Is Photographing In Public A Crime?

There appears to be a growing assumption here by some members of the public that people making photographs or shooting video footage anywhere in public are somehow automatically committing a crime by doing so. Simply, no such crime is being committed. So please, vigilantes, cease your harassment of photographers and moviemakers. 

I was harangued by a vigilante after making this snapshot to show a friend the Sydney Monorail that was about to be decommissioned and demolished.

For Photographers

The Arts Law Centre of Australia has published a downloadable PDF document outlining the many and various aspects of photographing in public on the street aka “street photography” at its Street photographer’s rights web page.

It may be a good idea to print out all thirteen pages of the Street Photographer’s Rights document to hand over to anyone harassing you, or perhaps make some relevant extracts from it and carry those about with you.

The laws in other nations are linked to in the Taking photographs is not a crime Facebook Page at their Useful links on photographers rights postApologies if you do not have a Facebook account and if Facebook requires you to have one to access the relevant page.

Some Situations

Here are some surprisingly common harassment situations and demands by local vigilantes, based on actual real events:

  • You are photographing street scenes. Are you required to ask every individual in the vicinity for written permission? 
  • No.
  • You are photographing suburban landscapes. Are you required to obtain written permission from every homeowner? 
  • No.
  • You are making cityscape photographs. Are you required to obtain written permission from every company in every office building within view? 
  • No.
  • A vigilante demands to see your ID so that you can be reported to the police. Are you required to hand it over?
  • No.
  • You are carrying a camera while walking along suburban pavements. A car begins prowling alongside you for quite some time. Are you required to leave?
  • No.
  • You are in a public park whilst holding a camera. A vigilante approaches and starts making threats. Are you required to exit the park?
  • No.

Postscript:

I bumped into an architectural photographer the other day and asked him if he has experienced similar problems. “All the time,” he replied. “ALL the time.”

On the assumption that official-looking accreditation documents worn visibly around the neck may allay some vigilantes, I am now ordering a Think Tank Photo Credential Holder Tall V2.0 and Think Tank Photo Credential Holder Short V2.0 from B&H Photo Video. It appears that neither item is available in local retailers and are not imported into Australia.

I plan on carrying A5 printouts of the Arts Law Centre of Australia document in the tall credentials holder and the short credential holder will do for daily photographic walkabouts in areas where I have not been harassed so far.

I will dummy up some official-looking documents to go in them along with business cards and other paraphernalia.

Image Credits:

The header image for this page and the linked Articles & News item is a snapshot I made with my Fujifilm Finepix X100 several years ago on Sydney’s Pyrmont Bridge. I wanted to show an online friend the Sydney Monorail that was scheduled for decommissioning and demolition soon thereafter.

After I made the exposure, a man rushed out of the kiosk on the right and harangued me for quite some time while I was on the bridge. He repeatedly demanded that I obtain written permission from every person in the vicinity before he would permit me to make a photograph.

Reasoning and citing the letter of the law failed to make an impression and he became increasingly agitated, threatening violence and confiscation of my camera. I had no choice but to walk away, having already made the one rough, quirky snapshot of the scene that I needed.