I'm a Photographer, Not a Terrorist - How to Shoot in Public With Confidence

I’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist – How to Shoot in Public With Confidence

Would you believe that in the UK, anti-terrorism laws include bits for photographers?

These days, photographers are routinely made to feel like terrorists. Highly suspect criminal characters who must be watched closely. Case in point? Picture me walking around the Winchester Saturday market taking macro photography of the fruit & veg stalls…followed by two police officers (see the dangerous photo in this post). It happened. Seriously. Another example? Trying to photograph my son’s baptism in a privately rented swimming pool and being denied because it was ‘against child protection laws’. My son’s baptism! Once in a lifetime event, people!

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In England, the new anti terrorism legislation and child protection laws cover all manner of photographic sin and is what prevents photographers going about their business in a dignified fashion. Which brings me to tip numero uno:


Empower yourself and be confident in your rights as a photographer. Take some time to look up the law in your country. Oh, look! I’ve done it for you (I’m so nice!): UK, America, Australia. There are PDF pocket guides which I have printed and stuffed in my camera bag. If some uninformed police officer, annoyed citizen, concerned parent, parking meter maid (get the point?) approaches you and asks you to ‘put the weapon down slowly!’ you can roll your eyes, hand them a little piece of paper and be on your way. Ok…I don’t recommend rolling your eyes as a police officer.


Even if I’m not going out for the purpose of capturing life outside the dark room, I still have my camera on me. You never know what you might encounter out in the world. And on the subject of being prepared, check and re-check that you have everything you need for your adventure. I often get overly confident and think I’ve got everything only to get to a shoot without memory cards or, most recently, get to London for my photography weekend with cameras and NO LENSES! Talk about depressing! Put a post-it on the door to remind you to re-check that you have everything.



There are so so many amazing, inspiring photographers in history whose art was photographing strangers. My favourite is Henri Cartier-Bresson. Look at their work often and remind yourself that if they hadn’t taken those photographs, those moments in history, however meaningless they may seem, would have been lost forever. Photographers are not criminals, rather, we are heroes! We have the power to stop time. We hold in our grasp the power to preserve a moment for eternity. Be confident in that fact.


I could go out shooting for an entire day and end up with only one or two ‘keepers’. As in any type of photography, just shoot shoot shoot and see what you end up with at the end. I often go out with the goal of shooting one thing (perhaps an old couple holding hands on a bench) and come home with a cracking good shot of rhubarb. Be flexible and just let the day, the sights, the smells and the opportunities lead you. Don’t manipulate – let fate decide what the day brings and just document what you find.

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Sunglasses and an ipod. I use them to disconnect from my surroundings. This one is a double-edged sword, though. One the one hand, according to tip 4, I like to let my surroundings guide me and determine what happens. However, when you feel conscious of nosey people whispering or even the police who will harass you while you’re operating well within your rights, it’s nice to just disconnect. Glasses can impair your viewfinder skills, but I like to look around without people knowing I’m looking at them and if the police see you seeing them, then you sort of have to pack up and move on. I’m at an advantage in the UK where often, ‘good manners’ dictate how people interact with you. Even if they hate your guts for taking photos, they will usually be too timid to say so, especially if they can’t just shout because you’re listening to music (even if you have nothing playing!) Even the police are timid to tap you on the shoulder. I don’t know how that works in America, but I’d venture to say that people are less suspicious there and generally in a better mood.


Obviously, be polite and use common sense. I never shoot children without parental permission. You really don’t want to mess with a mother bear and her cubs. Even when I’m photographing my own children, if another kid comes nearby or starts playing with mine, I put my camera down. It’s just common courtesy and besides, the law forbids you from taking photos of kids without consent.


This might be the most difficult tip for some. Try your best to just be a woman! I am so blessed to be a female photographer. We are generally regarded less dangerous and people treat us differently. If someone freezes in their tracks when you pull out your camera (I mean cm’on they’re dangerous!) just smile sweetly and continue on in your photographing.


I really have a passion for photographing the more seedy side of life. I often approach a homeless person or the most downtrodden looking guy drinking at 11am and simply ask. I usually say ‘hi, I’m a photographer may I take your photo?’ They’ve never said no. I back up to the other side of the street and just wait until they forget I’m there. And for goodness sake, buy ’em a cup of coffee!


In tip 1, there are links to sites to find the law in your country. There’s this thing called a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ which we don’t generally have when we’re out in public. It’s not reasonable to believe that you have privacy when you’re sitting on the street playing an instrument for money or walking around Disney World. Feel free to photograph just about everything you see out in public. I mean…it’s called ‘public’ for a reason, eh?


New to photographing in public? Go with a friend. Go places where there are other photographers. Go to a city or tourist attraction where everyone has a camera around their neck! You will just blend into the throngs of fellow photographers. For me, this also creates a pretty cool challenge – photograph popular places in a completely different way than everyone else. Google “Disney Castle” or something and all the photos will look the same. Try to capture it in an original way.

So my last thought to you? I will stand on the roof and proclaim “Photographers young and old! Professional and hobby! Compact lovers and SLR owners! BE BRAVE AND BOLD! YOU HAVE THE POWER TO FREEZE TIME FOR ETERNITY!”

