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Your Rights as a Photographer in Toronto

Posted by Adam Schwabe / July 24, 2007

There's certainly no shortage of photobloggers in Toronto. With an ever increasing amount of people picking up a camera for the first time and putting on their 'citizen journalist' hats (whether you like the expression or not), many are facing increased scrutiny and roadblocks from the police and rent-a-cops alike.

Having recently picked up a DSLR myself, I've already had many encounters with security and other officials telling me where I can and for the greater part, cannot take pictures. It got me thinking; What are the laws that bind photographers in the city? Specifically, when is someone actually justified in telling you that you cannot take a photo?

There's not a whole lot of legal resources on what your rights are as a photographer in Toronto (or provincially/federally), so determining these are a matter of interpreting the Criminal Code, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and so forth.

There's a couple examples in recent memory where I've been taking photos that where I've been told not to.

TD BuildingThe first was at the Toronto Dominion Bank plaza, where, while adjusting the settings on my camera, I pointed my camera skyward and snapped a photo of one of the towers.

As I fiddled with the aperture, I caught glimpse of a security guard walking briskly towards me from across the plaza. I knew immediately what she was about to tell me, "Can you tell me what you're doing?," she asked. When I replied that I was taking a photo of a building, she said, "You can't take pictures of the bank buildings."

Being in a space with benches and plenty of greenery (an illusion of public space, really), I felt affronted and began to protest, but she didn't budge. I left the plaza, a little disgruntled.

In another case, I was inside a performance theatre, and during the intermission of the show, I thought I'd capture some of the architecture of the building. An usher spotted me, walked up the aisle, and asked, "Can you please delete those photos you just took?" Shocked, and worried about getting kicked out entirely, I complied and trashed the photos as the usher observed over my shoulder.

So what should or could I have done in either of these situations? I came across this wonderfully put together piece by Tyler Hutcheon on his personal blog called Photography Laws. Hutcheon notes that while he isn't a lawyer, this is just his interpretation of the laws, but I think it's a pretty concise run-through.

Some important points to take away:

  • You can take photos of anything, but if in taking the photo you break other laws, such as trespassing, then you're in trouble.

  • You can't violate others' privacy by taking photos of them in places where it's reasonable for them to expect privacy (i.e. a bathroom).

  • You can't trespass on someone's property to take a photo if either indicated by a sign, or being told directly by the owner. Disobeying this means a trespassing charge. There are certain exceptions to this in the Trespass to Property Act.

  • You can take photos of any building, provided you're not on private property, or invading someone's privacy (like pointing a telephoto lens in someone's home). Even on TTC property, they have their own set of private rules that prohibits commercial photography, and they could technically tell you to not take pictures there.

  • Nobody can threaten to destroy your camera, photos, or force you delete photos taken as this would be considered assault and/or criminal mischief.

Hutcheon goes on to give some clever do's and don'ts of public photography, as well as common sense ways to react to a situation when confronted by security or police.

As for my two past problems mentioned above? I couldn't have done a whole heck of a lot, as it turns out, but I could have done some things differently.

PhotographerIn the case of the TD Plaza, I believe I was on private property, but no signs were posted prohibiting photography, and I had no way of knowing this since I just walked into the plaza from the sidewalk. However, if I had continued taking photos after being told by the guard to stop, she could have called the police and I may have been faced with a trespassing or mischief charge.

In the theatre, however, the usher had no right to force me to delete the photos, but had I not complied, I likely would have been asked to leave the building immediately and again, possibly been charged.

The laws in place leave a lot open to interpretation, but there's something to be said for common sense. When in doubt, play it on the safe side on private property and don't get sassy. I have to stress that all of the above info is just an interpretation of the law, and a judge might look differently on the situation at hand. (Don't blame me if you get locked up!)

Feel free to post about any grey-area photographic encounters with police/security, and how you handled it in the comments.

