Public, Private, or “Not-Sure” Property and Photography

Jul 28, 2015

Topic: Locations, Business
Time Investment: 5 Minutes
Suggested Product: Property Use Agreement


You usually shoot all your sessions in your studio and always use your standard contract without issue. You recently received a request for an engagement photo shoot somewhere else, maybe at a fire station where the groom works or the stadium of the couple’s favorite team, and now you have a bunch of questions swirling in your head.

  • Can you shoot there?
  • What, if any, permission do you need and from who?
  • What special rules will you need to follow while shooting in the special location? What changes to your contract need to be done, if any?
  • Where do you start?

Let’s start with a brief refresher on public property versus private property and the general rules about shooting in each type of location.


What is “Public Property”?

“Public property” is generally an area that is open to the public and does not charge a fee to enter. Some basic examples of a public location include:

  • Public streets
  • Public parks
  • Public beaches


In public locations, generally you can take photographs of anything without permission. There are some instances where this is not the case for national defense purposes. There may also be some public locations with restrictions on how and when you can take photographs for public safety purposes. For example, you can’t set up a camera in the middle of a busy street and hang out for an hour taking pictures.


What is “Private Property”?

“Private property” is generally an area that is not held open to the public to enter freely. Some basic examples of a private location include:

  • Your home
  • A hotel room
  • A hospital room


These are areas where you would naturally expect a level of privacy. Here you will, at minimum, need permission from the owner of the property before taking photographs.

Now you are probably thinking, what about a fire station, or a sports arena, or a winery? You know, the kinds of locations that may seem public, but are they? These types of locations are what I like to call “the in between”.


The “In Between”?

Some publicly owned locations may have restrictions on photographing, causing some confusion on whether it is public or private. For example, public buildings (e.g., police station, fire station, public schools, etc.) utilized for government purpose are technically public property. However, these types of locations may have non-public areas within them, restrictions on photography for public safety or protection of minors, restrictions on what equipment may be shown, etc. They may also have a system to obtain permission to shoot that may require a background check, special pass, etc. Remember, if you are shooting from the public street with the building in the background there is no permission needed in most cases.


On the other side, some privately owned locations may open themselves up to the public, causing some confusion on whether it is public or private. For example, a professional sports venue is technically private property, but then they open themselves up to the public. In fact they encourage the pubic to come in! Despite this fact, they are still privately owned and therefore the owner can place restrictions on photography. Further, by purchasing a ticket you have agreed to all of the language printed on the ticket, which may specifically prohibit or restrict photography.


Each of these types of locations may allow photography on site, but you will need to gain permission first. Many of these locations will already be used to photograph requests and, thus already have rules/regulations, a contract, etc. in place!


Special Considerations for the “In Between”

So, what do you need to do if you want to photograph in one of the in between locations?

  1. Get permission before shooting and get it in writing!
  2. If the location you will be shooting at has a specific photography policy you may need to amend your contract to reflect their rules.
  3. Get your contract or amended contract signed.
  4. Follow the location’s rules and regulations to keep a good working relationship going.


See also: Press Guidelines Handbook Resource


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