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Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

Some Older Comments

  • Stuart February 26, 2010 04:23 pm

    "the law forbids you from taking photos of kids without consent" This is actually not the case in the UK (see http://www.urban75.org/photos/photographers-rights-street-shooting.html). Yes it is wise to seek consent. However, there are times when this is simply not possible before taking the picture. If I have taken a possible keeper I do make a point of giving the parent/guardian a business card and tell them that I will happily provide them with a copy of the picture. This has never led to me being asked to delete the picture or any sort of confrontation. The most trouble I have with street photography is from those charity people who stop you asking you to fill in a form giving your bank details.


  • John January 6, 2010 12:07 am

    I often wonder about the motive for these security goons to get so excited about people taking photos? I could understand it if the photographer was spending all day there taking detailed photos and/or setting up a tripod, because it might be causing an obstruction to shoppers. Maybe they just love their little bit of 'authority'? Maybe he wasn'r made a prefect when he was at school?

  • fotoamater.com December 18, 2009 03:32 pm

    An interesting link for you living in USA:


  • vegas9798 December 11, 2009 03:28 am

    Several months ago I decided to head out to the local shopping mall here in Georgia just to take some shots. After walking through the mall and taking a couple of shots I spotted a cart that had several gumball machines all loaded with bright colorful gumballs and decided to get a few shots. Before I could get focused good a hand appeared and I was told by the mall security that I couldn't take any pictures in the mall. I told the officer that I had figured that shooting inside the stores would be prohibited but that I figured that since I was out in the public walk way I had thought I would be ok. He informed me that I was mistaken so without causing any further disturbance I headed for the exit. As I was walking to my car I passed a flower bed and spotted a beautiful butterfly dancing around on the blossoms ,so I raised my camera to get a shot ,thinking that surely I would be within my rights to take photos OUTSIDE the confines of the mall. WRONG ! Another security gaurd stopped his vehicle in the middle of the drive got out and ran over shouting that I was not allowed to take photos on the mall property,I said "I was just told that I couldn't shoot inside but I figured that since I was outside I was ok ?" Again I was informed that I was mistaken, and told in no uncertain terms that photography was prohibited ANYWHERE on the property ! I guess the owners of the mall don't want their competitors knowing what type of gumballs are selling the best or which butterflies pollenate more efficiently !

  • GavinZac December 7, 2009 06:59 am


    It is not illegal to photograph on a flight - it can sometimes be a breach of your agreement to fly though, which means they can 'kick you off' or ban you from flying the next time.

    The use of consumer-grade electronics does not in any way disrupt navigation equipment or any electronics on board an airplane. Again, you are asked not to use them as part of your customer agreement with the airline. The real reason for this is that it is easier to get people on and off an airplane when they arent holding a music player or camera or laptop. This is why in the recession, airlines are changing the rule and allowing people to use anything, even mobile phones - they want more money.

    With regard to privacy because he is an official - in fact, it would probably be argued that he has less privacy than most. If I am photographing an anonymous stranger, I must answer - why? If a public figure wants me not to photograph them, they must answer - why not?

  • Kapil Suvarna September 21, 2009 07:00 pm


    I am from Mumbai and had written a post here few days back. Just to add a little to this forum. I have posted a photo at this link - http://tumblr.com/xwl3716xo
    This is a photo of a minister in India in a airplane. As it's menioned in the writeup with photo. A New York based photographer has clicked this ministers photograph on a airplane. If it's commissioned by the minister himself. My arguement stops here. If it isn't, my question is - doesn't this raise some very pertinent Q's in our minds? And why not, it should raise questions. Are rules just for common people ?

    Firstly you are not allowed to photograph in a airplane.PERIOD. Since most electronic gadgets interfere with the navigation system. Secondly, just because, may be, this photographer is a press guy, was he allowed for that. Isn't that wrong considering "security issues" in an airplane. ? What was the airplane crew doing ? Didn't this minister have anybody with him to "shoo" this photographer away" ? Now that the minister must have seen this photo, will he sue this photographer for taking picture without his knowledge, just few feet away from him.....This photographer must be a real "cheeky" guy to go and take a snap 2 feet away and that too of a minister of some state.

    I could on and this is what it makes the whole thing frustrating and a conclusion can be drawn. Only common people have rules OR you just break the rules.

  • Thiago Beleza September 17, 2009 12:10 am

    Amazing.... really nice words... congrats..

  • tokyorush September 11, 2009 05:32 pm

    That's a great suggestion, Rajev...

  • Rajev Charudutta September 11, 2009 03:27 am

    Darren, and the rest of DPS friends. I had this suggestion since quite sone time, but was apprehensive about posting it.

    Can you issue an Identity Card for the students / members of DPS?, stating that they are students of this photography school. As DPS has such a huge global membership and is quite well known in photography circles, it will carry weight. You can add a relevant disclamer, so that you do not get into trouble in case someone misuses the ID.

