Can I Take This Photo?


“I was photographing (some place) and a security guard stopped me. He said it was illegal to take photos there. Is that true? What are the laws? Can I take this photo?”

By Andrew Hudson Published: June 7, 2011 Updated: November 26, 2013

Yes, you can take the photo. You have a right to take photos and if you can freely see something, you can photograph it. If a place is open to the public, then you can take a photo of whatever is on view.

You can take most photographs for the simple fact that there are very few laws that say that you can’t. The are no laws that prohibit the taking of photographs on public or private property (except for special circumstances such as airport checkpoints, certain government facilities). Neither the Patriot Act nor the Homeland Security Act have any provisions that restrict photography.

“Absent a specific legal prohibition such as a statue or ordinance, you are legally entitled to take photographs.”
—The Photographer’s Right, by Bert P. Krages II

There are three caveats: privacy, trespassing and publishing. You can’t photograph people who have an expectation of privacy; if the security guard demands that you leave, you must (but you can still take photographs, that’s a different thing); and, although you can legally take a photograph, there are more restrictions if you want to publish that photograph (e.g. sell the shot or put it on the Internet). We’ll cover those caveats later.

Photography And Law

The are no general laws against taking photos. Photography is considered an artistic expression which, if anything, is protected not prohibited.

The laws that do affect photographers are mostly about the subject of the photo. The laws are there to defend the subject’s property and prevent you from “stealing” what is valuable to someone else.

The property in question can be: a person’s image and reputation ( privacy); artwork ( copyright); business reputation ( trademark); land ( trespassing). We know that you don’t intend to steal someone’s property, we just want to make sure that you do so inadvertently.

What Can I Photograph?


If a person is in public view and not doing anything private, then yes, you can photograph them. You can photograph people on the street, in a park, on the beach, in a shopping mall, etc. For more on this, read privacy.


Yes. Children in public view can be photographed (for normal purposes) without permission from the parents.


Yes. Celebrities in public view can be photographed. However, things are different if you wish to sell, use or publish such photographs, see publicity.

Law Enforcement Officers

Yes, even when they are making arrests or at a crime scene.

Accidents, Fires, Crimes

Yes. This is generally deemed newsworthy; “fair use” in the public’s interest.


Yes. Unlike people, businesses do not have a right to privacy. This may not be true, I’ll have to research it. (You can’t, however, photograph trade secrets that are hidden from view, and you can’t reproduce a trademark and infer that It’s yours or you are associated with it).

Public Property

Yes. Public property belongs to you! You are the public, thus this is your (shared) property. No individual has sole ownership or any right to stop you. (You can be stopped, however, from taking photos of national security places, such as military bases, nuclear plants, and some government facilities.)

Airports, Bridges, Infrastructure, Transportation

Yes, as long as national security is not an issue (airport security checkpoints).


Yes, from the outside. (You can’t use a long-lens to photograph inside as that is invasion of privacy).

Private Property

You can photograph whatever you can freely see. If the public is allowed to enter, then you can take photographs. This includes shopping malls, the lobbies of office buildings, parks, and shops. If a place is open to the public then permission to enter (and thus photograph) is assumed. However, that permission can be revoked. If you are asked to leave and do not, you are then trespassing, which is a separate issue.


Photography and trespassing are two separate things. Even if you’re illegally trespassing, you can still legally photograph. (You can’t go on someone’s property and use a long lens to shoot into their house, that’s invasion of privacy).

Places With Entrance Fees, such as Ballparks, Museums and Football Games

This is tricky. You may be able to photograph for personal use but publishing and commercial use could be prohibited, since you are giving away what people are charged to see. See publicity. “No photography” may be a condition of entrance. Trademarks can be an issue too.

Public Art, such as Murals and Statues

You can photograph for private use but commercial publishing (making money) may require permission from the copyright owner. See artwork.

What if someone says not to shoot?

They don’t have a legal right to stop you from taking photographs, and they can’t threaten you or demand your camera. Only law enforcement officers (and officers of the court) can do that, and only with a court order or while making an arrest. Anyone else can be charged with a variety of things such as coercion, harassment, conversion, false imprisonment, kidnapping, assault, violation of constitutional rights, or theft. The only thing a private security person can do is ask you to leave the premises.

