The War Against Photography


We’ve all heard and experienced it one time time or another. You’re just minding your own business taking a few snapshots with your Lomo cameras when out of nowhere, uniformed individuals accost you and demand that you either show them a permit or stop shooting. This is the war against photography. Know your rights!


Over the past two years, photography has enjoyed an exponential boom in interest, with everyone and their grandmas brandishing point & shoot digital cameras, DSLRs, and even the ubiquitous Iphone. But in line with this surge in popularity, there have been numerous accounts and cases of photographers, professional or otherwise, being accosted and even abused by the police and security guards. This is a worldwide phenomenon that has become so rampant that The British Journal of Photography has even launched “a campaign to counter the rising paranoia that targets every photographer who shoots images in public places.”

BJP goes on to say that “Increasing concerns about terrorism, pedophilia, health and safety, and personal privacy have resulted in a deep mistrust of photographers. Police routinely invoke anti-terror legislation to prevent photographers from carrying out their work, and photojournalists are constantly filmed at public gatherings and their details kept on an ever-growing database.”

Thankfully, this intense paranoia is slowly receding. In the settlement of the case of Antonio Musumeci against the Department of Homeland Security in the USA, photography won a hard-fought battle. Under the settlement, announced Monday by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Federal Protective Service said that it would inform its officers and employees in writing of the “public’s general right to photograph the exterior of federal courthouses from publicly accessible spaces” and remind them that “there are currently no general security regulations prohibiting exterior photography by individuals from publicly accessible spaces, absent a written local rule, regulation or order.”

“This settlement secures the public’s First Amendment right to use cameras in public spaces without being harassed,” said a statement issued by Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represented Mr. Musumeci in Federal District Court.

View the full FPS Bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security.

Credits: wil6ka

As for the rest of the world, here’s a couple of tidbits about the do’s and don’ts regarding photography:

United Kingdom

In the UK it is completely legal to take photographs in any public place. There are restrictions on photography for commercial use within Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and the Royal Parks, but aside from that you can shoot wherever you like, so long as you’re on public ground! A landowner is permitted to impose any conditions they like as soon as you enter their property, so you may not be allowed to photograph within a shopping centre, office, home, theatre, gallery, or any other privately owned building- best to ask first.

However there are restrictions on who you can photograph, particularly the police, armed forces or security services. It is considered an offense under the Counter Terrorism Act 2008 to publish photographs of any of these people….but if you snap them it is not in their rights to take or destroy your film, they can ask you to stop but not enforce it, according to the metropolitan police guidelines

The Netherlands

Shooting pictures in public areas in The Netherlands is a simple story but has a few important things to keep in mind.

In The Netherlands they distinguish two important things; taking pictures in public areas of structures and portraits. It’s completely legal to take pictures in public areas at all times of anything and anyone. But it’s all about what is captured and the purpose of capturing that image. Everyone is allowed to take pictures of buildings, shops, bridges or any other structure in a public area – in our outside. As long as that photography is not made for commercial purposes. Exceptions can be made by the owner of a building, company or other structure. Like the national Railway organization – they have restrictions of taking pictures of their employees working at stations and platforms. Or museums, pop venues and galleries could have restrictions for inside photography activities.

Portrait photography in public areas is a different story. An image is a “portrait” when there is an identifiable person in the picture. A portrait could be a photo, but also a drawing or a painting. And not only similar images are portraits, also a caricature is a portrait. On the other hand, a photograph of a football stadium with supporters like ‘dots’ in the picture, is not a portrait. It’s very hard to identify those supporters and the focus of the picture lies on the entire group of people instead of one person. A person’s face on a picture is the most common form of a portrait, but a characteristic posture of a identifiable person could be seen as a portrait as well. Think of a silhouette image of Charlie Chaplin. Once you capture a portrait – the person on the picture has got “portrait rights”. Which basically means he or she has the right to decide what the will happen with that picture. Even when the picture is made in public area.


In Brazil, it is officially allowed to photograph in public spaces as since as these images basically do not implicate commercial publication and/or do not harm people´s integrity,honor or dignity which, in other words it is said in Brazilian civil rights (Chapter II “Individuality Rights”).Therefore, capturing images in public spaces should not be a problem, moreover, if you really want to photograph inside a federal/governmental building, you are able too, as long as you have an authorization in hands and obey the conditions above.


As long as the space you intend to shoot is open to the public and does not need any security control for access, you are free to take pictures because it is considered a public space with the same level of rights and obligations as any open street.

From the public street you can take pictures of any building even if you take the picture through the gate, as all you can see from the street is public domain. Obviously you can not hop on the gates, or put the camera inside. You can photograph any shop or building from the sidewalk, no one can tell you anything.