Photos by blogTO Flickr group contributors Metrix X (top), my own (right top), and spotmaticfanatic (right bottom).



megan / July 24, 2007 at 10:40 pm
<p>I always wonder about whether or not I can take pictures of people.&nbsp; I love taking pictures of people, but am always worried that I&#39;m going to piss someone off.&nbsp; I haven&#39;t found a way around that one.&nbsp; </p><p>&nbsp;I know a heck of a lot of people who take pictures of people and don&#39;t care, and I have certainly caught people trying to be subtle while taking my picture, and it has never bothered me.&nbsp; </p><p>&nbsp;Maybe I should just take the pictures and see what happens...</p>
Adam / July 24, 2007 at 10:50 pm
<p>Megan, good point, I didn&#39;t really touch on that. I&#39;ve never been big on photographing people, mostly because of the reason you mentioned.</p><p>I&#39;d say though that it&#39;s perfectly legal, provided the person is out in public, and that you&#39;re not stalking them around the city trying to get the money shot, so to speak. I imagine if the person objects to being photographed though, and you continue to do so, that it could border on harassment.</p>
graham / July 24, 2007 at 11:07 pm
megan: in canada, it&#39;s completely legal to take someone&#39;s photograph in a public place, without permission,&nbsp;EXCEPT in quebec. privacy laws there prohibit photography of identifiable individuals without their consent...and some media outlets have been successfully sued over it. that doesn&#39;t mean it&#39;s not a murky issue, though... check out a discussion here if you&#39;re interested -- <a href="";><;/a>
Chester Pape / July 24, 2007 at 11:23 pm
<p>Tyler&#39;s overview is excellent and in my opinion as another non-lawyer reasonably accurate. Your summary on the other hand glosses over a couple things, if you are interested in this area, do go and read Tyler&#39;s original.</p><p>&nbsp;As for taking pictures of people, you have pretty broad charter protection of the right to take just about any picture, the limits come in when you want to do anything with that photo beyond look at it in the privacy of your home and maybe show it to friends and family, anything beyond that you could be breaching the subject&#39;s privacy and personality rights, problem is there is very little case law on the topic outside Quebec. The key thing to keep in mind is that the US concept of &quot;someone out in public has no expectation of privacy&quot; does NOT apply here, if I&#39;m out in public not doing anything newsworthy and you take a picture of me and hang it in an art gallery I still have personality rights and I could sue you if I felt these were breached (more likely I&#39;d be flattered, but that&#39;s a calculated risk anyone shooting people on the street with the intention of showing the work takes).&nbsp;</p>
Chester Pape / July 24, 2007 at 11:45 pm
<p>graham: you&#39;ve made an error</p><p>You say:</p><blockquote><p><em> it&#39;s completely legal to take someone&#39;s photograph in a public place, without permission,&nbsp;EXCEPT in quebec</em></p></blockquote><p><em>&nbsp; </em>Which is incorrect, a correct statement would be:</p><blockquote><p>It is completely legal to take someone&#39;s photograph in a public place, without permission, <strong>even in Quebec</strong>, however in Quebec there are legal restrictions on what you can do with the picture once you&#39;ve taken it.&nbsp; </p></blockquote><p>The reason why this is an important distinction is that it&#39;s perfectly acceptable to shoot first and ask for permission to use the photo later.&nbsp; </p><p>The discussion you link to repeatedly says that the law in Canada is similar to in the US which is not correct. In the rest of Canada, as I said above, it&#39;s a gray area, Canadian law recognizes certain moral rights that US law does not.</p>
Darren / July 25, 2007 at 12:22 am
<p>A friend of mine was arrested for taking a photo of a police officer arresting someone in my city (windsor).&nbsp; He was standing on the sidewalk on public property.&nbsp; One of the officers came over took the camera from him and formatted the memory card.&nbsp; Not just that photo but all photos on the card.&nbsp; </p><p>&nbsp;Then the officer wrote up a false report stating all kinds of lies about my friend and his actions and had his partner sign it. &nbsp;</p><p>My friend wanted to file a complaint but was advised not to by a high ranking officer of Windsor Police.&nbsp; We were told there was no law broken by what my friend did, but seems unless you have a witness, police can do whatever they want with you.&nbsp; It was a very frightening situation and lesson learned.&nbsp; So be careful.&nbsp; The world is a crazy place after 911. &nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;Here in Windsor we had the Ambassador Bridge which connects Windsor to Detroit, and I can&#39;t tell you how many times I&#39;ve heard about police being called for someone taking a photo of the bridge, thinking they&#39;re a terrorist.&nbsp; Makes me so sad. &nbsp; </p>