“In general, it is unlawful for anyone to instill a fear that they may injure you, damage or take your property, or falsely accuse you of a crime just becuase you are taking photographs.”
—The Photographer’s Right, by Bert P. Krages II

What if a mall security guard says to stop taking photos?

This comes down to photographing and trespassing being two different things. If a private security guard asks you to stop taking photos, you do not have to comply; you can still take photos. But if they ask you leave, then you have to leave, as your permission to enter has been revoked and you are now trespassing. However, you can take photos while walking out, and you can still publish those pictures. For more, see trespassing.


Reply by Anonymous

December 23, 2017

I have taken photos of a lady I volunteer with who I get along with very well they’re photos of her I’ve taken in my home of her. I have also recorded videos of visits with her that relate to what we volunteer through. However all this is for personal use. I don’t allow others to use the pics or videos unless it’s something I trust not to use the photos that may invade such as publishing etc. I have also taken a photo with this lady that a yong relative of mine is also in with her. And again she is unaware of them.

Reply by Marlie

August 13, 2017

My husband and I have a seasonal spot at a campground and they have trails and dirt roads where we are allowed to go on our golf carts. There is a cemetery on their land next to one of these dirt roads and I took a beautiful pic of the corner of the fence (nothing actually inside the cemetery) with the sunset beyond some pastures that belong to this same family. I want to print it and several people have told me they would love to buy a print of this. Am I allowed to sell the print since the land belongs to someone else even though we have permission to be there? I also have one with their cows in the sunset that I wanted to print also.

Reply by Anonymous

August 2, 2017

Are we allowed to take photos of the neighbor’s yard by extending the camera over the fence? These photos would be taken in order to document that the neighbor has a broken irrigation pipe, there is a blocked drainage ditch and the spilled water is running into our yard.

Reply by JRedWine

May 9, 2017

What about inside a bank? I took a photo of the (very long) line inside a local bank, and the security guard, having seen me take it, told me it was against the law and that I had to delete it - even bringing in the manager to confirm it. There were no signs posted banning photography inside the bank and I cannot find any such law. Was he just on a power trip and lying?

Reply by Alex Standing

February 23, 2017

Can Google take a photo of a person on private property, putting rubbish into a wheely bin then make it public on Google maps? The person for was at risk as their front door had damage from a break in and the kesy were in the door as the wheely in was near the Window and front door.

Reply by Anonymous

February 21, 2017

I was taking some photos of my neighborhood for personal use, because I like to photograph things and places. One of the photos included the neighborhood playground in it. There were some children on the playset (along with their mom) and the mom saw me taking the photo (it wasn’t entirely of the playground either). She said that I "have no right to photograph her children" and she said "I will call the police if you don’t delete the photo and leave the neighborhood". Do the police have a right to force me to delete the photo? I’m not posting the photos online or anything either

Reply by

February 20, 2017

Hi Andrew

I took a picture while my sister was driving of horses running, they do belong to someone because some of them had blankets on. The other picture I took in a grocery story parking lot of two dogs sticking their heads out of the same window and staring at me. I take pictures that I have taken of wildlife, scenery....etc (no people) and put scriptures on them. I don’t sell them, they are free to anyone. Can I use those two pictures or can I get in trouble since the animals belong to someone?

Reply by Anonymous

February 17, 2017

What are my legal options when it comes to photographing abandoned homes/businesses/hospitals? Some have a "No trespassing" sign, others do not. For the ones that do, is there any way I can still take photographs (legally) ON the property without contacting the owner? Do you know of any good resources I could use to find owners of these abandoned places?

Reply by Anonymous

January 29, 2017

Besides possibly it being considered creepy is it illegal to take photos of children playing at a beach? These photos were taken from all angles-front, back, and side?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 30, 2017

No, it is generally not illegal. As long as you are on public property and are photographing what is viewable in public, you are generally OK. Photography in public is considered “free speech.”

Reply by Anonymous

November 29, 2016

If you take a photo and there is a sign that say no photography allowed, would you get in trouble? Let’s say you did not see the “No Photo Allowed” sign.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 17, 2017

You could get in trouble. If you were on private property and the sign was posted reasonably, then taking a photo might be considered trespassing. However, I am not aware of a trespassing law that addresses “no photography” signs and I am not aware of a landmark case on that issue. Additionally, the property-owner may have to show actual harm to bring a case.