    Usually everywhere in the world people have a soft corner for students, and I think if they had and ID of a photography school , and said that they are students of photography, 99% they would be let of with a smile or/and words of encouragement, and the nasty situations described above would not arise.

    Please do not make it so expensive that only members of certain countries can afford it. If you can find someone to sponsor it, nothing like it.

  • RP September 10, 2009 12:08 pm

    This looks nice:


  • RP September 10, 2009 08:57 am

    I got told off by a nice Japanese security guard (20smthing old girl) in a shopping mall few days ago, I didn't argue with her since I already snapped what I wanted to snap. Typically Japanese, I was shooting at the glass ceiling of the mall, trying to get the stormy skies, ceiling elements and the tree inside for a nice HDR. Two hostesses at the information desk were 3 meters away, just smiled at me and did nothing. 30secs later this security guard girl asks me to wrap it up, but I was already packing my camera. Typical, smiling at you, super-politely, in the same time hitting the red alert button with her leg...

  • Y2bthere September 10, 2009 03:01 am

    in America we sometimes get the "what do you think your doing". I have had my id written down because the building was secured I laughed and though yeah sure. just the other night I was shooting from inside our van at the lights on the outside of the taco bell and the employees got all freaked out and almost callled the police but my husband was inside and explained what I was doing. well the best he could explain anyway.

    BTW anyone that is "caught" taking photos of any type of Oil rigs, tanks, buildings will be questioned; here in Texas anyway.

  • Rachel Owens September 7, 2009 01:37 am

    Thank you! I didn't realize the UK was quite so fussy about photography. Thanks again for posting this. Very helpful although somewhat discouraging.

  • David G Donnelly September 5, 2009 05:28 am

    So laws in England don't count in Scotland or Wales!! This is a UK wide problem not just England!!

  • Laura September 5, 2009 05:24 am

    Good article!

    btw, once, my friend and I were taking photographs at the Barcelona metro and the security guard told us we weren't alllowed to. he said it was ok to shoot at people but not to the stations or trains (?? O.o). we were like, do two 16-year-old girls look like they're going to put a bomb there, or what?

  • joanmg September 5, 2009 12:06 am

    Thanks for this timely info. I very recently went to an outdoor Jackson Browne concert. Thousands of little p&s cameras were flashing off the entire time, as were cell phones. When I whipped out my small DSLR (NO flash, mind you), security guards rushed up and told me "NO cameras with detachable lenses!!!" I was not going to argue, but what on earth was that all about? Wish I had known my rights...

  • Mark September 4, 2009 08:03 pm

    Thanks Elizabeth. I live in Australia and agree with the heading, problem is that I look like a terrorist and don't look like a photographer. I wish people would not judge a book by it's cover.

  • Kapil September 4, 2009 04:01 pm

    I am from Mumbai, India. Recently I was with group of photographers taking snaps around my city on July 18th during world photowalk. I was little behind my group and taking photos of a Govt building which I didn't realise. But I was shooting, standing on the road. But a police guy just waved at me and told me to stop. I said OK and stopped. BUT, a group of police guys sitting inside the building compound called me inside and started questioning me 1) Why am I taking pictures 2) Do you have permission to photograph official buildings ? 3) What is the need to take photographs ? To all this, I patiently answered all their questions understanding 1) their lack of knowledge about photography rules 2) They r questioning "maybe" to show power 3) After all it's their duty to stay alert....( which they don't when needed ) 4) It's useless arguing with a police guy in such circumstances.
    Anyways, I assume and understand that if you taking pictures of buildings, roads, people or close ups of people ( with permission ) it is perfectly alright "as long as you are not trespassing a private property and standing on a road". Inspite of me being with a group, I was questioned. So I guess a photographer has to be ready for two things 1) Be questioned and have a answer 2) Or have a valid "press photographers ID card". As of now, definite rules for photography in India are uncertain. If they were, life would be so easy for us photographers, since there are so many things to photograph which India offers - city life, it's beauty, colours, emotions, culture, people, list is endless.....

  • abhijnan September 4, 2009 02:33 pm

    i can add one tip for indian photographers:
    Carry a few of your printed shots in your bag and print some 50 odd visiting card stating you are a photographer.U will be amazed on how many offers u get to photograph people.
    (PS:The photos u choose have to be really good ;) )

  • abhijnan September 4, 2009 02:28 pm

    really helpful tips.I was once chased away by a woman but i was not even taking her photo.She cooled down after she saw my shot of the flower which was beside her.

  • Robert Dollarhide September 4, 2009 06:09 am

    I was taking pictures of some beautiful historic churches and a courthouse in New York and I was stopped and had my camera searched by an officer with the District Attorney's office. Apparently while I was taking the courthouse pictures there was a high profile criminal case letting out and they thought I was preparing witness tampering or something along those lines. I could have probably said no but the other five police officers behind him made it seem a better idea to go along. He just said nice pictures and gave me my camera back.

  • Mark September 4, 2009 06:07 am

    I love the idea to go with someone. I will have to try that. Plus I like what Kelly mentioned. I bought some business card software and can put my photos on one side and a link to my website on the other, create a folder called public to show anybody that goes there. Hand them out with a smile and snap away. I think it would be nice if I had a new Olympus E-P1 rangefinder style camera also. New technology in making DSLR cameras smaller and still taking great images.

