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Occasionally I see references to laws (in multiple countries) where you need a "professional photographers license" or something similar to be allowed to use a tripod in public places.

I am new to photography and would like to know are there any laws I should be aware of when running taking pictures of everything?

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3 Answers 3

You'll find that laws do exist restricting photography but they are more around common sense scenarios.

For example, setting up a tripod in public is alright. Setting up a tripod in public in a way that inconveniences or blocks others counts as a public obstructions, for which there are laws. That's common sense.

Similarly, you are good to take photos in public, or people and in most areas. What isn't alright is taking a photo of people where they would expect a reasonable amount of privacy or that you aren't being a nuisance (think toilets, into their homes from the outside, someone in an accident). Although it's perfectly legal to take photos of anyone, they may ask you to stop and you should comply. That's also common sense.

Sometimes, a council or authority may restrict photography in certain areas. For example, look at this page on the Sydney Harbor Foreshore Authority website. There may be other areas that restrict photography but usually this will be signposted clearly so that you know not to take photos or pay up for a license.

Then there are what you could call 'sensitive areas' - don't go into military bases or government buildings and start taking photos. Train stations are also theoretically off limits but depending on the attendants at the station and how lax they are, your mileage may vary.

If you are new to photography and unsure of what you can take, it's best to start off with the most popular spots in your locality or city. Basically, the most touristy area of all where it would not be unusual to be seen with a camera.

You can then work your way towards areas that interest you more.

When in doubt, if you are unsure whether or not photography is allowed in an area, feel free to ask. Ask any authoritative person or any police officer and they can tell you.

The tl;dr of it is "That guy, don't be that guy."

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Summary: The short answer is that a photographer seems to have very wide rights in Australia - more so than in many other countries.
When in a public place you can take photos of people also in public, and of people who you can see from the public place, with some limitations re looking into buildings etc. There are some limitations on photos of armed forces property - which are probably of no great surprise. When on private property you may take photos but must stop doing so if requested to do so by the owner or their agent. Photos that you have taken up to that point may be retained and used.

You are not restricted when in public from taking photos of children or 'famous' people and they may block your line of vision but may not actively interfere with you - not legally anyway :-).

There is an very large amount or relevant information in the following references. All the Australian ones are included due to high relevance. Non Australian are of varying direct relevance to Australia but informative and probably interesting.


Australian. Excellent. Briefish.
The white hat guide to taking photos in Australia


Australian. Excellent.
One of the few pages which leans more to the subjects point of view rather than the photographers. The answers are the same but you are looking into the lens .
NSW photo rights and legal issues


Another: Australian Privacy Foundation


Australia, NSW: Here is a highly relevant an interesting Australia-specific discussion, written by an Australian solicitor and photographer. At a quick skim through it looks utterly superb, addressing all the usual questions about location, subject material, private & public property and more. Updated within last year or less.
NSW Photo Rights - Australian Street Photography Legal Issues

A few of his key comments

  • In Australia the taking and publication of a person's photograph, without their consent or knowledge but within the limitations outlined below, is not an invasion of privacy, nor is it in contravention of case or statute law.

    Privacy advocates may disapprove, but in this country people-photography has always been, and for the moment remains, a perfectly legal thing to do.

and

  • In Australia most forms of "unauthorised" photography have in fact been authorised since the 1937 High Court decision in Victoria Park Racing v. Taylor (1937) 58 CLR 479 (at p.496). This was reaffirmed recently in ABC v Lenah (2001) HCA 63, where the Court ruled that despite the passage of decades since Victoria Park, any concept of a Tort of invasion of privacy still does not exist in Australia.

    As Justice Dowd put it with ruthless clarity in R v Sotheren (2001) NSWSC 204:
    A person, in our society, does not have a right not to be photographed.

His introduction:

  • The following by is an analysis of legal issues which apply to street photography in NSW Australia.

    Created in response to objections to my Sydney Unposed project, it is written from a photographer's perspective, with a focus on what rights shooters have (and don't have) when it comes to candid photographs of people. Please note: it is not an encyclopaedia on every possible aspect of photographic law, so it does not attempt to address issues like anti-terrorist legislation, council photography permits or National Park commercial photo restrictions. Instead the sole purpose of the following is to discuss legal issues which apply to people photography only.

    In case you are wondering, I am a photographer and qualified solicitor (UNSW 1991) who worked for a short while at a large Sydney law firm, before leaving the profession in 1992 to find a more honest way to make a living. So the following is based on an (ex) practitioner's understanding of Intellectual Property and Privacy Law, and not just the usual Internet Hearsay. =)


Australia - excellent. 2007.
The following site is a little scrambled with some material appearing in different forms on differnet pages (eg 1 & 3) are versions of the front page etc.
But it seems to have much to say on many issues.
Not all pages have content - the links below are to pages that did have material. There are probably others.
Even just reading the subjects will give food for thought.
Agh!!! - now I see there is an index in the left margin that largely makes the following redundant. Not wholly so as some pages are not referenced from all others.

Unauthorised photos - This page considers Australian debate about unauthorised making and publishing of photographs

Page 1 - http://www.caslon.com.au/photonote1.htm
...and similar http://www.caslon.com.au/photonote3.htm
Anxieties and issues - http://www.caslon.com.au/photonote2.htm Index page - http://www.caslon.com.au/photonote4.htm
Paparazzi - http://www.caslon.com.au/photonote8.htm
Venues - http://www.caslon.com.au/photonote9.htm
Defence - http://www.caslon.com.au/photonote10.htm
Justice - http://www.caslon.com.au/photonote11.htm
Skies (from above) - http://www.caslon.com.au/photonote12.htm
Streets - http://www.caslon.com.au/photonote13.htm
Incidents - http://www.caslon.com.au/photonote14.htm
Your image - http://www.caslon.com.au/photonote16.htm


Australia Consent for photography not required - much as elsewhere.


Photography rights in Australia and other countries.

Links to NZ - unlawful photography in public places


** Other: **

Related - not actually photo taking: In Singapore I was asked to take a tripod off a DSLR that I was carrying as I boarded a train. At the time there were few people around (unusual in Singapore :-))and the tripod would not have caused inconvenience to others but I can see that in busy periods it would be a less user friendly piece of baggage and I appreciate that rules need to be simple to follow.

Non Australian but good. Photography and the law - know your rights

Book. Amazon. $21.47 Legal Handbook for photographers

Andrew Kantor comments with links

Reporters committee for freedom of the press - Photographers guide to privacy or PDF

2006 - USA - Photographers rights

USA - video may be useful - did not view

USA - Flickr - Photography is legal

US discussion - useful

Lisa Law Photography Australia - what happens when you use a search engine :-)

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Epic read, thank you very much :-) –  Nippysaurus Jul 16 '12 at 12:42
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Note however that there are moves, at last, to create a statutory right of action for redress in cases of the most serious and intrusive breaches of privacy, where there is no public interest in that intrusion.

Courts themselves have also intimated, including in Lenah Games Meats, above, that they could independently invent a form of 'common law' legal remedy for this sort of abuse even if Parliament does not; this has already happened in New Zealand, in 2012.

Much photography would still fall outside of this, since it would only cover extreme intrusiveness.

But rather than gleefully taking advantage of the lingering vulnerability of the subjects, who at present have few rights but increasing annoyance or even fear (depending on their personal circumstances), Aussie photographers might be better advised to develop a 'world's best practice' code of responsible conduct, one which voluntarily recognises and respects the subject's wishes and expectations, even if successful legal action at present is less likely.

This restraint may avoid the sort of subjects' backlash which could result in calls for new laws to block abusive photographic practices.

Cheers, David

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