Photoshoots are becoming more popular and they are often a fun thing to do to add beauty and personality to Instagram accounts and VSCO feeds. Taking photos on the street can capture everyday moments—as well as everyday people. When it comes to street photography, you need to know what’s legal, and what isn’t.

Street photography is legal and does not require the consent of those being photographed as long as it’s done in public places and the photographed person doesn’t object to you taking their photo. If you are capturing a sensitive or private moment, taking a photo at that time may not be appropriate.

Circumstances may vary, but some guidelines and laws can be followed to ensure that your street photography is legal. Laws may also vary from state to state regarding privacy and protection. It’s a good idea to err on the side of caution when taking public photos, but it’s usually legal to do so.

Public Places

Typically, public places are legally safe for street photography, and you can take a picture of anything that is in plain view. This includes photos of people you do not know who are going about their day-to-day life. Many street photographers are trying to capture everyday moments in order to turn them into art. Like any art, it is a form of expression and creativity. However, photographers should be careful to follow the privacy laws in the area where they live.

Under the fourth amendment, people are guaranteed the expectation of privacy in certain settings, including their homes, but there is no expectation of privacy in a public area. One simple way to do a test of privacy is to check the following points:

1. An individual has exhibited an actual expectation of privacy.

2. Society recognizes the expectation of privacy as reasonable.

Society recognizes that it is unreasonable to expect privacy when in a public setting. This includes those in public during newscasting, recordings of public events, and yes, street photography. Public places also include federal buildings, parks, and anything that you can see from a public space.

Private Homes and Businesses

Maybe you want to do some street photography in a neighborhood or near businesses. Many people also want to take photos within businesses and stores. While these may be great places for street photography, it is always illegal to take photos of private homes and businesses without consent.

Asking the owner of the property if you can take photographs on their property is a simple way to ensure you are in the clear and are not crossing any legal boundaries.

Being Courteous

Have you ever been in a public place and felt like someone was taking a photo of you? Maybe you felt a bit creepy or a bit weird, or maybe you thought it was a little bit funny.

Or maybe you have also been on the opposite end, taking a photo in a crowd at a soccer game, only to zoom in later and find a person who was starring directly at the lens, watching you take a photo.

It is important to consider how you would feel if you were being photographed without consent. Many times, if you are taking photos in a public area and there is a person in it, odds are they aren’t even aware you are taking the photo. But if they are, be sure to be sensitive to the moment and be willing to delete the photo if they approach you and ask you to.

As mentioned previously, it is not illegal to take a photo of someone when they are in a public place, but it is important to remember to be courteous and sensitive to those around you.

Avoid making people feel exposed or humiliated during private moments they may be having. If someone is suspicious of you taking photos of any children, you may want to seek permission for the photo.

Frequently Asked Questions

Many beginning street photographers have questions when it comes to consent. Here are just a few of some frequently asked questions and some answers and suggestions that may help:

  1. Do I need a model release form when shooting people on the streets?

No, you do not need a model release form when someone is in public. If the photo is used for ANY commercial purposes, however, a model release form is required from each person in the photograph, clearly explaining the use of the photograph and terms and conditions.

2. What do I do if I feel awkward taking pictures of people on the streets?

First, understand that it is totally normal to feel this way! One of the best tips—keep shooting and keep practicing! As you continue to shoot street photography, your confidence will grow and you will become more confident in your ability to capture life on the streets. Remember, you are capturing events of daily life, so take it as it comes.

3. Is it legal to take photos of children in public areas?

It is legal to take photos of children in public areas, but one should be aware of suspicious parents or guardians and avoid using the photos for advertisements or commercial use. Although seeking permission to take a photo of a child may take away from the “candid” feel, it might be a good idea to make sure that the adult is comfortable with their child’s photo being taken.

4. What makes a memorable street photograph?

A street photograph is often more memorable when it shows something extraordinary from an ordinary photo. Whether this is an object, concept, or idea, it opens the eyes and minds of people to notice things they did not notice before. One rule of thumb for your photography is if you can spend at least 2 minutes looking at the photo and noticing new things, it is most likely memorable!

If you have further questions as to what the privacy laws are in your area, seek answers from your local law enforcement or attorney’s office. Whether you are an experienced street photographer or just starting off, you’ll want to be sure that you are respecting those who make your artform possible.

Volker Rastel

About the author: Hey, I'm Volker from pictrabox! An enthusiastic photographer, traveller and blogger. I would like to support you to take, edit and manage unique photos. I also report about my travels and the most unique places in the world.

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