Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Taking photos in public: What's allowed?

Is it ever a crime to take photos in public?


That important question was at the heart of a Q&A on the New York Times’ Lens blog yesterday, and is the focus of the blog I’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist. It’s also a question that undoubtedly affects iReporters and citizens around the world.


The short answer in the Times' piece is no, it’s not a crime in the United States. Regardless, it seems more and more often we hear stories of photographers being arrested or stopped from capturing images in public. In particular, such incidents occurred during the Occupy Wall Street movement last year, when photographers – professional and amateur – documented the protests and clashes between demonstrators and police.


Press freedom is, of course, incredibly important to us here at CNN iReport. We believe that anyone should be allowed to document the news that's important to them, and share those images with others.


The Q&A with Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, includes some important tips on photographers’ rights and how best to protect yourself if you’re part of an encounter with officials. We’ve highlighted some of the best below:


You have the right to take photos in public. However, it’s always a good idea to stay out of the way of action, especially when dealing with police or tense situations, explains Ostereicher. “You want to be invisible. You get in, you get out, nobody gets hurt,” he advised. “You do your job, and that’s what your main responsibility is. It’s not to become the news story. Be respectful, be polite, act professional.” iReporter David Fowler did an excellent job of following this rule when he documented a police standoff with a knife-wielding citizen in Times Square from afar earlier this week.


If you’re stopped by an officer, stay calm. Osterricher encourages photographers to be cooperative and respectful with police, and try to find a different angle to capture the scene. “The last thing you want to do is stand around arguing with somebody while the images you want to take disappear.”


It’s okay to take photos of people in public. “If you’re in public, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy,” Osterricher explained. That said, it’s always a good rule of thumb to respect people’s privacy.  If someone asks to not be photographed, try and oblige them, he adds. And here on iReport, we don’t approve identifiable photos of minors unless the photographer has obtained permission from the parent first.


You can check out the rest of the Q&A on the New York Times’ Lens blog. And be sure to let us know what you think about the piece in the comments below. We’d love to continue the conversation.

August 15, 2012
Click to view EWillies1961's profile

This is a great blog post. I think you should give it more exposure as many iReporters likely do not know their rights and are either intimidated by law enforcement, store owners etc. or simply do not get a good shot or story out of fear.

August 15, 2012
Click to view markpel's profile

I have captured as unpaid iReporter about 100 demonstrations or riots for CNN. I know what Osterreicher says it is more theorie. Every demonstration is differnt. As iReporter police don´t respect you like profi journalists. As iReporter it is many times more dangerous coverage as you are an official journalist.  

August 15, 2012
Click to view k3vsDad's profile

I remember back in my former life, I always asked subjects I captured to go along with my stories that would appear the next day or two in the newspaper. There was seldom an issue, though once in awhile someone would ask to be pictured. No biggie.


Being respectful is the key...not only with law enforcement, but also with bystanders/subjects. That's what I learned those many years ago.


While this holds true here in the US of A, it is not necessarily true in all countries around the globe.


Thanks, katie for sharing.

August 15, 2012
Click to view katie's profile

@markpel Good points! Osterreicher actually brings up in his piece that running into trouble with police is often more of an issue for professional photographers rather than citizens. Regardless, I thought it'd be valuable to share. Thank you all for chiming in!

August 15, 2012
Click to view meelah101's profile


thanks for this information... i respect other people's right to privacy..but there are times when in public you got to do what you have to do...

August 15, 2012
Click to view MelissaF's profile

Great post Katie!  I've covered protests before and always been cooperative.  I get better shots when I am polite and respectful.  People are always more calm, especially the police.  I always go up to a group of them and introduce myself and tell them my intent.  The police always appreciate it and in the end will keep an eye on me just in case things go south.

August 15, 2012
Click to view airnation1's profile


Nice indeed this blog. It apply to United States remember this. Each country is different. Saudi Arabia you could get kill to take a picture.

August 15, 2012
Click to view katie's profile

@airnation1 Yes, that's a very important distinction. The Q&A specifically focused on the United States. Thanks for pointing that out!

August 15, 2012
Click to view natashamarie's profile

Great pointers for aspiring photojournalists like me. :)

August 15, 2012
Click to view HRPufnstuf's profile

Taking them in public is fine. Trespassing on private property, or on restricted government property, in order to take the photos is not. Interfering with officers, or  encouraging civil disobedience (such as inciting to riot) are not.


Now, what you do with those photos is another story. Publishing legitimate news is OK. Selling them commercially, not as news (such as putting a collection in a book) is not, without a model release from each identifiable person, or their parents, if minors. Even publishing them somewhere like on Facebook could be a problem, if they're not clearly identified as current "news." You could be sued for royalties.


Printing them and displaying them for private use, such as in your home is fine.

