It’s fair to say that the majority of the time taking photos you aren’t going to have any problems. As long as you are mindful of who or what you are photographing, and are courteous and careful you will have no problems. But at some point in your photography journey, you might find that you do get into trouble. The good news is that in the majority of cases it won’t be more than a telling off, but sometimes things can escalate. The best plan is to avoid this situation in the first place, so here are eight situations that could get you in trouble when photographing.
1 – Photographing in museums or galleries
It can be frustrating because museums and galleries are often great places to photograph. However, almost every museum and gallery will have their own rules and regulations about photography. Those rules will usually be signposted at the entrance and throughout the venue, and some may also have information on their website regarding the photography restrictions. The easiest way to know for sure is simply to ask when you’re inside.
Some places may allow photography without a flash but most will not allow a tripod. The best way to avoid trouble is to adhere to the rules. But if you genuinely make a mistake and are confronted by a member of the staff, keep calm, simply apologize, put the camera away, and do not take any more photos. Do not lose your temper as all that will achieve is you being asked to leave.
2 – Photographing in religious places of worship
There are no hard and fast rules here, and from my experiences, every single place of worship has its own rules. The key is to check before taking any photos and under no circumstances break those rules, because in some countries that can get you in very deep water. Keep in mind the traditions and customs of the country and have respect for the place of worship and the people in it. You will likely find that most places of worship will not allow photography during a service or prayer times and most people won’t want their photo taken when praying. Always ask first and respect their wishes.
If you are in the venue when a service is happening and have been allowed to take photos, stay out of the way and keep quiet. You will generally find that most of the main places of worship which also tend to be tourist spots will allow photography during certain hours. So there’s no need to get yourself in trouble trying to sneak photos when you are not supposed to.
3 – Photographing military or official buildings and people
While in most cases a sincere apology and slap on the wrist will get you out of trouble, photographing military or official buildings can have severe implications. In some countries, you may be accused of being a spy and face a prison sentence. So if you are in any doubt, do not take the risk.
There are of course certain places that you will be allowed to photograph as these tend to be tourist locations (i.e. the White House, Houses of Parliament in London, etc.), but you should avoid military installations and buildings altogether. If you are worried about whether you will be allowed to take photos of a specific place, do your research prior and be absolutely sure that you are allowed to before you shoot.
This also extends to military or official personnel such as policemen. You should always ask if it’s okay, and if denied, respect their wishes. Taking photographs of policemen without permission in this era can get you in trouble. Again, in some parts of the world and certain places, taking photos of the military or guards is absolutely fine as they are part of the tourist attraction but research is the key.
4 – Photographing children without permission from parents
Let’s be honest, most people would be protective of their kids and mindful of by whom and why their photo was being taken. While photographing children can produce wonderful candid photos and should be a must when the opportunity arises, you should never do so without permission from their parents.
In the majority of cases, parents will be flattered you want to take their children’s photos and you will have no problem whatsoever. Offering to email a copy of the photo to their parents is also a nice gesture, and can also ensure they are less suspicious and more accommodating.
But as always you should respect the parents’ wishes if denied, and never try to sneak a photo, as people are likely to be more apprehensive.
5 – Sneaking a photo of performers or models without paying
I have lost count of the number of times that I’ve seen a confrontation between performers and people photographing them simply because the photographer didn’t pay a $1 for the photo as requested. You have to remember that for the performers, this is their profession and is how they make their money. It is the same as simply walking off with a souvenir without paying.
In some places, performers or locals will put a sign up indicating a cost for the photo. If there isn’t one it’s a good idea to ask if you can take their photo. If they do ask for money, negotiate the fee before you take the photo. Whether you decide to pay for a photo or not is up to you. I personally have no problem with it and often find that paying a few dollars for a photo in return for a patient and accommodating model is worth it.
The other advantage of paying for a photo is that you can often also negotiate that they will sign a model release form which means your photos can be sold for commercial purposes. But the important thing is not to try and sneak around taking a photo and then not paying, as that can lead to a confrontation with the model.
6 – Selling images without model releases
Every country has its own rules about model release laws. In most countries, the law is that you can’t sell an image for commercial purposes without a model release form. Commercial purpose means that the image may be used for anything that is selling a product or service that isn’t related to the photo. For example, if you took a portrait of someone, that photo could not then be used (without a proper release) in an advertising campaign for face cream, a car, or a soft drink, but could be used for a travel company showing a destination.
However, any image can be sold for editorial usage without a model release. So in the example above, the image could be used in an article in a newspaper, magazine, or in a guide book.
One of the advantages of selling images through a stock agency is that they will manage all of these elements for you so you won’t have to worry about it. But if you are going to sell your images yourself, be clear about the rules and regulations. Without a model release, the wrong usage could possibly mean legal action against you.
7 – Using a tripod inside or on private property
Tripods seem to have a habit of drawing attention. Take a handheld photograph in the street and no one looks at you twice. Put a tripod up and people are suddenly intrigued about what you are doing. What this also means is that tripods are also usually banned from what is considered private property. Most of the time a venue will have details of tripod usage posted at the entrance or on their website, so research your location prior to going.
Where this gets a bit trickier is when you are outdoors. For example, you could be standing just outside the venue and you may still be on private property. However, take a few steps back to the pavement and you are on public property where you are okay to take photos from there. The only way to know for sure is to research the location. The majority of the time if you are confronted by a security guard you can simply ask them what the rules are and where you can take photos from. Like most situations, keeping calm is key and, as always, obey the rules.
8 – Copyright infringement
There are so many mine fields to avoid when selling photos and I advise you to be sure of the rules and regulations before you sell your photos. Another area to be aware of is copyright infringement. This might seem straightforward, but with all of the different brands and logos around us every day it is easy to miss something.
Similar to a model release, any logo, photography, or work of art is subject to a copyright and as such, cannot be sold for commercial purposes. You can either frame your photograph to ensure logos etc are not visible or if that isn’t possible, remove them in post-production.
Most photographers will never have any major issues and as long as you use common sense and obey the regulations and laws you won’t either. If you’re ever in a situation where you are confronted, the best thing to do is keep calm, apologize and try to avoid the situation escalating further. Following the tips above should help you avoid the majority of situations where you could get into trouble.
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