For example; private facilities (like shops, malls, etc) are considered public places during the opening hours to the public, and ruled by the same legislation. Nobody can tell “no photos, please” for example at a Lomography Store!

What to do when someone calls our attention:
Tell him it is our right (always with respect), he has not the right to forbid photographing the space. If the person or the security officer insists, you can safely say you’re not going to stop taking pictures, call the police if you like. If the persons tries to touch the camera to prevent you to take photos do not worry, this simple gesture is reportable as aggression. If he tells you to delete thee pictures or to take out the film from the camera, NEVER do that. You simply give the camera to him and if he is deleting the pictures or taken out the film of your camera, he is committing a big offense against intellectual property. Yo need to have a witness. When the police arrive, explain what happened and express your desire to precede a complaint of assault and intellectual property crime. You’ll see how his face changes immediately.

In public locations spaces without metal detector, identification, etc., the shooting is completely legal. If not, you have to to ask someone responsible.

People in public locations or in the street:

If we take a picture with less than three people on it, that image can be used for illustrating a newspaper article or similar, but not for commercial or advertising purposes. Otherwise you need to get the permission of these people or pay for it.

If there more than three people in the photo, this considered as a group. This image can be used for commercial and advertising purposes without permission.


Here in Canada, the laws are generally tailored to people’s rights and freedoms, in which we do have a lot of. Depending on what province you are in, slightly different laws can be applied to allow you to release your creative outlet while still respecting the rights of others. For the most part, Ontario has more restrictions than the rest of the nation. Though, these restrictions usually pertain to commercial photographers.
As Lomographic shooters, we aim to take pictures for more private and artistic purposes. As such, there are only a few rules that we need to keep in mind while shooting in public. In a detailed guideline of laws for photographers by, the author lets us know what we can or can’t shoot. Reading over the limitations, it is safe to say that everything is easily open to interpretation, and so, as a photographer, it leaves us many options to work our way in and out of sticky situations.

Other than the usual minding of properties and signs, and security, it is good to note that though private property is individually managed or owned, if it is open to the public and has no visual indicators of limitations to shoot photographs, one is indeed allowed to shoot away unless otherwise told not to by management due to privacy/confidentiality issues. Take for instance any government institution. Those buildings are in some areas opened to public and closed off in others for security purposes. Guards will always be visible throughout the buildings and they can you to only taking photos of what is open to the public, but can technically prevent you from going beyond a certain point where you can capture all or a part of something meant to be confidential. I should also mention that the laws state restrictions of where to shoot, and leaves the ambiguity of allowing anything not listed as “restricted” as being perfectly legal. Pretty much, you are not banned from taking pictures, but you are limited to where you stand to take that picture.

Hence, if you don’t breach privacy of another person’s rights, or you’re not trespassing on places that have indicated their property, and if you’re wary of any notices or rules set, go forth and shoot!
Visit AmbientLight for more information on Canadian Laws Pertaining to Photographers!


Have you experienced anything similar to this while shooting? Let us know in the comments!


written by cruzron on 2011-02-25 #lifestyle #film #rules #police #photography #terrorism #cops #paparazzi #news #discussion


  1. willyboy
    willyboy ·

    Top post. Seems like Spain have got their laws spot on.

  2. basho
    basho ·

    Intellectual and artistic rights are a big issue in Spain nowadays. However, most shopping centres forbid photography and if you have a camera when you go into one, you'll atract the guards attention even if you don't use it! The irony of this is, as cruzron writes, that everybody takes pictures all the time, specially teenagers; so most people do not complain if you take their pictures, even if they don't like it!

  3. sthomas68
    sthomas68 ·

    I have been in shopping malls in the USA and been accosted by uniformed security guards demanding that I stop photographing immediately, without giving reason. When I searched for written statements on the malls' website or appropriate signs indicating no photography, they could not produce it. Yet I was told if I continued I would be thrown out or have my camera confiscated. All this for simply photographing inside a shopping mall!!!! Political correctness and paranoia are really running rampant here, to the point of hysteria. It wasn't like this just a few years ago.

  4. homer
    homer ·

    I had a guy tell me I was going to have an unfortunate accident because me and two friends were taking snaps on the street outside his antique shop on eden quay, in Dublin, a few weeks ago. I hate all the paranoid nonsense.

  5. anarchy
    anarchy ·

    Great article, but I'm missing info on the German laws and regulations... A couple of years ago, I think in 2005 or 2006, I ended up getting surrounded by armed guards in front of the Dresdner Bank building at Brandenburger Tor / Pariser Platz in Berlin. I was taking a macro shot of the outside wall and apparently this all looked very suspicious in the eyes of the guards. I eventually managed to talk my way out of it and make them trust me that I was a tourist, but the situation turned pretty hostile in the beginning when they couldn't understand why anyone would be interested in shooting a photo from 2 cm distance into a brick wall. It seemed quite impossible to explain that I wanted a close-up shot of the structure to use as a texture for a design project I was working on... In Sweden I think the laws are very similar to the Spanish ones. There are some buildings that are "protected" and that you're not allowed to photograph even if you're standing in a public space, like some prisons and police buildings.