August 15, 2012
Click to view dogsarefun's profile

Please use common sense. If you take pictures of the White House, critical infrastructure, or sensitive military installations, expect some interferrence from LEO.

August 15, 2012
Click to view SaveTheWorld's profile

What you're going to need to do, in light of the volatility of cameras that can be smashed to pieces and memory cards that can be broken in half, is to use hidden cameras. Optionally, use cameras that dynamically send the images or video live using wi-fi, bluetooth or cellular transmission so that the officer can confiscate your device without losing the multi-media content. This way you can actually record the officer confiscating your device, knowing the live transmission is being recorded somewhere remotely. Be coy, perhaps using a question that implies a statement. "You've got me, here, I wouldn't want this to get out into the public eye or Internet any more than you do, now would I?" Have a backup with a camera that has zoom capability in a distance recording the seizure, so you can splice this video with the remote live feed.

August 15, 2012
Click to view EdZach's profile

If you want the protective mantle of innocent neutrality as you film, then you need to be (1) innocent and (2) neutral.  Journalists capture and disseminate the news, all the news, and they aren't there to make the news.  If your buddy tells you he's going to the occupy protest to provoke a confrontation with the cops, and he wants you there to film the whole thing after the cops start arresting him and he starts screaming about brutality, you are not a journalist, you are a provocateur in collaboration with your friend.  The simple act of filming does not by and of itself make you a journalist, only a photographer.  If you are an amateur journalist or ireporter, you nevertheless should act like a professional journalist if you want to be treated like one.       

August 15, 2012
Click to view effjay's profile

On another note the Paparazzi who chase down actors and such, deserve a beating now and then. I am so glad I am not famous because I would be in jail for shoving a camera up someone's ass.

August 15, 2012
Click to view WhoseGOD's profile

Stuck up Picky people just keep ruining everything. Taking a pi in public, Now that's really drawing the line..I took my grankids to a funpark today, and I could,'t imagine not being allowed to capture their fun....That is going way to far...

August 16, 2012
Click to view mcintron's profile

@HRPufnstuff, I don't believe it's true that you need permission from everyone in it to sell a photo shot in public. If that was the case, how would paparrazzi make a living? They don't have permission to sell those photos to magazines or to put them in books. But they do it because the photos are shot in public. We have no reasonable right to privacy in a public place, according to the law. I'm also thinking of photos of crowded places, etc. Often, even if the photo is of a celebrity, there are other people in the shot. Those are still used, no law suit. Heck, I just spotted myself in a photo in the new 'Rolling Stones 50' book. It's also one of the photos on display at the London art gallery. Can sue for royalties? I wish!

August 16, 2012
Click to view agentxyz's profile

Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland are among the  12 states  where all parties are required to give their consent for a recording to be considered legal.


Courts in Massachusetts have generally held that secretly recording police is illegal, recording them openly is not.


Because there is no legal justification, the charges are usually dropped or never filed at all. But that doesn't stop the arrests.  Radley Balko  points out that, more often than not, police arrest photographers for obstructing law enforcement even in states that have no wiretapping law:


Even more frequent are incidents where police don’t make arrests but illegally confiscate cameras, delete photos and videos, or incorrectly warn camera-wielding citizens that they aren’t allowed to film.



August 16, 2012
Click to view drmm's profile

While you have the right to take pictures in public as there is no reasonable "expectation of privacy." Do you have a right to display those images? That is can you own the copyright of a person if the person did not sign a waiver, merely because they were in public, and then post it on a website for any use?

August 16, 2012
Click to view PriusOwner's profile

My comment on the police context: most pro photographers who work the police beat know from experience that the police are willing to cooperate where the situation permits it, because the police like to be depicted in a positive way and the photographers know the individual officers well enough to accomplish that and still get the news photos that their editors need. To be honest, the pros and the police are usually on a first-name basis, and neither side of the relationship really wants to disrupt the relationship. Situations involving adversarial behaviors such as protests are relatively rare, and the pros know how to get news pix and avoid getting in the way. From the police viewpoint, those situations require very careful management of public safety, including the safety of photographers. The best thing you can do as an amateur to get pix and avoid hassle from police is emulate the pros on the scene, or at least the more conservative pros.

August 16, 2012
Click to view shermski4's profile

i think a distinction is necessary to separate those just taking pictures and those acting like a reckless mob such as today's paparazzi.


i think the latter should be illegal.

August 16, 2012
Click to view agentxyz's profile

@Prius owner:  You are naive. Most problems with photographing police occurs when the people are filming police brutality.  After the fatal shooting during the lying face down being arrested in the BART station in San Francisco, the police tried to take away phones from the multiple people filming the incident even chasing one guy onto a subway car.  Another incident was the arrest of a woman filming from her own yard as the cops were roughing up a guy as they arrested him at a traffic stop.  Another man in Illinois was prosecuted with multiple felonies potentially adding up to a life sentence for filming the police.  This case was thrown out by the judge.