  • Joe September 4, 2009 06:00 am

    I am going to pass this on to my photo club. This answers several questions I get on a regular basis about shooting in public. The fun that comes with shooting with a group of people (and safety in numbers) is among the main reasons I started a local photowalk photography club (http://www.meetup.com/Houston-Photowalk-Events/).

    Standing in the street taking a picture of a glass building get's you quite a bit of attention when there's 20 other photographers -- but security guards just act amused. On the other hand, last week I tried to take a picture of a 6-story American flag inside a mall and was pounced on by security. Being in a group is a really really good idea.

  • Chris September 4, 2009 06:00 am

    This was an awesome article. I frequently get accosted and harassed when taking photos in public. (I live in California).

    I love the title you conceived about being a photographer, not a terrorist. That is how many react!

    Because of frequent harassment, i have become shy while taking photos in public and try to be low key. I always ask permission when the situation requires. But I have missed many great pictures because of my fear of creating hostility.

    Many people when they see me and a camera ask why i am taking pictures and if i am with the media. sheesh. I just love photography and strive to get better but in public I am suppressed.

    I too am a female but that just does not seem to benefit me, it seems to make others all the more brave to harass my 5' 3" frame.

    I do venture out with another photographer who is an imposing male and that seems to help avert many people who feel as though i am spying on them or for whatever reason don't like the presence of a camera.

    I can attest to the fact that a large number of people are really aware when there is a camera in their midst, whether they are interested in being in the shot, or interested in what i am taking pictures of or just hate the fact that i am sporting a camera, it is a phenomena i don't really understand.

    I am looking forward to reading the PDF file but really wanted to thank you for addressing this, i thought it was just me.

  • John September 4, 2009 04:33 am

    Look at how the Magnum Photographer Bruce Gilden works. I would really like to have his guts. He is brutal when it comes to getting the shoot :) He has no ethics.



  • Andy Helms September 4, 2009 04:30 am

    1st, I'd like to say that I read this w/ great intrest...I haven't been to U.K. for many yrs.,& didn't realize it had become so restrictive...on the one hand it's very spooky, on the other, resonably understandable. When & if I go again, rest assured I will be "armed" w/ not only my camera & equipment, but also w/ the most recent laws. That's common sense no matter where you go or what you're doing.
    2nd, I have the advantage of not having a shy bone in my body, & absolutely love shooting people on the street, at festevals, in bars, etc.,but unless the person/ people are plumb out of range of doing so, I always ask...verbally if close enough... a raised eyebrow,smile, & a finger pointed at my camera if they're not. Further than that I figure they're fair game. I've found over the yrs. that 98% of people LIKE having they're picture taken...the response I get most times is "hey, cool camera, ok, go ahead...Are you a pro?" & ocasionally "it's not going on the internet is it?" Handing them a biz card also seems to help calm the skittish .
    That's common sense, & it's polite.
    3rd, I think the difference between a p&s & a dslr to most people & especially "officials" is kinda like the difference between a white Ford Focus & a cherry red Shelby GT 500... how many of one do you see vs. the other, & even though the speed limit is the same no matter what you drive, who's gonna get pulled over first? Just 'cause it ain't right don't mean it aint the way it is...
    4th, Now I have to ask myself why in the world did I take all this time to say pretty much what Elizabeth said in the 1st place...sometimes I amaze myself...but I did like the post...

  • Steve Beard September 4, 2009 03:32 am

    " the law forbids you from taking photos of kids without consent"

    The above is incorrect, I would be most interested in what Statute/Law that covers this within the U. K.

    However it is common sense not to do it and always get permission.

    In short children are offered no special treatment same for adults, you may not publish sell or exploit images of children without consent.

  • Bernadette September 4, 2009 03:12 am

    Amen sister!! I love your quote "Photographers are not criminals, rather, we are heroes! We have the power to stop time. We hold in our grasp the power to preserve a moment for eternity. Be confident in that fact." and your closing quote!! Absolutely fantastic. I even put it up on my MySpace, ending with "Elizabeth Halford, www.digital-photography-school.com" to be sure you claim credit for this wonderful quote. Simply wonderful!!

  • Philip A. Caristo II September 4, 2009 03:04 am

    I would like to invite all Americans (I can't do anything outside of the United States) who have been hassled with their cameras, and stopped from taking pictures to drop me a line and tell me what happened. We photographers need to start doing something about this before the "laws" eat us up alive.

    Philip A. Caristo II, Photographer

  • Philip A. Caristo II September 4, 2009 03:01 am

    It is really strange that I am reading this article you wrote. Just the other day I was at a Shopping Mall and I had my camera (there was suppose to be a 9/11 thingy) and as soon as the Mall security offficer saw me, he ran right up to me and started screaming and yelling that I could not take pictures. I nicely ask he if he had ever heard of the First Admendment? (I am in the U.S.), and he screamed that I was on private property. Well, Shopping Malls are not private property! He than told me that I had to leave the mall or he would have me arrested.
    Well, I left only to re-group.
    There was a sign hanging in the corner of the Mall (like everyone looks at it?) that says no pictures. So my next logical question is : Do the security officer stop all the kids that carry cell phones (which take pictures) and throw them out? I don't think so.
    I really think that this security officer was upset cause I am not a kids who would just jump when yelled at. I challenged him and he was upset about it. Well, he is able to be challenged against, as soon as I re-group and go right back to the mall.

