8 Things That Could Get You in Trouble in Photography

8 Things That Could Get You in Trouble in Photography


It’s fair to say that the majority of the time taking photos you aren’t going to have any problems. As long as you are mindful of who or what you are photographing, and are courteous and careful you will have no problems. But at some point in your photography journey, you might find that you do get into trouble. The good news is that in the majority of cases it won’t be more than a telling off, but sometimes things can escalate. The best plan is to avoid this situation in the first place, so here are eight situations that could get you in trouble when photographing.


1 – Photographing in museums or galleries

It can be frustrating because museums and galleries are often great places to photograph. However, almost every museum and gallery will have their own rules and regulations about photography. Those rules will usually be signposted at the entrance and throughout the venue, and some may also have information on their website regarding the photography restrictions. The easiest way to know for sure is simply to ask when you’re inside.

Some places may allow photography without a flash but most will not allow a tripod. The best way to avoid trouble is to adhere to the rules. But if you genuinely make a mistake and are confronted by a member of the staff, keep calm, simply apologize, put the camera away, and do not take any more photos. Do not lose your temper as all that will achieve is you being asked to leave.


2 – Photographing in religious places of worship

There are no hard and fast rules here, and from my experiences, every single place of worship has its own rules. The key is to check before taking any photos and under no circumstances break those rules, because in some countries that can get you in very deep water. Keep in mind the traditions and customs of the country and have respect for the place of worship and the people in it. You will likely find that most places of worship will not allow photography during a service or prayer times and most people won’t want their photo taken when praying. Always ask first and respect their wishes.

If you are in the venue when a service is happening and have been allowed to take photos, stay out of the way and keep quiet. You will generally find that most of the main places of worship which also tend to be tourist spots will allow photography during certain hours. So there’s no need to get yourself in trouble trying to sneak photos when you are not supposed to.


3 – Photographing military or official buildings and people

While in most cases a sincere apology and slap on the wrist will get you out of trouble, photographing military or official buildings can have severe implications. In some countries, you may be accused of being a spy and face a prison sentence. So if you are in any doubt, do not take the risk.

There are of course certain places that you will be allowed to photograph as these tend to be tourist locations (i.e. the White House, Houses of Parliament in London, etc.), but you should avoid military installations and buildings altogether. If you are worried about whether you will be allowed to take photos of a specific place, do your research prior and be absolutely sure that you are allowed to before you shoot.


This also extends to military or official personnel such as policemen. You should always ask if it’s okay, and if denied, respect their wishes. Taking photographs of policemen without permission in this era can get you in trouble. Again, in some parts of the world and certain places, taking photos of the military or guards is absolutely fine as they are part of the tourist attraction but research is the key.


4 – Photographing children without permission from parents

Let’s be honest, most people would be protective of their kids and mindful of by whom and why their photo was being taken. While photographing children can produce wonderful candid photos and should be a must when the opportunity arises, you should never do so without permission from their parents.

In the majority of cases, parents will be flattered you want to take their children’s photos and you will have no problem whatsoever. Offering to email a copy of the photo to their parents is also a nice gesture, and can also ensure they are less suspicious and more accommodating.

But as always you should respect the parents’ wishes if denied, and never try to sneak a photo, as people are likely to be more apprehensive.


5 – Sneaking a photo of performers or models without paying

I have lost count of the number of times that I’ve seen a confrontation between performers and people photographing them simply because the photographer didn’t pay a $1 for the photo as requested. You have to remember that for the performers, this is their profession and is how they make their money. It is the same as simply walking off with a souvenir without paying.

In some places, performers or locals will put a sign up indicating a cost for the photo. If there isn’t one it’s a good idea to ask if you can take their photo. If they do ask for money, negotiate the fee before you take the photo. Whether you decide to pay for a photo or not is up to you. I personally have no problem with it and often find that paying a few dollars for a photo in return for a patient and accommodating model is worth it.

