Can you photograph anywhere while traveling? Most people will likely say no, there are limits.
Some will argue this is important for our security, and privacy. However, in my view, restrictions on photography are increasing to ludicrous proportions with global terrorism style paranoia. Just how bad is it getting, and how far should we let it go?
Worldwide restrictions on photography
It’s pretty obvious you shouldn’t stick your tourist camera into a private funeral service, or at an embassy. The latter being true as governments can’t seem to sue Google Maps for that at the moment, but they can give the lowly tourist some jail time.
Let’s be a little more general with this. What countries make travel photography easy or difficult?
Countries that make travel photography easy or hard
Here’s a short summary list starting with the best, ending with the worst restrictions in travel photography that I’ve come across: (notice the trend?)
Iran: Yes, surprise, surprise. Keep in mind I am not talking about journalistic rights, nor news photography here. As a tourist, you will be encouraged to take photographs of everything here.
Cameras can be brought into many mosques, and people will more than offer to help you photograph something. Most liberal place for travel photography I’ve been.
Exceptions: Tehran, the capital can be bothersome, photographing women without permission is not allowed, government buildings (and, I would imagine photographing protests, and “that” embassy) are not encouraged either. But after that, as a tourist / photographer / writer I found Iran to be great.
In Iran, being a photographer labels you as an “artist,” something that’s still highly respected there by the people
Nepal: Taking photographs on the top of the world is one of the better places to do so. No restrictions on photography anywhere, including protests and the odd riot.
Apart from the (U.S.A) American club in Kathmandu which has issues with anyone pointing a camera remotely near them. A great place to annoy them, considering they are located right at the end of a main tourist zone
Pakistan: Take a camera out and be instantly surrounded by people beaming to have their photos taken
India: Plenty of international and domestic camera happy tourists means once again you’ll be ignored with a camera in hand in most places
Spain: Tourist mecca that’s very used to travelers with camera’s pointed everywhere
Germany: Surprisingly free & liberal, photography is still considered an art here
Turkey: Tourism is big here, your camera is no problem
Poland: You’re largely ignored on the streets with a camera, but take it into a ticketed tourist spot and you have to pay extra
Romania: Again, the annoying “extra” fees at tourist attractions. Pay for a ticket, then extra for a camera
Philippines: No problems anywhere. Except that is for the Malls. Special reference goes to SM Mall who threaten to take you away if seen to photograph their mall from their grounds. One is still free to photograph their building from a public road. Though they still like to pretend they are the police, chase after you and claim it’s illegal to take photos of the building. (the company policy states nothing of this kind)
China: Beijing no problem, even the police will pose for you. Outside of Beijing, and the more remote it gets, the police will start to hiss at anyone for stepping out of line. The locals will love you though!
Tibet: Everything is tourist controlled, “travel” photography is encouraged, so long as you don’t flip into video mode an interview a monk. Or soldiers taking them away. Locals have also developed that horrible “1$ for photo” line. Don’t encourage it!
U.K.: Recent laws passed & a confusion in the terrorism act has meant numerous travelers and locals have been arrested for taking photographs of public buildings. Dare you take your camera out on the British high-street without a security detail or the “community” police arriving enforce with 101 questions as to why there’s a camera present in public.
Will the U.S.A. be next? Take your camera to the park as a male and you’ll probably find yourself on the sex offenders list the next day as you try to get out of jail. Yes, the land of paranoia is slowly following the U.K. in restricting photographers for the “safety” of the people.
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Did you notice the trend in photography restrictions?
I knew about the U.K. and wanted to highlight it. But as I pieced the others together I saw the trend.
Developing countries welcome travelers and their cameras with open arms. Then as we enter into more and more developed countries, slowly we have more and more restrictions.
Until eventually, owning a camera becomes a suspicious act.
What’s the future like for travel and photography?
Again, notice the trend. If happy to go on tours, be shuttled around and be told what you can and cannot photograph then you will have no problems.
If you don’t like going on tours and feel that one should be able to photograph freely, there’s trouble ahead.
Am I exaggerating?
I’ve been traveling for over 6 years with camera in hand. 99% of it has been in a systematic overland route using nothing but public transport. This is what I’ve come across. I’ve been watching the photo restriction developments in the U.K. / U.S.A and other countries over the years too.
In particular journalists and photographers over the past 2 years in the U.K. have been putting up a highly public battle to educate the masses about the restrictions being passed into law by the government.
It’s truly on a totalitarian scale to see them being brushed aside and ignored.
In this era of attention spans up to 140 characters, and shock video, such causes are failing.
The courts are on the photographers side, but who cares?
Even the European courts have said the U.K. law was unjust.
“Is there a way to stop this from happening?”
The new government in the U.K. changed at least one law. But as the website photographer not a terrorist points out. There are still many more laws being used to stifle the freedom to photograph.
Argument for more photography restrictions
Security and anti-terrorism are the two top reasons governments are increasing restrictions on photography today. A shame it’s got nothing to do with the ethics of what you can and can’t photograph when traveling (please do read this article).
People have rights not to have their photograph taken, and I agree with this 100%, within context. Public places being one place you should be able to photograph freely, without focusing on one person with intent to sell or market said image. At least, not without their written permission.
In today’s world, this stipulation may also stifle us and restrict us, but what choice do we have to protect our personal space?
The future of travel photography restrictions
I, for one, don’t like where this is heading. I believe, unless there is a monumental change, most countries will follow the U.K. & U.S.A. approach to public / travel photography. Including many of the countries on the above list.
Today it seems:
“The art of photography is becoming a crime of suspicion.”
When governments and private firms look to control, the first thing they don’t want is you watching them.
How are the photography laws in your country?
Have you had any problems photographing while traveling?
This is an additional editorial featuring travel related articles, view points, conversational topics and helpful resources based on experiences I’ve learned from my around the world journey
**edit – added an omitted line break to separate U.S.A from best to worst list. List ends with U.K.