  • Rob September 4, 2009 02:02 am

    Sound advice.
    There are far too many fresh-faced young cavaliers who think they're Bill Klein, and think that people are there for their convenience and amusement.

  • Dawn @ My Home Sweet Home September 4, 2009 01:26 am

    I love this! I'll have to try the ipod idea. I've realized that with time I've become less self-conscious about people wondering what in the world I'm doing when it must look like I'm photographing the oddest things.

  • Celine Ellis September 3, 2009 10:15 pm

    Great title for this piece and great content!

    A friend recently started a project entitled "im a photographer, not a..." for a photography course we are on and "...terrorist" is his first piece.


  • Brownie September 3, 2009 01:18 pm

    As a brown guy living in Arizona, I can't tell you the countless times I've been harassed with my camera, just for being in public. Shooting a building in the middle of downtown Phoenix while standing on a public sidewalk? Overly gung-ho security guard, sloppily eating a donut: "you can't take pictures. it's private property." me: "Um, i'm standing in the middle of downtown. i'm in public. we're standing in the middle of downtown. what do you mean I can't take pictures?" "Sir, would you like me to call the police?" "You're an idiot, but whatever."

    And that's just one of many incidents I've had, including dealing with the police, who've almost arrested me, because I can't "possibly be taking pictures of a car wash because I find it interesting. I must be casing it for some sinister plan."

    A white female friend of mine told me, in only half-jest, "you should pay me to accompany you when you shoot pictures so you look less innocuous. I'm an arty-looking, charming white girl. People freak out seeing a tall brown guy with a camera, because who knows what he's up to. I can just smile and say, 'this is my friend and he's an artist' and that should send them on their way."

    Sad, but she actually saved me from trouble in the picturesque old barrio of Tucson - TWICE within 30 minutes - for that reason.

    I'll definitely have these printed PDFs handy moving forward. Cheers.

  • oliverignacio September 3, 2009 12:39 pm

    @happiestboy - I'm talking about People in the street, not Establishments =)

    Ayala is a business area... like in all other Business establishment, you need a permit to take photos. Of course, if you are not taking photos of their establishment, you can politely argue with the security guards (I honestly hate security guards that harrasses people w/ SLRs)

    I would like to refer this thread for you to read http://digitalphotographer.com.ph/forum/showthread.php?t=26344

    I hope this helps. Thanks.

  • Roy September 3, 2009 11:35 am

    Just to let you know in the U.S., the last time I read the right of the photographer. If it can be shot at a distance ( a building, for example) you can photograph it up close. Example I wanted to take a picture of a building because of the glass in it. I was approached by a security guard and told I could not take a picture. I ignored the person. Next the head of security came out, and I told him that if he was going to arrest me call the police. So since it was a federal building and there happened to be a couple of Men-in-Black in the building, they were the next to arrive. That was when I pulled out my copy of the photographer rights. At that time, I told them that if they were going to arrest me call the police and inform me why I am being arrested. They asked for my I.D. and pulled out my Drivers License they all walked away, and I got my pictures without any further interruptions.

    Read more: https://digital-photography-school.com/im-a-photographer-not-a-terrorist-how-to-shoot-in-public-with-confidence#ixzz0Q0ES6bJ3

  • Chris Sutton September 3, 2009 08:40 am

    I was frog marched out of Tescos (monster UK supermarket chain) and humiliated a couple of years ago for having the audacity to try and photograph my daughters at a Christmas Carol rendition.
    Shortly after emigrating here to NZ, I was still so traumatised by the experience that when the girls were selected to represent their new school at the local inter-school swimming competition, I did not take a single camera with me. On arrival at the municipal pool I was immediately struck by the number and size of cameras and when I asked a local if it was OK, I got the reply "Oh mate, the more the merrier - we want everyone to record great events like this". He, noting my lack of any photo gear, immediately offered to take some of my daughters as well as his and e-mailed them to me later. I have never looked back and have been able to capture some really great moments as well as take pictures for other people who find themselves camera less or more commonly with a dead camera.

  • Elizabeth Halford September 3, 2009 06:19 am

    @docholiday: oh my gosh you are so awesome! You are my new hero!

  • Doc Holliday September 3, 2009 03:50 am

    I am a pretty confident person and take a proactive stance. You can't intimidate me. I won't stop when I know I have the right to photograph something. I will tell people trying to interfere with me, if you are in a public place and/or your building/installation is in a public place that is in plain view of the public, then I have the absolute right to photograph you/it. End of story. If they don't stop what they are doing, I call the police. If it is the police, I demand to talk to their supervisor. I keep talking until I get someone that does understand the law. If it is private security, I just ignore them. I have never had anyone try to physically stop me from photographing something. I've had people demand my 'film' but I've never handed it over - although I have considered having a film canister in my pocket to give them just to get rid of them. If they tried to take my camera or memory cards from me, physically, I would call the cops and have them arrested for assault and battery and then sue them for enough to by a new EOS 5D.

