Photography Etiquette – You Can’t Take Photos Here

My husband and I (who jointly own and run Rebel Youth Photography) have vastly different ideas about where you can and/or should take photos. He’s a law abiding Eagle Scout, while I’m a rebellious artist. I have no problem ignoring “No Trespassing” signs, putting myself in dangerous situations and risking getting arrested to get the perfect shot. My rebellious attitude gives my husband heart palpitations.

Just for fun, here’s a list of the places I probably shouldn’t have taken photos:

Crack Houses – I was searching for a subject for my documentary photography final in college. I wanted to take photos of the underbelly of society, so I went to the worst neighborhood I could find. I took a guy along with me for protection. My strategy was to park in the middle of the street, leave the car running, hop out, grab the shot and quickly get back in and drive away. While I was implementing my plan, a cop drove up and started questioning me. He asked me what I was doing and looked at me with confusion when I told him I was creating art. Finally, after shrugging his shoulders, he told me that I shouldn’t be in that neighborhood and suggested that I leave. (Where was the brave fellow who was supposed to be protecting me? Cowering in the floor of my car!) I can’t show you the amazing photo I took that day of a lonely chair in front of a falling down crack house because shortly after that my hard drive bit the dirt. Instead, I will show you a photo of the subject I settled on for my college final. Strip clubs!


Strip Clubs – I had a roommate that was a stripper. I asked her if she would take me to the club where she worked and introduce me to the manager. Then I asked the manager if I could do my college final at the club. He told me that it was fine with him as long as I obeyed some simple rules. I had to get permission from each and every girl before I took her photo, and I wasn’t allowed to take photos “on the floor.” Fair enough. I already knew some of the girls through my roommate and they were eager for me to take pictures of them. They introduced me to the other girls and told them how awesome I was. Most of them agreed. I found that the daytime girls were much more agreeable to me taking photos of them than the night time ones, so I mostly went there during the day. The girl in the photo above was named Gidget. She was on methadone and would fall asleep in random places. I’m including this in my list because WHAT WAS I THINKING?!?!?!?!? I would never consider doing something like this now. Don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing experience. But it was just 2 blocks away from the crack house that I was asked to leave just one week earlier.

Abandoned Houses/Buildings – Now-a-days it’s called Urban Exploration. Back then, it was just trespassing. I climbed through a window of a broken down house and got some great photos (and poison ivy) before the police showed up and gave me a ticket for trespassing. I also broke into an abandoned religious compound where I tripped an alarm. I high-tailed it out of there before the police showed up. If the police showed up. It was kind of out in the middle of nowhere. Then I found an empty old mansion in a neighborhood near where I lived. I scouted it out for a few days, determined there was no one living there or working on it, and broke in to take photos. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life. These are just a few of the places I’ve broken into.

Broken down house



Abandoned religious compound


Empty old mansion


Church – I went to many, many churches during my time in Europe. Most of them were totally fine with me taking photos. But one of them had a sign asking that no photos be taken inside the main church. It was just too beautiful and I couldn’t help myself. And then I was asked to leave. I did, after I got a few more pictures.


Railways and Metros – It’s not really against any law to take photos in a public transit station, but after 9/11 people were a little jumpy. I was modeling for a friend of mine and we had a great idea to go to the nearby metro station. It was 2002 and terrorism was fresh in everyone’s mind. I can’t show you any images of it, though, because we were asked to leave before we took one single photo. I also shot a model on a live railway line. We weren’t asked to leave, but I now realize what a stupid idea that was. Thankfully, no one died and we got some great shots. While I was in France, I loved taking photos of the people on the metro. I was not deterred by the old homeless lady that attacked me and tried to take my camera after telling me repeatedly not to take her photo. My excuse was that I don’t speak French, but really, how could I not have known what she was saying? When a smelly homeless lady goes from singing sweetly to shouting and pointing at you, it’s pretty easy to guess what’s on her mind. (The photo below isn’t of the woman who attacked me, but it is one of the photos I took of people on the metro in France.)

DSC05319 track splits bw



Tourist Attractions – I went to the Biltmore in Asheville, NC with my family. It is clearly posted that you are not allowed to take photos inside the house, but that never stopped me before. There are “guards” posted everywhere watching to make sure people aren’t breaking the rules. So I held my camera at my waist and snapped photos where the watchful eyes couldn’t see. (None of the photos turned out very well because it was too dark.)

Now, I’m not condoning my previous behavior. I’m simply making a list of places where you may be asked to leave or not take photos. It is up to every individual to make the decision whether or not to accept the consequences of breaking the rules. And, most importantly, it is very important to know your rights. For instance, have you ever been asked to delete a photo from your camera or hand over your SD card? If you have, you should know that it is against the law for anyone, even a police officer, to make you do that. They must have a warrant even to look at the images on your camera.

Here are a couple links that are very educational.

USAToday – New digital camera? Know how, where you can use it.

ACLU – Know Your Rights: Photographers

Have you gotten hassled or ticketed for taking photos somewhere? Tell me your story!


3 thoughts on “Photography Etiquette – You Can’t Take Photos Here

  1. Strip clubs, great subject! I went to visit New York with a friend and wrote a travel article for a Norwegian magazine. I brought my friend to all these strip clubs where we interviewed strippers – definitely not the typical travel report that you’ll find in Norwegian magazines!


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