Your Rights as a Street Photographer

While out in public taking photographs you may find someone giving you a funny look or even approach you to ask what you’re doing. In general, you have the right to photograph anything and anyone out in public, though some public spaces may restrict photography (signs/notices should be posted if so). You do not, however, have the right to commercially license those photographs without model or location release forms. Here are some helpful links to know your rights as a photographer:

United States: “Know Your Rights: Photographers” from the American Civil Liberties Union
United Kingdon: “UK Photographers Rights Guide” by Linda Macpherson

Note: If you ever find yourself in a legal situation you should speak with a lawyer familiar with your local laws. Unfortunately there is no universal law protecting photographers.

Tips on Dealing with People While Photographing

  • Always maintain a non aggressive attitude.
  • If someone looks at you while you’re photographing simply return a quick smile and move on.
  • If someone approaches you explain that you are just a student/art/hobbyist photographer. You could carry a sample of your work with you to help show what you’re doing. If someone aggressively approaches you then simply move on and go somewhere else.
  • If a police officer should be involved then calmly explain what you’re doing and move on. If the officer seems more friendly you could explain that you’re within your rights to photograph in a public place, but in general it’s best simply to avoid confrontation with the police.
  • With film photography you don’t have the opportunity to show people the photographs you’ve taken and it’s a great excuse should anyone ask to see. If you happen to be using digital then simply tell the person you’d prefer not to and try to move on. Letting someone close to your equipment is never a good idea.

If you’re not comfortable taking photographs without someone knowing, you can certainly approach them and ask if it’s ok. You’ll find quite a few people who don’t have a problem with it. However, be prepared for these people to respond by smiling at the camera or possibly making faces.

When it comes to children, even though you may have every legal right to photograph them it’s always best to ask the parent’s permission. Better yet, if you keep some cards on you with your name and email you can even offer to send/email the parent copies of the photograph.

Keep these things in mind the next time you plan to take street photography and you shouldn’t run into any serious trouble. Familiarize yourself with your rights, keep to public areas, and be on the lookout for signs prohibiting photography and you’ll be fine.