Legal street photography vs appropriate street photography

A video of a New York photo shoot taking place at Times Square brings up an interesting point for discussion. What is legal vs what is appropriate? For those who can’t see the video, it depicts a model posing for a single photographer with two assistants at Times Square.

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A video of a New York photo shoot taking place at Times Square brings up an interesting point for discussion. What is legal vs what is appropriate? For those who can’t see the video, it depicts a model posing for a single photographer with two assistants at Times Square. There are lots of people milling about in the scene as one might expect at such a location. The vantage point is from that of a videographer who is unrelated to the shoot. At one point in the video, he zooms in for a tight shot of the model’s bum. One of the assistants sees this and tells him he can’t shoot her butt. A bicyclist sees this and confronts the videographer by standing in front of the shot. So who is right here legally?

From all appearances, the photographer did not have a New York City photography permit. If he did, he would be within his right to assert “exclusive” use of the location.

A permit is required for filming if equipment or vehicles, as defined in the rule, are used or if the person filming asserts exclusive use of City property. Equipment does not include hand-held devices (such as hand-held film, still, or television cameras or video cameras) or tripods used to support such cameras, but a permit would be required in certain situations when the person filming asserts exclusive use of City property while using a hand-held device.

So in this particular scenario, the videographer is within his legal right to shoot the scene in a public street. At the same time, the bicyclist is within his right to obstruct his filming but not within his right to commit battery or assault. What’s clear is that the still photographer and assistants are not within their legal right to prevent someone else from shooting the scene.

With the San Francisco Folsom Street fair coming up on September 26th, photographers are often encouraged to “ask permission” before taking any pictures. Some have interpreted this as a legal requirement, it is not. No permission is required to take someone’s picture on a street. It’s a courtesy, not a legal requirement. At the same time, while the fair organizers cannot force photographers to ask permission, they can eject people from the fairgrounds as they have a special use permit from the city of San Francisco.

Going back to the video of the Times Square shoot, while it is perfectly legal for the videographer to shoot the model, most would agree it was not appropriate. But you can’t stop people from acting rude or inappropriate. Just like you can’t walk up to someone on the street and demand they stop gawking at you. All you can do is walk away from the situation.

Check here to learn more about photography permits.