Reply by Anonymous

November 8, 2016

I was taking photos of someone dressed up as Captain America at the local US air force base museum where they have all these military planes outside for display. It’s open to the public without an entrance fee and just outside the gate, so anyone can access it, but it’s definitely on the base’s land. A guy told us it was illegal to take photos on federal property; we don’t plan on selling the photos but we were going to post them on our Facebook pages, but now I’m worried about doing so. I think the main problem was I was using off camera flash lighting (also the museum was closing). Should I not post the photos or will I be OK to do so?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

November 15, 2016

Hi, friend of Captain America,

It is not illegal to take photos on federal property (when there is not a security concern). You have a freedom of expression right to take photos on publicly-owned land. Private museums can prevent you from taking commercial photos as a condition of entry, particularly when flash photography may damage the artwork. But you were on public property and your use is not commercial.

You may even be helping the museum with promotion!

Reply by Sean

October 26, 2016

Recently, I was walking my dog in an alleyway and took a couple of quick snapshots of him. Soon after I was confronted by someone asking why I was taking pictures of his dogs and he asked my name. I refused and he said ’ok’ and walked away.

Then three blocks away someone else came up to me screaming “Why were you taking pictures of my dogs?!?” and he pulled out a folding knife and held it out a foot away in a threatening manner. As he held the knife to me he said “I’ll call the cops if I ever see you taking pictures of my dogs again!”

I kind of wish I had been prepared and could have “taken care” of things. Something to think about when you are out in public taking pictures — some people are NUTS.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

November 15, 2016

Hi Sean,

If you were in a public alleyway (i.e., not on private property), you had the right to take photos of what you can see, including dogs. Your right is a “freedom of expression” and dogs do not have privacy rights.

Reply by Anonymous

July 27, 2016

I would like some information regarding photographs taken at an abandoned military base.

As apart of periodic monitoring with my work, we collected groundwater samples from monitoring wells located on an abandoned naval air station, currently owned by the Texas Air National Guard. The location of one of the monitoring wells we were sampling was located next to an old hangar. I walked inside it and took a picture. I was wondering if I could publish the photo I took from inside the abandoned base, inside an abandoned hangar, to a website for the sole purpose of history and education?


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

September 2, 2016

Probably yes.

There are several factors in your favor:

• Since you were there for (presumably approved) work, then you were likely not trespassing.

• The naval air station is probably government-owned (e.g. publicly-owned and not private property).

• The station is abandoned so is not a national security problem.

• Your use of the photo (education) is probably “fair use”.

Reply by Anonymous

July 11, 2016

So I’m going to California on Thursday and I was planning on sightseeing a celebrity’s house. I was just wondering if I’m allowed to take pictures of the house if I’m not on the celebrity’s property? I’m also wondering if I’m allowed to post those online. While I’m still on the subject, am I allowed to take a picture of myself in front of the house if again I’m not on the celebrity’s property? Am I allowed to post that online?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

September 2, 2016

Yes, to all questions.

If you are on public property (e.g. the street), then you can photograph whatever you see from there. And you can post such photos online, including with yourself in front of the house. This is your First Amendment right of free speech (and it’s also why many houses of celebrities have high fences and bushes around them).

Reply by Christy

July 8, 2016


I recently took a picture of my neighbor’s cow. I took the picture from in my car. The cow had not moved in weeks. It was literally rotting away covered in 3 feet of feces. A friend of mine helped circulate the picture on Facebook. The brand inspector and sherrif’s dept were contacted. Within 1/2 hr of the picture being circulated, the neighbors shot the cow, quickly moved it and cleaned up the mess.

I had a deputy tell me later that it was against the law to take a picture of the cow without the owner’s consent. I was trying to bring awareness to help this animal nothing more. I’m pleased the animal is no longer suffering. After speaking to others, I was told I didn’t violate anything.


I live in Montana.

Thanks for listening.


PS I would have contacted the neighbors directly but sadly they are not rational.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

July 9, 2016

Hi Christy,

Cow photography is new one for me!

What the deputy might have been referring to is Montana’s “ag-gag” law, the 1991 “Farm Animal and Research Facility Protection Act”. This is sort of an extension of trespassing, prohibiting people from entering an animal facility without permission in order to damage the enterprise, such as by taking photographs with intent to cause defamation. However, it appears that you were not on your neighbor’s property, so that law would presumably not apply.