The other advantage of paying for a photo is that you can often also negotiate that they will sign a model release form which means your photos can be sold for commercial purposes. But the important thing is not to try and sneak around taking a photo and then not paying, as that can lead to a confrontation with the model.


6 – Selling images without model releases

Every country has its own rules about model release laws. In most countries, the law is that you can’t sell an image for commercial purposes without a model release form. Commercial purpose means that the image may be used for anything that is selling a product or service that isn’t related to the photo. For example, if you took a portrait of someone, that photo could not then be used (without a proper release) in an advertising campaign for face cream, a car, or a soft drink, but could be used for a travel company showing a destination.

However, any image can be sold for editorial usage without a model release. So in the example above, the image could be used in an article in a newspaper, magazine, or in a guide book.

One of the advantages of selling images through a stock agency is that they will manage all of these elements for you so you won’t have to worry about it. But if you are going to sell your images yourself, be clear about the rules and regulations. Without a model release, the wrong usage could possibly mean legal action against you.


7 – Using a tripod inside or on private property

Tripods seem to have a habit of drawing attention. Take a handheld photograph in the street and no one looks at you twice. Put a tripod up and people are suddenly intrigued about what you are doing. What this also means is that tripods are also usually banned from what is considered private property. Most of the time a venue will have details of tripod usage posted at the entrance or on their website, so research your location prior to going.

Where this gets a bit trickier is when you are outdoors. For example, you could be standing just outside the venue and you may still be on private property. However, take a few steps back to the pavement and you are on public property where you are okay to take photos from there. The only way to know for sure is to research the location. The majority of the time if you are confronted by a security guard you can simply ask them what the rules are and where you can take photos from. Like most situations, keeping calm is key and, as always, obey the rules.


Sometimes even open spaces like parks are actually private property. If you’re unsure, check.

8 – Copyright infringement

There are so many mine fields to avoid when selling photos and I advise you to be sure of the rules and regulations before you sell your photos. Another area to be aware of is copyright infringement. This might seem straightforward, but with all of the different brands and logos around us every day it is easy to miss something.

Similar to a model release, any logo, photography, or work of art is subject to a copyright and as such, cannot be sold for commercial purposes. You can either frame your photograph to ensure logos etc are not visible or if that isn’t possible, remove them in post-production.


Even everyday signs like the metro could be subject to copyright infringement.

Most photographers will never have any major issues and as long as you use common sense and obey the regulations and laws you won’t either. If you’re ever in a situation where you are confronted, the best thing to do is keep calm, apologize and try to avoid the situation escalating further. Following the tips above should help you avoid the majority of situations where you could get into trouble.

Have you got an incident to share? Tell us below.

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Kav Dadfar is a professional travel photographer based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images and Robert Harding World Imagery and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, American Express, and many others. Kav also leads photo tours around the world teaching people how to improve their photography. Join him on his 11 day epic photo tour of Scotland. Find out more at Scotland Photo Tour

  • Ernesto Rivera

    Get a monopod. The ones that has splited bottom. They are more study and can be less noticeable. And I know how annoying that is. Happens in the state a lot. If they see you with a big camera and lens, they will make any rule up just because.

  • Murali N

    In addition to the safety issue, railway tracks are not public property. They are private property of the railway company. You can request the permission from the company’s Media relations. E.g http://media.amtrak.com/media-contacts-requests/

  • Murali N

    Regarding #8, the Copyright, know the difference between private use vs commercial use of the shot. Interestingly, some landmarks like Eiffel Tower (http://www.toureiffel.paris/the-eiffel-tower-image-and-brand/filming-at-the-eiffel-tower.html#img4), has no restrictions during day. But night view (with illumination) would need approval for commercial use.

  • Ross

    I always take my monopod and use it as a walking stick. I even
    use it for taking pictures.

  • ernldo

    Libtard snowflake

  • Stephen

    This is why I photograph birds. The only thing I need to worry about is getting pooped on.

