If I am out in a public place, is it legal for me to take pictures of other people?

  • What am I allowed to do with these photos?
  • Can I post them online or print them out?
  • Are there different rules for different types of locations?
  • If I need permission, can I ask after I take their photo so I don't mess-up the shot?

2 Answers 2


This is a legal question and the best answer is to consult with a lawyer. Even in the US, there is the potential that some states laws are slight variants of each other.

The most known source of information on this is Bert P. Krages II who is an attorney and published a pamphlet about the photographers rights which you can obtain here and print yourself.

The gist is that with very few exceptions such as military installations you can photography anyone and anything you see in public where people have no expectations of privacy. Images taken this way belong to you.

What you can do with these photos is quite restricted because the image in the photo belongs to someone else. Because of this you cannot use such images for most commercial purposes, including licensing such images, selling prints of it or making advertisement from them. You can use these images for editorial use. See the above link for what constitutes editorial use.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That pamphlet is very helpful. One more thing, he doesn't actually state what these images can be used for. Can they be posted online on personal sites or printed and hung up in your house (i.e. non-commercial applications?) \$\endgroup\$
    – Xeoncross
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 16:53
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ IANAL but printed and hung up in your house, yes, unless perhaps your house is also used as a public gallery. A personal site will depend on what your site is about and if and how it is monetized. You certainly cannot offer prints from your personal site and probably not even have it ad-supported. You also really need a lawyer to determine if posting those images would be in violation of the terms of service your hosting provider or if you use a community gallery such as Flikr and Picasa. Some are very strict and will delete your images if they think you do not have all the rights to them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 17:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am a web developer so it would be my own blog/gallery with no ads or commercial aspects what-so-ever. I just want to freely share photos I take. \$\endgroup\$
    – Xeoncross
    Commented Aug 17, 2012 at 19:15

You certainly can take those photos. It is your legal right. If they are out in public, there is no assumption of privacy.

However, you are limited in what you can do with those photos. You can not publish or sell them without a signed model release.

Be careful. Some people go ballistic if you photograph them. Be careful.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Can you provided some references for those limitations? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 22:41
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not a legal expert, but I would guess by the success of the paparazzi industry that model releases are not required for public pictures. \$\endgroup\$
    – tenmiles
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 0:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ The legal requirements probably depend on how you publish the photos. Paparazzi publish well-known people as news. Publishing a private person holding a camera in a photography product catalog might well see a lawsuit (even if without statutory merit) if the person can be recognized. \$\endgroup\$
    – Skaperen
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 1:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ What about a private person on the street published in a art exhibition, not a product catalog? What if they're caught doing something embarrassing? What if they gave verbal permission? What if they're doing something heroic? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 12:06
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ This answer is not correct. It's not as simple as "you can not publish or sell them wihtout a signed model release". There are plenty of uses for which a release is not needed, with editorial and artistic usage being the two most common. \$\endgroup\$
    – ahockley
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 15:46

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