  6. mathiasa
    mathiasa ·

    anarchy: In Sweden, the laws are on the photographers side. When you are on public property; you can photograph anything you want. As long as you are in public property, you can stand and snap pictures of "protected" buildings or areas. But private property, its up to the owners to decide. If there are signs saying you can't photography, you will probably be told by security that you can't. However, there is nothing they can do about it.

    I've been shooting inside private property many times. A simple explanation is enough, and most people are friendly.

    As for street photography and taking pictures of people, the people may ask you to delete it - you don't have to, but I mostly respect when people ask not to have their portrait taken.

  7. maymosciaro
    maymosciaro ·

    I loved that article!!
    This terrorist paranoia is so crazy... and it only makes regular peoples lifes harder!!

  8. pangmark
    pangmark ·

    I'm an English speaker in a non English speakng country. It's amazing what you can get away with. I'm sure they don't think my big white holga doesn't work anyway (and sometimes they're right). That said I'm respectful to peoples privacy.

  9. billwolff
    billwolff ·

    I was stopped by a police officer in my old hometown of Wenonah, NJ, for photographing the quaint old fire station. He cited the Patriot Act.

    The link to the British Journal page seems to be broken. Can you update it to a correct link? Thanks!

  10. kylewis
    kylewis ·

    Good article to have here it is very important to know your rights and to stand up for them. There is an awful lot of ignorance amongst the security/police community and i have had a number of minor incidents, that in retrospect are quite laughable but at the time they were not amusing, being told that you will have your camera (plastic and crap though it is) confiscated is not funny and also not possible, they cannot do this and they should be told as much, in fact if they touch your camera or go to remove film it can also be called criminal damage!

    There was a more interesting incident and quite sad really as it shows the prevalent paranoia that is about, if you have seen a "Pinhole Blender" they are not the most obvious camera and I was holding mine at a train station doing a long exposure, it's a pinhole, anyway the train was coming in and this family were rushing to catch it. The father saw my cam, came up to me and said, "that looks like a bomb!"

    I was a bit miffed but briefly explained it's a camera and then stepped on the train.
    They did not get on... I was shocked at there caution. When I got off at my destination I was equally paranoid waiting to be picked up by transport police... it didn't happen!

  11. superlighter
    superlighter ·

    and in Italy? the Paparazzi's country? Once I was stopped by an all-black-dressed guy outside a shopping mall, he tells me that I can't photograph the sunset in front of the building! I tell him that there are no signs that indicate a ban on photography, we are in a parking lot, what the fuck! nothing to do, is immovable and angry. I lost a sunset!
    I recently went back to that place, now there's a big sticker at the entrance.

  12. kdstevens
    kdstevens ·

    I was detained and questioned by the police shortly before Christmas while I was shooting in Union Square in San Francisco. Apparently somebody had complained that I was taking "inappropriate" photos of young children. This was in broad daylight in a crowded public place! I was surrounded by 3 officers with their hands on their weapons. The first thing they asked was if I had ever been arrested then they asked for my ID and phoned it in. After about 20 minutes they said I was free to go and could continue to take pictures. Needless to say, I was a little bothered by this and a little angry.

  13. permafrost
    permafrost ·

    Great article!
    I'm sorry but these stories make me laugh. I would panick big time if I were stopped by the police. It's really sad to see how paranoid people have become.
    I often manage to take pictures without being bothered. Even of places where there is a "no photography" sign. It's not like I'm going to use them for anything. Except my holiday facebook album or something. I think I just look innocent. :D

  14. ryuhei
    ryuhei ·

    i will continue to shoot what i want when i want :) im not coursing any harm by taking pictures, and whats the diffrence from me seeing a building and my camera seeing a building???? i think these people are just camera racists!

  15. gvelasco
    gvelasco ·

    In the U.S. the laws differer from state to state, so you have more to keep track of when you go traveling. Someone should make a traveling photographer's guide to laws in the various countries and states.

  16. copefan
    copefan ·

    I've been stopped a few times....... n London and also in my local town centre where I was asked to leave the town centre by a security guard! I asked him under who's orders as i'm on a public right of way.... he said it was illegal to take photos of private buildings under the new terrorist laws..... I told him to get his facts right and he could try and stop me and i'd sue for assult........ he then asked for my film! so I told him to errrrr...... go away and polish his head or something like that.... then a police man turned up and told him to sod off.... which I though was fantastic, he then asked me about my cameras and it turned out he'd got a diana and a holga!

