Knowing Your Rights as a Street Photographer
I just saw this article in the local paper online (Can people legally photograph on-duty Seattle cops?), and what seemed like a silly question to me probably is very confusing to many people. Not only the “on-duty” cops that you might photograph out in public, but others often uneducated about the legality of various forms of street photography include property owners, store employees and security guards, not to mention Joe Schmoe sipping his latte in the street.
Photographing people in a public place is well within your rights, and that obviously includes police or other folks acting in some “official” capacity. There is no presumption of privacy out on the street or in other public places. The restriction might later be trying to use those photographs for commercial use without obtaining a model release from the subject of your photo, or getting a property release for a photograph obviously taken in front of someone’s storefront.
You can even photograph people who are on private property if you are on public property, as long as you are not invading their privacy. For example, they are in a restaurant and you’re outside, or, you’re not reaching over a fence to catch them in their back yard.
Obviously the distinctions can get blurry, so then a good idea is to think about being respectful and dignified in your shooting. If someone asks you why you are taking a photograph of them, tell them it is for your personal use and you won’t be publishing it. If a cop asks you for your film or digital card, politely tell them you are within your rights to shoot as long as you are not being a nuisance or getting in the way. Being friendly, open and communicative about your work is a good way to defuse a potentially uncomfortable situation, and it will help educate those people who aren’t as aware of the rights of photographers.
A good resource is the The Photographer’s Right which includes a downloadable and printable version of a document elucidating your rights. I’m not saying that a cop is going to be willing to read it if you pull it out, but it might be a good reminder to yourself of talking points should you ever get into a friendly conversation about photography and your rights on the street.