August 16, 2012
Click to view roundsilver's profile

....these crap-arazzi need to show some respect and courtesy, as well as professionalism...20-50 of you leaches crowding around some 'public figure', blocking their way, or intruding into their shopping or dining or taking care of their children...what about their 'space' crowd around me like that, I may come out shootin'....

August 16, 2012
Click to view McFadden007's profile

Unfortunately the article did not define "public property" or what is in "public". If the property is owned by someone, that is not public property. A mall or shopping center is not public property. Someone’s house or land is not public property. Your local pizza parlor is not in public. Be careful and mind full of other people’s property rights.

August 16, 2012
Click to view mattmchugh's profile

So you can take photos in public, as long as no one sees you?


We're going down a bad path here.  If we outlaw cameras, only outlaws will have cameras.  Demand your Constitutionally guaranteed right to bear eyes!

(I may sound like I'm kidding but I'm very serious.)



-- mm


August 16, 2012
Click to view RomaniaScene's profile

As an iReporter abroad, I agree with Markpel about how it is more of a challenge to capture the realities of some situations on our cameras.  Because I am a Peace Corps volunteer, however, we are prohibited from getting in the line of fire so to speak and thus we are always thinking about remaining in safe mode as we have a responsibility to our own country and that of the host country to remain well and uninvolved with politics or governmental gatherings.  As far as the everyday shooting of scenes and video abroad.  I first feel out the atmosphere and try a few photos at random.  Usually, it's fine to film just about Romania this worked very nicely (except for in the airport of  course as it is true in the US!) and here in problems so far.  The children love to have their photos taken and the exchange of culture for events has brought me closer to people rather than a kind of distant and obnoxious paparazzi as you might think.  It is always good to ask for special events which involve military or leaders as was the case here last week when I attended a commemoration ceremony which included the Queen and Princess here...where to stand, what is proper behavior, etc.  Aside from societies where it is a crime or prohibitive...that which you should study beforehand... I think that the more friendly and natural you are with your photo taking with others near and far from the US, most times, you may go ahead with your passion for iReporting! 

August 16, 2012
Click to view anzabill's profile

Photojournalists are mostly very professional people who record without intruding. Paparazzi, who instantly came to mind when I saw this article, are scum who should have their cameras stuffed wherever would hurt the most. The magazines and television shows who buy photos from these "people" would be broken up and disbanded if I had my way.

August 17, 2012
Click to view invictus1819's profile

so nice and great to be reminded now and then by those who know better. about things that may get you in unnecessary risks doing your job. I don't know if there is a necessary risk in a journalist's work, to an iReporter or a practicing journalist in a news outfit. what i know is that ugly things can happen even in a most harm-less looking event. things just happen without warning and before you know it you could be the story you don't want to be. i am an iReporter and before that I am and still a working journalist with Manila Bulletin and Tempo. in an Asia-Pacific regional media conference in Jakarta in 2010, a veteran journalist from Pakistan, the reporter who once interviewed OBL, he reminded the more than 50 journalists from China, New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, India, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc., that there is no story more important than life. so there, reminders' like this blog should serve every news media worker to be careful always. yes, being respectful should be one of a journalist's 'weapon' to disarm even the most difficult person to deal with. thank you and good day always to all.

August 18, 2012
Click to view ata22299's profile


The press and journalism laws are edited and every press man knows perfetly what these laws permit .In this subject I think that everything is clear :fellow and respect the law!That's the first rule.A journalist should make his job,and avoid to do the photographer one!

Human behavior is some time responsible of mistakes ,when somebody push a journalist to do something incompatible with his real duty.It's dangerously incongruous !  

September 18, 2012
Click to view doerting's profile

Hello!! Fashion,low price,the good shopping places,free shipping and quantity discount,

Air jordan shoes(1-26) $40,Air max shoes $41,Nike shox shoes $40,

Air Force one $40, Nike Dunk Shoes $42,Gucci shoes $45,

D&G shoes $46,LV shoes $46,

belt $18, sunglasses $16,

handbags $40, Jeans $39, T-Shirt $20,

(NFL MLB NBA NHL) jerseys $25,

Accept credit card and cash payments

====== ======

October 2, 2012
Click to view Jstew000's profile

I think it's okay to take pictures in public. My opinion is that you should respect people's privacy. You can take pictures off celebrities because they knew what they were getting into befor they got famous! Also if your taking a picture of a minor you should have permission first. When you take pics you shouldn't invade a persons privacy or invade there space.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

About the iReport Blog

The latest and greatest on CNN iReport, brought to you by Team iReport.

Categories Recent posts Monthly Subscribe