    I know this approach might not work for all people, but it works for me. Actually, I don't upset people very often. I try to be as polite as I can, but I don't back down...

    If you think one DSLR gets funny looks, try two or more...

    Professional appearance helps a lot. I am not a professional photographer, yet everything I own is marked 3-7-77 Photography, as are my images, even my pickup and ATV. The police figure I know what I am doing, so they don't harass me.

    The funny thing about terrorists - real terrorists - is they would just look the place up on Google Street View. They wouldn't haul a bunch of equipment out to do what Google has already done for them.

  • hppycmpr September 3, 2009 03:03 am

    Along the lines of P&S vs. DSLR, is there any basis for allowing the smaller one and forbidding a camera with interchangeable lenses with which one can shoot, as previously stated, "good" pictures? -Aside from the latter being more easily enforced.

  • Colin September 3, 2009 01:43 am

    Oh, I love the bit of advice about trying to be a women. Well for some of us that's difficult to say the least.

  • Colin September 3, 2009 01:39 am

    Are you kidding me? This article is nothing but common sense. If you truly care about the craft, no situation will slow you down. If you have no confidence in photographing people in public then don’t do it, simple. It takes a certain type of person to photograph in all situations.

  • Kathy Burkman September 3, 2009 01:33 am

    All of this has made for interesting reading. Living in the Great Plains state of Nebraska, I have never seen anyone hassled about photography. In fact, I haven't seen that in any of my travels, either. (Although I have never been to the UK!)I take my Pentax K100d everywhere. I just completed a 9-week project for a class - weekly photographs of our local farmer's market. I asked permission before taking pictures of anyone's produce, art or crafts, and never heard the word 'no'. Everyone was most kind. As for taking pictures of strangers, such as street shooting, I was very uncomfortable. And it showed in my work. I worried about invading their space, and would wait til no one was looking. It was just better to stick to the actual market, and backgrounds.

    Thanks for the article, and the pdf on law as it pertains to photographers.

  • JulieLim September 3, 2009 01:29 am

    out in the public I always felt like i was intruding with my camera out. even at private parties, sometimes people get scared of cameras and lenses pointed at them... i dont know why i never thought of this before but simply asking if photography is allowed is a must. i would def. feel better knowing that it is okay rather then feeling nervous that someone might stop me. thankyou for this wonderful post!

  • Mike T. September 3, 2009 01:13 am

    Wow thanks for this! To be honest, I never even thought of the supposed "terrorist" angle of photography!
    Sadly, its a reflection of the world we now live in. I will definitely be keeping a copy of my photographic rights with me now!

    -- Mike

  • James September 3, 2009 12:54 am

    put a small expensive looking digicam in a kid's hand and take them around with you. While serving as ice breakers, they learn to shoot.

  • happiestboy September 3, 2009 12:44 am


    it could be that you havent taken pictures in ayala...i had my photo expedition here 1 nyt and on that night 5 security personnel accosted me for taking photos. every1 is telling me to get a permit, i asked them if it will cost me anything, yes it will. what? im only doing this as a hobby, not making any bucks fr this.

    then, two days ago i went to manila north cemetery, while fiddling with my slr strapped on my neck the gatekeeper told me to get a permit. gosh. its indeed infuriating.

  • Larry September 3, 2009 12:39 am

    I have a tee shirt that is simple and has worked for me, orange with reflective letters that say "photographer".

    I shoot off the beaten path a lot so I get questioned often and this has worked well for me, it follows the K.I,S.S. thinking.

  • Jacqui Watson September 3, 2009 12:28 am

    Another great tutorial for "Mommarazzi" everywhere. I like how you include photographic examples in the lessons. Thanks for the Bill of Rights, there are a few copies in my bag right now, just in case I come across someone who misses you GREAT article. Thanks again Liz

  • sarala September 3, 2009 12:13 am

    Thanks for the info. I'm going to download the US info sheet.

  • Kelly September 3, 2009 12:04 am

    Excellent info. I was just wondering about this a few weeks ago on my blog. One of the things I think I'm going to do, in addition to those listed in the article, is put together some business cards, even though I'm a total amateur and have a dinky blog that only a handful of people frequent. At least it will make a more professional impression.

  • Matt September 2, 2009 11:54 pm

    #7 - but don't DRESS like one if you AREN'T one! Huge red flag!!! :-D

  • Naveen Bachwani September 2, 2009 10:25 pm

    Great post! Thanks for all the down-to-earth advice. Would love to try and implement everything except "Try to be a woman"!

    Based in Mumbai, after the Mumbai terror attacks and the suburban train blasts, a photographer's life has been quite restrictive. I, myself, have been "caught" on several occassions by well-meaning authorities for simply taking photographs with a camera that looks bigger than a compact. Unfortunately, law enforcement in India is not so clear and transparent as elsewhere. Hopefully, some of your tips will work...

