The photographer’s right to shoot anything appearing in a public place is guaranteed by practically every state in the union.  Also, it is reinforced by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. The constitution does not state that if you have a press card, you can go anywhere and shoot anything. The key is understanding the difference between a public or private person or space.

In general, a press photographer may legally photograph any person, scene, or occurrence that may be observed from a public place. No statute exists to prevent the photographer from taking his or her camera into places of public amusement, cafes, museums, or other public arenas. However, the management of these places can create rules which limit the photographer based on the invasion of privacy. So always obtain permission before taking any photographs inside any place or you could end up in trouble or even be arrested.


You may photograph any public building, but a private building such as a bank, famous hotel or sporting arena may cause difficulties. You could be sued or run into other ethical difficulties if you fail to obtain consent for such pictures.

Although the government prohibits photographing money and securities to prevent photographers from passing off the securities as real, it is perfectly legal to photograph the passing off of securities and monies from hand to hand or on a table.

Public person

In 1962, a federal court held that a public man cannot claim the right of privacy. Thus, any person running for public office, or who holds public office or who is a statesman, artist, or author, cannot claim the right of privacy.

Selling photographs to a publication

Whether copyrighted or not, the press photographer, photojournalist, and especially the freelancer must exercise caution in selling photographs to a publication. Some magazines and newspapers like to purchase complete ownership and rights to a picture, including the right to sell it later and to syndicate it to other publications. When and if you are selling all rights of an image, be sure to have a contract and price your work accordingly.

Always read the fine print of any letter of intent you receive or any contract you consider. Make sure that your rights in the photograph are not violated. The best procedure for selling a photograph is to contract its one time use for a specific project or for all use for a limited period of time. No matter what use is sold, make sure you understand it fully and get it in writing.

Other Considerations

The photographer falls into the legal classification of artist. This plays a part in considerations for using the US Postal system. The mail system excludes photographs that can be described as obscene, lewd, or lascivious. They must not attempt to deprave or corrupt the young, ignorant, or those lacking in control of sexual impulses. You may send any photographs through the mail that pass this test. Use your common sense and personal judgment in such matters.