Travel Notices

Photographers’ rights and responsibilities: What to remember before snapping that picture

Some of my fondest memories are of my trips around the world. I love to take myself back to the sights, sounds, and smells of each place I’ve traveled by flipping through my photo albums.

So when I’m on the go, my camera is never far from my hands. That’s why Chris Elliott’s recent article in Frommer’s caught my eye: “Travel Photography: Don’t Shoot? But It’s a Public Space.”

Chris discusses the rights of travelers turned photojournalists, and the truth about where we are and aren’t allowed to shoot photos and video.

In all of the years that I’ve been traveling, I’ve never been asked to put down my camera. But Chris makes a good point that anyone heading off for a trip should remember: It’s important to be respectful if asked not to take photos, especially if you’re asked by a police officer, security guard, or other employee of a tourist site.

While you might technically have the right to fill your memory card with photos of a given place, is it worth the battle and the risk of ruining your trip? See Chris’ advice for travelers, and then read the simple rules I follow when I get the itch to be a shutterbug. I think they’ve kept me out of trouble all these years.

  1. Don’t be flashy. At some historic sites, using a flash is not permitted because it can damage delicate art. And at sites of religious significance, where people might be praying or otherwise quietly reflecting, constant camera flashes are also just annoying and distracting. Look for posted signs about rules surrounding photography and video before you point and shoot.
  2. Ask nicely. When photographing people in other countries, always ask first unless you are taking photos from a distance. Sometimes people will offer to pose for you, but then don’t be surprised if an extended hand is waiting for a tip!
  3. Consider your surroundings. Some public spaces, especially in countries that aren’t democracies, might be off limits. In such places, I ask my guide or I approach a police officer to ask if I can take a photo. If don’t see anyone to ask, I generally take the picture if it is really worthwhile.
Have you ever run into trouble when you were documenting a vacation? Do you think you were in the right or in the wrong?


  1. Interesting, I was just reading up on this very thing last night in preparation for our next trip.

    I made sure to ask people when we were in China if I could take their photo. Well, I made eye contact, pointed to the camera and then to them. Almost every time, they smiled and nodded. With the exception of most of the uniformed guards. It was a mix of slight head shaking or a hand held up in front of him indicating to stop that idea. Although, I did get a couple of them to stand at crisp attention for the shot.

    Regardless of the reason for someone not wanting their picture taken, you have to respect their customs, wishes, etc. Besides, I take enough shots that I don’t miss the ones that I “couldn’t” get.

  2. Anonymous

    I was in Bucharest, Romania snapping photos of the many beautiful buildings. I was standing on a sidewalk focusing my camera on a building that I thought was a military museum when a man in a uniform with a gun came running out of the building yelling, “No photo!”. Apparently it was an active military headquarters. Who knew?!


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