  • Johan Bauwens

    Taking pictures of a concert without photopass

  • Jan

    But how many stops of light does a monopod really give you? Endlessly debated, but generally agreed: not as much as a tripod or Image Stabilization.

  • Jesus Medina

    I often wonder if flowers are copyrighted? What is your info of this, very much appreciated.

  • Cemeteries can also be sensitive places, which is unfortunate becasue they can be very photogenic. I was recently told that I needed permission to take photos at a certain cemetery in the Netherlands. After asking for that permission they gave it on the condition that I only took photo’s of the trees, not the graves. Which was okay becasue the trees were my main field of interest.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Hi Jesus, it’s a bit complicated… flowers themselves are not subject to copyright in the same way as trees or other plants are not. For example if you purchased a bunch of flowers and wanted to photograph them at home then clearly you won’t need a release. But this is where it gets complicated… because for example if the flowers are situated on private property (i.e. someone’s house or a public park) then as the property is subject to copyright (requiring a property release) then you will need a release. But keep in mind that you only need a release if the photo will be sold/used for commercial purposes not editorial.

    Hope this helps explain.

  • Dana

    The paranoia about pedophilia is justified. More than justified. I look at the kinds of media messages that too many men dismiss as “scare-mongering” and I tell you what, they are not scare-mongering enough. This is a thing. It’s a very large thing. It has affected thousands and thousands of children. The amount of photo-swapping alone is heinous.

    So yeah, some random jacka** photographs my child out in public without even asking me, you better BET I’m going to assume the worst. I’m right there. Ask me. And be prepared to send me a copy, too.

    There are exceptions to that scenario where I would be less bothered but they are VERY limited and no strange man falls into any of them.

  • Dana

    Anyone who takes photos is a real photographer. They might be an amateur photographer, but they’re still real. More real, I would argue, than someone who spends more time “correcting” his photos in Photoshop than actually shooting them. That’s not photography. That’s digital painting. Even the touchups they used to do to film photos weren’t this extensive or, often, plastic-looking and oversaturated.

  • Dana

    Knuckle-dragging inbred gap-toothed keyboard “warrior.”

  • Dana

    Right. It’s all about you. No one else’s thoughts or feelings matter.

    Well, at least you’ve announced it to the world and warned people.

  • Dana

    This blog was started by an Australian actually. I don’t know where the author of this specific article is from.

    Also, the Queen doesn’t generally write legislation. But way to show your ignorance.

  • Dana

    Have any PMs in your country ever been assassinated? Because several U.S. Presidents have, and there are still lots of people alive who remember the most recent one. And he was only the most recent one who died. There was one more recent (Reagan) who was shot and survived.

    That would be why there’s such paranoia around that particular issue.

  • Dana

    Don’t be That Guy who thinks you can do whatever you want as long as nobody catches you because being a photographer is all about doing whatever you want and d**n the consequences. You’re one guy vs. 7.6 billion other human beings and if you want to get along with even a fraction of them you have got to learn to meet people halfway. It is not the end of the world if you can’t get a certain shot. Just move on to something else. After all, you are A Photographer!, right?

    And DON’T photograph the children of strangers, and ASK PERMISSION before photographing the kids of people you know.

    One thing about public buildings and copyrights. If it’s government property here in the United States and if you don’t need a security clearance to visit it (even getting onto a lot of military bases requires a military ID, not technically a security clearance but might as well be one to a civilian), it’s public domain. Theoretically, for example, you’re allowed to photograph the St. Louis, Missouri Gateway Arch or the White House in Washington, DC. In PRACTICE, if you don’t look like the “usual” and “normal” Westerner, be cautious. Lately we’ve had a rash of white people calling the police on people of color doing normal human things and it would not be the first time cops accosted a brown or black person for Existing While Not-White. I’m sorry that I even have to say that. It’s a disgrace.

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