  • staad7 September 2, 2009 06:13 pm

    i dont go in the Uk for holidays anymore. It makes me feel uneasy from arriving in the airport to walking down the streets of london. Police think my dlsr camera is some sort of james bond hidden weapon gadget, and my netbook is a fake with a stash of C4 inside (just like what happened in the heathrow airport). It's a paranoid envirnoment, and all those street cameras attest to it.

    The last thing i need is some cop or undercover officer violating without contempt my hard-earned Dlsr unit because they have the 'right'.

  • Jessica S. September 2, 2009 05:39 pm

    Excellent advice here. I know how hard it can be for me to get up the courage to shoot in public, let alone shoot other people I don't know.

    I have a daily photo blog: http://quotidian-photography.blogspot.com/ and it's mostly full of people I know, or my home and immediate surroundings. I am working on getting braver as a shooter while still respecting other people's right to privacy. but it's a fine line.

    Good luck to all the other photographers who are trying to find their own balance with this!

    (Oh, and PS, does anyone know the rules for Thailand??)

  • alfeel September 2, 2009 05:27 pm

    good article! :) any PDF pocket guides about italy?!

  • Yann P September 2, 2009 04:47 pm

    Francis and Sam Frysteen have raised a good point in so far as the problem is mainly how the public views photographers.

    Nowadays virtually everybody has a P&S, and as they are everywhere nobody looks at them twice. But bring out a DSLR (such as my D200) and suddenly people are suspicious. The problem of lenses is similar; a wide angle lens scares people a lot less than a rarer and more obvious zoom lens. People are just not used to seeing such equipment and immediately associate it with professional grade stuff, thus making them suspicious, in their mind what kind of ‘professional’ would be out on a beach on a Sunday taking photos?

    I remember going to free concerts in Melbourne earlier this year and I decided to see if I could bring in my camera. I had 2 lenses a wide angle one and a 70-300mm. My bag was checked at the entrance and I was told I could not bring it in. At the end of the concert I went and had a chat with the person that had confiscated the equipment, she said that had I only had the wide angle lens it would have been ok but that the other looked “too professional” and that I might take “good pictures” with it (apparently people buy cameras to take rubbish pictures nowadays...).

    So yes sometimes the behaviour of photographers is the cause of the problem, but I feel that it is mostly ignorance as is so often the case with most things: we are scared of what we do not know.

  • Xerophytes September 2, 2009 04:07 pm

    It is just too much of a paranoia here in UK. I think it is also a common sense to know what to shoot and what you may be deemed to be terrorist. Just act normal when you're outside, your confidence could prove you innocent.

  • Mei Teng September 2, 2009 03:59 pm

    I was out in the busy streets one day practising the panning technique. I aimed at passing motorists. No one harrassed me. Most cars and motorcyclists must have noticed me but they just cruised by. One guy with a pillion rider on a motorcycle gave me a friendly wave as they passed me by. They probably thought I must be a tourist out photographing. It helps that I was at a popular tourist spot.

    Any info on Malaysian laws?

  • Sam Frysteen September 2, 2009 03:54 pm

    great read.. thanks... I am always scared out of my wits about going out in public where there are people for fear of being accused of being some kind of perv or something.

    The funny thing is.... I went to the beach with my partner and her 2 boys, put on my Zoom lens that narrowed in on them only and EVERYONE looked at me like I was intruding on their lives... put on my wide angle (much smaller lens of course) and everyone felt safe... but that is when everyone ended up in the photo.

    Moral of the story... non-photographers don't understand how or what we do sometimes, communication and understanding towards others can take you a long way.

  • Elizabeth Halford September 2, 2009 03:40 pm

    Ha ha oops I think I started something here! :) The main thrust of the article wasn't the law really it's just an overview of the different facets of preparing to shoot in public. Hence I didn't search the law for every single country. I'd say that for any advice you didn't find here, try Google or search this site. The end of my post has links to related topics.

  • Ste_95 September 2, 2009 03:13 pm

    What about Italian laws?

  • oliverignacio September 2, 2009 02:27 pm

    I am happy here in the Philippines that photographers are not considered terrorists =)
    When you point your camera to a stranger, they'll smile for you.

  • Francis September 2, 2009 01:15 pm

    great advice, more and more I keep getting strange looks when I take my SLR out of the bag . Funny thing is if I use the point and shoot nobody seems to mind , hmmmm

  • Onni Manni September 2, 2009 01:11 pm

    It always amazes me how this sort of stuff raises it head every now and then. I live in Finland, and for now we can still call our country as "Land of the free", as the US has been sometimes quoted for. If I carry my equipment in public, I might get envied glances, but no one will question me for my right to shoot. Naturaly I also keep my head cool, and I dont go shooting forbidden subjects, which might be something like militarybases etc. Tho I have every right shoot bases from the road, outside the base - thats public, but I can bring camera inside the base when visiting. (Not to mention all our bases are deep in the forests, so you can really shoot anything from the road.)

    But still, does US citizens still call themselves free? For what Ive read your rights are being tightened more and more. How much can one tolerate?

