It seems like every day someone is told “you can’t take pictures here” in a public place. But that is usually not true. Yes, there are many places that you can’t take pictures – but photographers in the United States do have rights. This is especially true in public.
The crew over at photojojo has created the 10 Legal Commandments of Photography. This is a great list of what you can do and what you can’t – mostly what you can. Too many photographers back down too easily when confronted by an “authority.” Remember only the police or the military really have the right to detain you, take your camera or stop you from shooting. And even they should have some kind of posted sign with a law or ordinance backing them up, or a court order.
Now remember this is only true in public. On private property, the owner may restrict you from taking photos in any way while on his/her property. They can’t physically restrain you or take your property, but they can have you arrested for invasion of privacy should you take photos against their instructions.
So, you must know which kind of are you are in: Private or Public. And then you must know what the rules are in that area.
Private: Private property or private areas (bathrooms, dressing rooms, workout areas, etc.) usually do not allow photos of any kind and a sign should be posted, but is not required. You can still get in trouble for shooting in a private area without any kind of posted sign or policy.
Private, but open to the public: Any place that allows the public in for free is usually open to photography unless there is a posted sign. This covers places like restaurants, businesses, shopping malls, etc.
Public: This basically covers any place outside that is visible and open to the public. If you can walk there or drive there without stepping on private property it is usually considered public. If you are standing in a public place, you can usually take pictures of anything you see.
Public with restrictions: This mainly covers government buildings. They are open to the public, but often have many restrictions about photography in the building or premises.
Finally, for students – school buildings represent their own unique problem. Now, here in Texas professional media must obtain permission first, but students working for their school publication can take photos on campus. But the law still restricts students from many areas. Students must get the permission of the teacher to take photos in a classroom. They also need permission to take photos in an office or other semi-private area. They should also be aware that coaches, music directors, drama teachers, etc. may not like having practices or rehearsals shot. And students should remember that they are not protected by the law while in school. The school is acting “in loco parentis” or in the place of parents. Just like parents, they can set almost any kind of restriction they wish about taking photos during school time as long as it is done in official school policy.
Here is a great portable version of the law relating to photography that you can take with you.
And one final bit about the law is that you can not violate any other law in order to get the shot. You can’t harass people, violate traffic laws or for students curfew laws in order to get a shot. California also has a fairly new law restricting “stalking” of celebrities. So make sure you know the state and city laws and ordinances before you begin arguing that you have the right to shoot.