You’ve Gotta Fight … For Your Right … To Photography!

Yesterday evening I was admonished by a pair of private security people for taking photos of a private building from public property. I was not seeking to photograph any people entering or exiting (though legal, in this case it’d be an invasion of privacy) – in fact, all I was interested in were circular forms for a photo project (pictured here are my earlier snaps from my Flickr set of squircles – dangerous looking stuff, eh?).


Of course I’m not the first person who’s had an encounter (or worse) with private security or even the cops. But I think it bears repeating to everyone here that you are free in this country (at least at the moment) to snap photos. Really. There are very few places where you’re not allowed to take photos and it’s good to be reminded of that. Most subjects shot from public property are fair game, as I understand it, this includes copyrighted works (as long as you don’t attempt to copyright your work of their work).

I know it’s being bandied about a lot, but this quote just sums it up: “Those who are willing to sacrifice essential freedom for security deserve neither.” – Benjamin Franklin.

Basically, I’m not here to bash the folks who shoo-ed me off, I just wanted to point everyone to this resource to educate yourself about your rights. If you take a lot of photos, you might want to print this out and tuck it into your camera case:

The Photographers Rights (PDF) by Bert P. Krages II – who also wrote the book Legal Handbook for Photographers. If things get out of hand, well read this: ACLU’s Know Your Rights: Bust Card (PDF).

Honestly, I want to hear from you about this, I know we have a lot of photographers among our readership … post comments here, or better yet, hop onto the metroblogging forums.

UPDATE: BoingBoing posted a great exchange a fellow had in Pittsburgh about photographing the PPG building (I was run off from there twice back in 1991/92 for taking photos of the buildings and security).

There’s also a Flickr group that you can join to share experiences and photos of places where you were told you couldn’t take photos. You Can’t Take Pictures Here.

9 thoughts on “You’ve Gotta Fight … For Your Right … To Photography!”

  1. From what I’ve heard, even public photography is prohibited in Century City. Something about the city property being privately owned, I think, or how the city is incorporated. Don’t know the specifics.

  2. Oh I pity any security guards that attempt to prohibit me from rightfully photographing something รณ I’ll call the cops on them.

    First off, let’s keep in mind that a guard working for a privately owned and operated security firm is no more empowered to prevent or prohibit a person from doing anything (legal or illegal) than your average citizen. Certainly there are over-zealous officers out there, but whether they’re within their rights or violating yours all they can do is request you to stop what you’re doing. In fact they are instructed by their employers to “observe and report” and keep confrontation to a minimum. And even if they do end up calling the police, think about what kind of priority (if any) with which the call will be dispatched: LOW at best.

    And Chuck man, don’t believe the hype. “City property being privately owned?” It’s either one or the other. Century City is unincorporporated and part of Los Angeles. The buildings and their grounds may be private property, but if you’re standing on a public sidewalk and taking a picture of the building at 2029 Century Park East, anyone trying to stop you from doing so is violating your rights.

  3. When I was a Real Estate Appraiser, I took photo’s of private property (recents sales for comps) from public property (the street) all the time. To meet minimum appraisal standards (USPAP) that were established due to a Federal Act (FIRREA – 1989), current photo’s in my reports were required in order to keep my appraisal license issued by the State of California (OREA). There’s thousands of appraisers out there every day doing the same thing and they don’t have any “special authority” to take photo’s that others can’t. People may not like it (I got yelled at, threatened and chased) but it’s perfectly legal.

  4. I was bugged by security once because I was taking photos inside a public building, and they didn’t want me taking photos of the people there. I was already on my way out, and he was fairly reasonable in the way he spoke to me, so I didn’t bother getting into it with him, but AFAIK even taking photos of people in a public area is legal.

    I carry around copies of both The Photographer’s Right and the ACLU Bust Card in my camera bag, but I haven’t had to use them yet. Most security personnel aren’t aware of the laws, and I don’t mind educating them, as long as they aren’t being assholes about it.

  5. Yea, I have encountered this type of thing before on numerous occassions, much to my surprise. In most cases, I don’t bother getting into it with them, but in the last month or so I have learned a lot(and a lot more from this post), so I definitely feel more confident asserting my available rights.

    “You can’t take pictures here” said in a public place(such as Pershing Square as a previous poster mentioned) seems to smack too much of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

  6. There is no reasonable, legal expectation of privacy in a public place. You can even take pictures of individual people, without permission, and publish them, without permission, as long as they are out on the streets with no ‘reasonable expectation’ of privacy. Ever notice how newspapers can publish pics of street scenes without identifying each person or getting permission? That’s the concept. It’s stupid and unjustified to insist that a person standing in a public place can’t aim a camera in any direction they please. I live in NYC, where people are REAL fired up about this…I’ve even had private citizens who WEREN’T security guards try to stop me frmo shooting!

  7. Hi. Just recently I have experienced the strange policy of not being allowed to photograph skyscrapers. I was in Pittsburgh with a friend (who lives in Boston) and we were walking into the PPG plaza. I took pictures of the mini versions of the PPG buildings (which are really cute) and the security guard said nothing. As soon as I raised my camera to capture the majesty of the actual building, the guard (from across the street, no less) said “No pictures of the building.” I was in shock. I just said “okay” and we walked away. I was too surprised to say anything to him, although now I realize maybe I should have asked why. He did look kinda grumpy. Anyway, I have been to Boston many many times and taking pictures certainly does not seem to be a problem there. I have a beautiful one of the John Hancock building, which, like the PPG builiding, is completely made of glass and is very tall and, well, obvious.

Comments are closed.