Since you were in your car, you were presumably on a public right of way, and you are thus allowed to take photographs (and publish such photographs) as part of your First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Note that I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.

Congratulations on improving the environment through photography.


Reply by Anonymous

February 9, 2016

A movie was being filmed across the street from my house and I started taking photos (outdoor shots). Some were when the cameras were rolling and some were not. A security officer told me that I couldn’t take any photos at anytime. I figured that since I was on my own property, and the filming was not being done on a closed set, I would be okay. They even threatened to take my camera and smash it. A friend said that falls under “public domain”, and I had every right to take photos. What is the ruling on that?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

March 14, 2016

I believe that you are free to photograph what you can see from your house. That would be a First Amendment (Free Speech) right. I believe that a private security person cannot tell you what you can or cannot do on your own property, and they certainly can’t take your camera and smash it.

See photographers’ rights.

Reply by David

October 11, 2015

I work for a company that tells me to take photos of extra works that need to be done in someone’s house by using my own mobile phone.

Should the company get prior permission from the resident of that property first before photos are taken? This concerns me especially if I should ever lose my phone.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 12, 2016

Hi David,

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but my opinion is that the company does not need permission. Presumably the property owner has given permission for the company to be on the property to do some work, so taking photos related to that work for internal use would likely be within the scope of the project.

If you were to lose your phone, it does not appear that the photos would be damaging. You are not photographing people in private situations, and your photos are work-related so there probably is not a liability. I’m concerned that your company is expecting you to use your own phone — they should provide a company-owned camera, so that you do not have the responsibility and stress that you are experiencing.

Reply by Anonymous

September 30, 2015


I was showing a friend a photo of a friend and another person took a photo of me and the photo I was showing, can they do this if I did not give them permission? This also was an invasion of my privacy as I certainly did not want any photos taken of the photo I was showing.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 12, 2016

This might depend on where you were, and why the person took the photo.

If you were in a public place, then permission is not needed for the other person to take a photo of you, and/or what you are holding. Photography is a First Amendment free speech right. If you were in a private place (with a reasonable expectation of privacy) then a local privacy law may help you.

The other person can use the photo for personal use, that is likely fair use. But publishing a photo of a photo, particularly for commercial gain, can be copyright infringement.

If your photo was private or embarrassing, and the other person exposed that, then privacy law may help. Privacy law is local (state law) so that will depend on where you live.

Reply by Anonymous

July 12, 2015

A friend of mine has lost custody of her child but has visitation rights and the father has threatened to take her to court if she takes any pictures of the child while in his house. The house is where visitations are supposed to occur and he refuses to let her in with her phone on her in order to prevent pictures of her and her son together. Is this legal?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 13, 2016

I do not see how this is legal, unless it was a written condition of the custody.

Photography is a form of free speech, protected by the First Amendment — if a person can go somewhere, they can take a photo for private use (unless prohibited as a condition of entry).

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. Consult an attorney with knowledge of the visitation conditions.

Reply by Renee

February 3, 2015

One of my neighbors took a picture of me and my dogs walking in a gated community. I heard later she was trying to bill a case for the community board because my dogs were not on a leash. Can she do that? She is not a board member, she is a neighbor.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

February 6, 2015

Hi Renee,

Yes, she can do that.

Your neighbor is free to photograph you walking your dogs, as you were in public view.

Your neighbor is free to report you to the community board, as anyone can report anyone to anyone. Whether the board wants to address her complaint is up to the board. I would hope they have better things to do.

Personally, as the owner of two chocolate Labs, I love meeting dogs that are being walked in the neighborhood — regardless of their leash status!


Reply by Gidion Phillips

September 3, 2013

My sister owns a beautiful house in Venice, California. People often take photos of the house, but can they legally sell these pictures?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

September 23, 2013

Hi Gidion:

Good question. I don’t know the answer and I need to look into it more. Typically commercial photographers and movie companies get signed property releases before selling such images. But I’s not sure of the legal requirement behind this, other than a right of privacy. If people stand on a public street and take photos of the general exterior of the house then I am not aware of a law that would allow your sister to prevent such photos being sold. One day I will post more at property.


