Photographers Have the Right to Shoot People if they are in Public

Photographers are people who take pictures. This can be anyone using a phone to a person using a DSLR camera.

It seems as though college students are people who have the most access to cameras with their phones, yet many seem to hate having their picture taken.

With nearly everyone have a camera available to them, it can create some confusion when it comes to a photographer’s legal rights.

So what can be legally photographed?

Generally, anything out in public can be shot. This means that just about anything open to the public can be photographed. However, there are a few exceptions.

According to Tim Boudreau, a Media Law professor at Central Michigan University states, “People have the right to expect personal space and privacy when necessary”.

This means that a photographer can not come up and harass other people or take your picture as you enter your bank account information into an ATM.



Central Michigan University sophomore, Nicolina Bradley is an Exercise Science major. She shares her opinion on photo laws, and her thoughts on being in public and getting her picture taken.


What Can Be Legally Photographed?


There are a lot of places that a photographer can freely take photographs without permission from anyone. These places include public places such as parks, streets, sidewalks, and beaches. There are always some exceptions to these places because the laws are never absolute.

Photographers are also allowed to legally take pictures of police officers, however if a photographer is interfering with the police officer’s responsibilities, the officer can tell the photographer to leave.

Buildings and houses may also be photographed from the sidewalk or road. If a person is visible from the window of their home, they are also legal to photograph. As always with laws, there are exceptions. Photographers may not use extraordinary means to take the photograph. This means that the photographer may not climb up into a tree to take a photograph of a home, and photographers also may not use a telephoto lens to peak into homes and take a picture.

Below is an info graphic that shows some people that photographers are legally allowed to take pictures of despite some controversy.

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What Can Not be Photographed?


Sensitive buildings could have restrictions on being photographed due to national security concerns. One of these places are military bases. When photographing buildings like government buildings, it is best to check to see if there are any restrictions placed on the buildings.

Private business, and private property are also restricted.  When asked about if the owner has to choose to grant everyone equal access or no access at all to the their property, Boudreau says, “The owner of the private property has a right to deny any person they want from taking pictures”.

This means that if someone wants to take a selfie in a store with their phone, the owner of the store has the right to allow them to take the photo. However, if they do not like someone walking around their store with a DSLR camera, they have the right to deny the photographer from taking pictures.

Photographers also cannot take photos of people who expect privacy. For example, even though a restroom is a public place, a photographer should not take pictures of people using that facility. Another bad place to take a picture is the doctor’s office. Yes it is a public place, and anyone can walk in, but people can expect privacy for whatever reason they are at the doctor’s office.


Ethical Decisions For Photographers


Although photographers can take pictures without their subjects permission in public, there are times where photographers need to have common sense when it comes to ethical decisions.

If someone is out in public, and they have a wardrobe malfunction even though it is legal for a photographer to snap the photo, it is not right for them to do so ethically.

“Depending on what the photo was of it may not be ethical,” Brianna Brugel an employee for CM Life’s Public Relations department explains, “meaning if it was a photo of a girl with her dress blown up or something like that, we could legally publish it, but it is not right of us to do that”.

Of course mistakes happen, and the photographer may snap a photo of something they should not have. It is up to the photographer to not publish the photo, put it on any social media or simply delete the photograph.

Not only do photographers have the responsibility to follow the laws, they also have to make the right decisions ethically.



What’s your opinion?


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