscapes; but for personal use only, unless they will buy it and I will sell it to them) but I don’t know what type of ‘photographer I am’. By the way, I am not using pro gears. I’m using Canon 550D with the kit lens and a Canon EFS 55-250 mm lens with a 430EXII external flash and uses Manual Mode and RAW file and post processing it in Lightroom(just in case you’re asking).

    • September 21, 2014 at 7:20 pm

      No one has the right to use your photographs unless you provide permission to them. There is no distinction between “amateur” and “professional” photographers with respect to legal rights. There are no tests per se. Someone might offer some certifications, but there is nothing preventing anyone from taking good photos and selling them on a part-time or full-time basis.
      You have the ability to put your watermark on them as well as control their distribution. The school does not have the right to reuse your photos without your permission. You can sue them, but the damages you can recover are rather limited unless you have first registered your works with the US Copyright office: Proving damages may be difficult. And it may not be school officials involved, but rather your fellow students working on the school newspaper.
      You can go back to the school and request compensation if you choose. On the other hand, the school may not wish to be on the wrong side of a public relations issue by swiping the photographs of one of its students. I doubt they will have much of a leg to stand on if they are preaching academic integrity for their students and then illegally using their photos.
      Hope this helps. Let me know how you make out.

  29. 29) Rose L.
    September 21, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    I have taken photographs at an annual civil war reenactment of the battles and costumed enactors. Because it was a public venue which I had to pay to enjoy, I assume I do not need permission to use the photos but want to make sure. I have a friend interested in using a couple on her self-published book cover and want to make sure it is ok.

    • September 21, 2014 at 7:33 pm

      You are fine in using the pictures in a book. The issue which would raise legal concerns is if you took a photo of a single person and then sold that image to Ford, Pepsi, etc. to be used in one of their commercials.
      Publishers, such as Time, Life, Look, etc. have always printed photos of people in public. I have a book of the most famous photos of the 20th century somewhere in the house and it contains many group photos. Bert Krage goes into more detail on this these topics if you want to do some additional investigation:

  30. Profile photo of christina maria vargas 30) christina maria vargas
    October 10, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    I am in California. I worked for a salon and i also am a photographer my bos hired a photographer but asked if I would come in and take some shots,,, I was off the clock so I was not getting paid like the other photographer but she wants to use my images,,,, I was never hired to take photos ,,,and that day was clearly my day off. my question is and I think I already know the answer,,,,, can I tell her not to use the images less I get paid for them. and is there a happy medium becouse they are great images I would like to post on my websight , ?????

  31. October 16, 2014 at 6:45 am

    Well, that is an interesting one. Legally, you have the right to be paid for the use of your photos if you wish and your employer (or anyone else) has no right to publish them without your permission. On the other hand, you have to weigh the priority of this issue for you. Presumably, the salon owner is promoting the business so as to get more clients, which you both benefit from.
    Likewise, as the owner of a private business, she has the right to tell you that you cannot take photos on her property without permission. You can indeed take photos of the outside of a building, but the property’s owner has some say in what you can do inside her establishment. This goes for the photography of both workers and patrons.
    These issues aren’t always so black & white. And you definitely need to consider how far you wish to “push” them given your specific situation. You could elect to charge her for use of your photos, but you need to weigh that against her posting a sign saying “no photography” and not allowing you to take photos of the environment that might benefit you as well.
    Hope this helps.

  32. 32) Raine Smith
    February 20, 2015 at 2:55 am

    Your contract should be mutually beneficial. When your clients read it they should be able to clearly identify several points where their own interests are being accounted for in addition to yours.


  33. 33) Elise
    April 27, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    Hello..I am wondering what do I need to do if I take pictures of nature,structures and animals in a state park and county I need to get permission to sell photos as prints or on note cards as an esty online shope or trade shows? Will i get in trouble for selling? Should I copyright them as my own?

  34. 34) Laura
    July 5, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    I am hoping you can answer a legal question as I cannot find answers anywhere. 2 years ago I worked in tandem with a new photographer. We would each take pictures and send them to each other for editing to get another “Point of View”, which is what I call it on my social media site. I make sure that all of the pictures are properly referenced to her, explaining who took the picture and who edited it. I do not use her images in my marketing or on my website.

    She has now recreated her social media stuff and her new website, uses only the images that she took but I edited for some certain areas of marketing and portfolio, and I am wondering if that is legal or can I have her remove them from her site. Due to a rather personal falling out and a cease and desist letter demanding she no longer contact me for person matters, I cannot speak to her about this public matter. Advice?

    • July 6, 2015 at 7:30 am


      I really, really would talk to a lawyer, or someone who truly is qualified to answer your question. Here is a quote, though, from a blog explaining a similar situation:

      Joint works

      A joint work is created when two or more people contribute copyrightable authorship to a project with the intention that they are making one final work. Under copyright law, all of the people who create a joint work own copyright in the work together.

      An important concept for joint works is “copyrightable authorship.” Generally, copyrightable authorship is any creative expression fixed in a tangible form (which includes computer files, prototype sketches, etc). In contrast, an idea or concept that has not been fixed in a tangible form, for example, something that’s only been voiced orally (e.g., “let’s make the background orange” or “what if we had the image wrap around to the back of the package”) is not copyrightable.

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