Reply by Dennis Andrews

August 23, 2013

I have a retail store in Arizona. You fail to mention that if a merchant posts a sign that says NO PHOTOS, it means just that. It then becomes illegal and if the person does not comply he/she can then be arrested for trespassing. It seems you are telling people that they can walk into any store and start taking photos. I guarantee you’ll be run out of a lot of them. There are many reasons why merchants post these signs ie security, copyright or just annoyance. Everyone has a camera with them these days and thinks they can just snap a photo of whatever and where ever they want. We have rights too.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

September 23, 2013

Hi Dennis:

Thanks for your valid point. Yes, a merchant has the right to post a NO PHOTOS sign on private property and to enforce trespassing laws.

The first paragraphs of this article refer to this by saying “If a place is open to the public&hellip” and mentioning “trespassing” as a “caveat”.

I have more on this subject at trespassing.



Reply by Rick Turner

July 16, 2013

Thanks for sharing this info. I am an amateur photographer and I was harassed by a security guard outside of a bar on the Las Vegas Strip while I was on a public sidewalk. He insisted I was not permitted to photo the bar he worked at or into it. I identified I was shooting the building and the casino behind it like the 35,000,000 other tourists a year and I said if it was visible from the street it was fair game anyhow. He got other guards to come help him and they blocked my camera and then he called the police on me.

Reply by

March 19, 2013

Can I take pictures of alleys?

Reply by Brandon

December 22, 2012

What about recording Videos same rules apply or is there a different set of rules?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 6, 2013


Hi Brandon,

The same rules apply. I’m not aware of any differentiation in the law based on technology. Copyright law, for example, is explicitly written to cover all types of technology, even ones that have not been invented yet.


Reply by

December 17, 2012

i said no to a company that wanted to take picture of the in side of my home and they did and now the pictures are on their business web page to incress their business

i m concern because can see the lay out of my home and that can be dangerto me and my family

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 6, 2013


Hi Leedan,

That sounds like issues of property rights and privacy. Both are local laws so consult a local lawyer for action. It sounds like you would have a strong case on both fronts.

Often a good cease-and-desist letter can do the trick. The company may remove the pictures to avoid the effort of a potential lawsuit. The letter would also serve as a matter of record if you have to proceed to court.

Reply by Anonymous

November 11, 2012

Can you take pictures of someone speaking at a conference (industry "celebrity") and charge that speaker licensing fees if they want to use it?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

November 15, 2012


Hi Anonymous:

Usually conferences have rules on commercial photography. So the organizer of the conference might send you a cease-and-desist, or sue you for the fees. Apart from that, you’re probably OK asking the person for a fee for that person to use photos you took of them.


I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.

Reply by Jerrypaul

September 25, 2012

okay so we have an old abandoned military base here in town,and my friends and i used to go through the hole in the fence.. haven’t been in awhile.. but i was thinking of doing a shoot there in the future,what’s the rules on that?like who would i contact to get permission or do i just sneak in a get guns in my face when they catch me? :D

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

October 26, 2012


Hi Jerrypaul:

The land belongs to someone, possibly the federal government, or maybe the state government. To do a photo shoot on property owned by others you generally need to get permission from the property owner. So you would have to find out who owns the land and ask them. You may not be successful with a military base. If you choose to go on the property without permission, that may well be trespassing.

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.


Reply by Helen

August 25, 2012

if you have outdoor video for home protection (stalker/nuisance/intimidation) do you need to state that the camera is there?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

September 6, 2012

Hi Helen:

I don’t know, but if this is your home and your property then you can probably do as you wish (unless there’s a local ordinance that says otherwise.)

Reply by Derek Madge

May 27, 2012

Thank you for this guidance in what I presume to be American rights and law. I am in Canada, and while I expect the laws here are similar, I wonder if you know of a source or resource that addresses these issues, specific to Canadian law.

Thank you.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

June 27, 2012

Hi Derek. All the sources I know of are listed here.

Reply by Benzaoui

January 23, 2012

Dear sir madam

I wonder if i can make a copyright or not because i am a book writer.

I look forward to hear from you how to do this many thinks.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

March 8, 2012

Yes. All artwork — including photos and books — get copyright. If you write it, you automatically get copyright.

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