  • Zim September 2, 2009 11:18 am

    I find it difficult to go out and take photos. Mostly because I don't have a reflex (yet), and I feel that it just looks silly.
    If I'm with friends I have no problem in taking any kind of shot, from any angle, at any place. But when I'm walking alone, I'm shy.
    I can't wait to have my camera and go walk with some other photographers. One of the most amazing things about photography is how every person has its own point of view and style, making each photo unique.
    Great article! :)

    Off topic: please, remember that America is a continent, not a country!

  • Dave September 2, 2009 11:14 am

    This is something I am still trying to get comfortable with. I still sometimes feel a little strange photographing strangers. Thanks for the article.

  • RinceyNZ September 2, 2009 11:12 am

    This is a personal bugbear of mine which I've been following (the situation in the UK - spent a couple of years there just prior to Sept 11) for a couple of years now....

    But I can't find anyone to find me (without engaging a lawyer, presumably for money) what the law is in New Zealand. Googling brings up laws that relate to the issue of copyright, but not much with respect to my right to take a photo.

  • Mei Teng September 2, 2009 11:09 am

    I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this subject. Thank you for taking the time to share such great information.

  • Christa Watson September 2, 2009 10:09 am

    I'm so glad you wrote this! I agree with every point in this post. I think that for me, the hardest part about getting out there is breaking some weird social mores instilled in me when I was young. It's also about not being afraid of what others think of you and not being afraid to ask. The worst thing that could happen is you get a no, but you'll never know unless you ask. I'm still working on my "photographic confidence" but I know this will be the key to some of my best shots.

    Thanks for the photographer's rights as well!

  • Steve Moon September 2, 2009 09:59 am

    Thanks for the post - it is great to get a UK perspective shown in this great blog !

  • Nakey September 2, 2009 09:56 am

    a few years ago, a photography section of a computer forums (OCAU's Photo forum) did a run of shirts/vests (i cant' remember) with the words "i'm a photographer, not a terrorist". i think we need more of these :)

    it makes you think though, they'll notice the photographer with the 350D + 75-300, but not the terrorist with the motorola camera phone (with the picture taking sound switched off...)

  • Stretch Mark Mama September 2, 2009 09:46 am

    Elizabeth: You had me at "hello," or rather, the catchy title.

    Hubs (@crossmark) is the photographer in our family, though he tends to focus his terrorism on buildings and inanimate objects. It embarrasses me to no end when he sticks his camera in a bin of apples or lies down in the middle of a public building (!) to get a good shot of something up above. Oh, and when he snaps a pic of random trash? The comments--they are many.

    So maybe I'll print out those laws and scribble in something about "If your wife has a bag over her head...it's time to move on."

    *big smile*

  • Life On The Edges September 2, 2009 09:40 am

    Thanks, great article. I've been shooting more people lately, so it's great timing!

  • darren September 2, 2009 09:21 am

    Great read. I would love to see a whole article about the law / knowing your rights :-)

  • Peter September 2, 2009 09:14 am

    very good article...thanks for the links...

  • Joaquín Windmüller September 2, 2009 09:04 am

    Hi, just two days ago I was reading the forums on this subject. Great article. Do you know, any website that has laws in Canada?


  • Matt September 2, 2009 08:55 am

    This couldn't have come at a better time! I just started a job as a photographer for my University paper, and need to just go photograph people for some of my assignments. Thanks for the tips!!

  • RP September 2, 2009 08:47 am

    Great topic, I am living in Japan, so naturally I am interested about Japan situation.

    I found this piece of text in Japanese from the association of Japanese photographers - http://www.jps.gr.jp/rights/pdf/127_30-31.pdf, but have no skills to translate it. Generally, I just shoot and if they see me, then ask. The biggest problem is asking - my Japanese level is not so great, I would ask every time if it wasn't for that. I found this very useful site and have been using it recently http://photojpn.org/WAEI/street.html with some phrases, great stuff, but generally I was told that taking a photo of anybody is ok as long it's not an upskirt or something, but you might get sued if you publish it without permission (internet or other media)...

    Can anybody share his experience with shooting in Japan?



  • Schadenfreude September 2, 2009 08:32 am

    Guess I'm lucky living in Canada. As far as I know we don't have laws about photographing in public.

    Nice article.

  • jacopo September 2, 2009 08:18 am

    very good post and the last photo is very cool! thank u elizabeth

  • Phottix Journal | Steve September 2, 2009 08:13 am

    Great tips. I'll take a look at the links to rights in different countries.

    There is safety in numbers. There's a lot of places in the world that your DSLR will fetch a fair price - and the thieves won't be too worried about how they get it from you.

  • Chris September 2, 2009 08:09 am

    Just two points on the Know Your Rights section: (1) The anti-terrorism laws that affect photography apply to the whole of the UK, not just England. Just in case someone thinks they're safe in Wales, Scotland or N. Ireland :) Good coverage here: http://photographernotaterrorist.org/2009/08/home-office-issues-new-advice/ (2) There are no child protection laws in the UK that prevent photography of children. However, restrictions on photography may be imposed in non-public areas - schools being the most obvious places that will have restrictions related to children.