Street Photography: The Law

February 27, 2014 § 2 Comments

I have been harassed by security guards, from time to time, as I was photographing on New York City streets.

Once, I was on a public sidewalk trying to get a shot of the plaza in front of an office building.  The guard came over and asked that I stop since it was private property.  He was quite respectful but totally wrong in the legal sense.  Rather than waste time arguing, I went back and got the shot the next day.

Another instance took place when I was photographing a sunset from a street that bordered on Lincoln Center.  Again, a guard came over.  He was aggressive and rude, and told me I could not shoot because I was on Lincoln Center property.  When I told him I was standing on a public sidewalk and that I was shooting the sunset, he claimed that because there was a glass-enclosed advertisement standing on the sidewalk, it was Lincoln Center property.  I protested and was about to ask to see the head of security when I realized I was arguing with someone who had no idea of the law, was no more than about 20 years old and was impressed with the power of a security badge.  His supervisor may or may not have backed him up, but the amount of time and aggravation was not worth the effort.  I left.  The irony is that I had shot many times at Lincoln Center and never been stopped from taking photos.

I now carry a copy of the New York City rules regarding the Rights of Filmmakers and Photographers.  Clearly stated is an affirmation of the general right to film or photograph in public areas without the need for a permit unless it is an activity requiring the closing of an area along with the use of ancillary equipment.  Included in this copy is mention of the MTA rules that photography and video recording are legal as long as there are no tripods or lights.  I also carry a copy of the Police Department Operations Order, which is very specific about what they may or may not do.

Every city and country has laws regarding photography and privacy.  For instance, France has very strict laws about photographing people in the street.  Rule of thumb:  whether you are in your hometown or traveling, it is necessary to know the local laws.  And, of course, to use discretion when dealing with aggressive individuals.

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§ 2 Responses to Street Photography: The Law

  • Le Cercle says:

    Thank you very much for the article.
    Very interesting. The main difference with Paris is that most of the aggressive people are not guards at all, but walkers. I was wondering if the density of idiots in Paris was due to the fact that it’s a very small and compact city ?
    A parisian.

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