  17. fash_on
    fash_on ·

    One time I had my film confiscated by a promoter at a concert where cameras where not allowed. I waited till almost everyone had left so I could get the film back and ended up meeting some of the band, and they got my film back for me! Yay! That was quite a few years ago, long before digital.

  18. fash_on
    fash_on ·

    More recently, I was not allowed to take lomo's at one of our very cool skytrain stations, that's a shame because they are really nice buildings, but I understand why and I'd rather be safe at those kind of places.

  19. fash_on
    fash_on ·

    this sign just made me laugh like only "professional lenses" can take a worthwhile picture?

  20. sthomas68
    sthomas68 ·

    LMAO fashon, a bit protective of their wieners aren't they?

  21. superlighter
    superlighter ·

    the fact is that some places have theyr own photo bussines, like selling postcard or souvenir. anyway! I'm a terrorist and I like to take pictures even when it's prohibited becouse "people are stupid"

  22. stickyvinny
    stickyvinny ·

    Great article!

  23. woosang
    woosang ·

    My husband and I was accosted by a security guard in Queensland and we were only siting in the verandah with t he cameras off and lens caps on. He insisted that we are forbidden to be there and not take photos and so My husband stormed to the centre management office asked "Can I take photos" the lady shrugged and said sure" He returned in a fury stated that we had the manager's permission and he can just bug off. And further if the security continued his harassment, we would call the police. What stupidity. Seriously. We were just sitting.
    Its so angry making and distressing.
    In Australia, if it is private property, you must get permission. OK A shopping centre IS private property. You can shoot in the street with no problems unless you are shooting someone inside their home and therefore breaching their perceived and entitled privacy. If they are walking in the street its too bad, I can take your picture. Of course it is polite to ask...
    BUT the anti-terrorism laws in AUstralia say NOTHING about photography. It is 8 pages long. You can carry it with you and if a police officer harasses you then he is out of line. Again you must be polite but firm. By all means go to the station but I find 99% back off when presented with the Terrorism act....and politely asked to point out where it states about photography.
    And don't start me on being a tourist in the UK I got searched... GRRR Still fuming I was in a tourist area shooting a tourist building Its all gone mad!!

  24. shadrack1
    shadrack1 ·

    One night I was photographing in Downtown Clearwater and found this quaint little dress makers shop that looked like it had been there for decades. Clearwater is most famous for being the home base of the Scientologists, and they own a large majority of the buildings down there. As I took the photo (seen here: I was approached by three or four security guards from a nearby Scientologist building (and when I say nearby it was half a block away.) They circled me and demanded to know what I was doing. When I stated I was a hobby photographer and just doing some night photography of the downtown buildings, they seemed to not accept that and demanded my equipment. Not my film, all of my cameras. I pointed out that I was only photographing a dress makers shop and not even looking at their main building. They started pretending to call more security guards and threatening to detain me until police showed up. I told them I had just as much rights as members of their church to stroll the sidewalks of the city, and I just backed away, keeping a firm hold on my LC-A and Pentax.

    Funny enough, I didn't see a single security guard when I took this picture out of spite a block away twenty minutes later:

  25. rhemaangel
    rhemaangel · is fighting for Australian Artisits' freedom to practice their arts. Headed up by photographer Ken Duncan.

    It's quite ridiculous here in Australia.

  26. fed
    fed ·

    Oh, man! I thought I was the only one getting chased out of places because I have a camera. Here in Argentina there is pretty much no terrorism scare but because to feel a little safe with my gear I tend to go to "tourist friendly" places with beefed up security. The last three places I´ve gone out to shoot I´ve been told I needed a permit and that it would cost me extra to get one. That was because I ve been carrying a tripod around to shoot with my Diana Multi Pinhole Camera. Seems that moronic security guards tend to believe that if you got a tripod than you´ve got a super high tech camera and are a profesional. Now I know that in order to not get stopped by security guards at entrances, I have to bring with me one of those tiny tripods for digital point and shoot cameras in my bag and just smile.

  27. lomoluke
    lomoluke ·

    I was stopped once in front of Tiananmen in Beijing by plain clothes security. They were actually quite friendly about it but wanted to see my Diana F+ camera with the wide angle lens. I said sure and gave them the camera. They were then fascinated by it and wanted to know if it was an old camera. I said no, and gave them a little talk about how the camera's are new and lomography is a hobby. They gave me the camera back and said have a great day! Not what you'd expect from the undercover police in Beijing, but sometimes they can surprise you. However, I was told by a friend to never stand in the middle of Tiananmen Square with a Spinner 360! I can understand why haha
    These are my Tiananmen photos, I think they turned out quite well:…

  28. hervinsyah
    hervinsyah ·


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