Adam / July 25, 2007 at 01:07 am
<p>Darren, that&#39;s really scary. Unless your friend was obstructing justice, I don&#39;t think there&#39;s anything they could have charged him with. Then again, like you said, it&#39;s a crazy world after 911.</p><p>That being said, I think it&#39;s more important than ever for people to know their rights and defend them when need be.</p>
Donna Vitan / July 25, 2007 at 01:16 am
<p>This is a fantastic prelim to Ambient Light&#39;s - Photography Laws. I&#39;ve always stuck to this one little truth, that I had the right&nbsp; to keep my photos and am allowed to take street photos.</p><p>Reading up on this has given me a much clearer understanding of my rights. I don&#39;t have a fancy schmancy SLR or anything so I can only imagine how much more of a hassle you guys get. Thanks again and happy clicking to all.&nbsp;</p>
Ryan / July 25, 2007 at 02:11 am
<p>The second you step outside into public you&#39;re open to be photographed. You don&#39;t like that? stay at home. </p><p>&nbsp;I was at a street festival in vienna in october and my friend and I were on a photo mission and he took a photo of a woman with he husband from about three feet away and her husband asked (in german) &quot;Did you just photograph my wife?&quot; he replied &quot;yes&quot;. She asked &quot;what are you going to do with the photo?&quot; he mentioned an Austrian pornography magazine at which she just flipped out during her public outrage he continued to photograph the woman making a fool of herself. The series didn&#39;t make it any further than his blog ( but the whole situation left me laughing</p><p>&nbsp;With that said, if you come out into the world. Prepare to be photographed. Even if you fall asleep on the subway someone with a quiet rangefinder camera might be watching...waiting...clicking away. and why not? it&#39;s fun! </p>
James / July 25, 2007 at 03:10 am
<p>I agree completely 100% with what Ryan said. And why not? The authorities, the government and even private companies have their CCTVs watching us all the time, we should have every right to watch back, and to watch others.</p><p>&nbsp;Darren&#39;s comment was especially disturbing and reminded me of the case of that guy named Jamma Jamma or something, up in North York, who was attacked by a Police Officer and filmed. The cop tried to get the camera, but instead it ended up being used as evidence, which is exactly why people should always try and take photos and film police as much as possible. They should have nothing to worry about, unless they&#39;re breaching protocol, which given their authority, should be punished heavily. </p>
Ryan / July 25, 2007 at 07:48 am
<p>Re: Tresspassing.&nbsp; </p><p>&nbsp;It&#39;s my understanding that in most circumstances you can&#39;t be charged with tresspassing without first being asked to leave (and refusing).&nbsp; Ie: any sort of private property used as public space (such as a store, mall, plaza where anyone is free to enter).&nbsp; It is understood in such situations you are welcome on the property&nbsp; unless told otherwise.</p><p>&nbsp;That being said, if you&#39;re taking a photo of a building while on private property, they can ask you to stop photographing and leave.&nbsp; They can&#39;t demand you delete your photos, take your camera or charge you under a tresspassing law.&nbsp; Now, of course taking more photos after being asked not to would likely fall under tresspassing (as would taking photos despite signs asking you not to).</p>
Ryan C / July 25, 2007 at 08:34 am
<p>Who is this other &#39;Ryan&#39;? lawl.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Anywho, it&#39;s my understanding that I can shoot the inside of people&#39;s homes if I damn well please, so long as I&#39;m standing on public property (or at least not the building owners&#39; property) and their windows are wide open. If I can see the inside of the house from public property, I&nbsp; can take its picture while on public property.</p><p>This would go into the whole &quot;reasonable expectation of privacy&quot; thing.</p><p>If your windows are open and viewable on the street, then there is not reasonable expectation of privacy. In the case of a bathroom, if you&#39;re on a porto-potty and you leave the dor open while dropping a deuce, I might not want to take your picture but I damn well can if I wish. If I were to open the door, entirely different story.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>m i ryte?&nbsp;</p>
Adam / July 25, 2007 at 08:55 am
<p>Ry, yeah I think you&#39;re right on there, but it starts to get sticky when the laws make use of words like &#39;reasonable&#39; and &#39;expectation&#39;. </p><p>This leaves the door wide open for interpretation in court if someone does sue you, but ultimately that&#39;s a good thing. I believe most laws are purposely written somewhat ambiguously, so that they don&#39;t give either a black or white answer about how to act in a given situation.</p><p>This has the effect of allowing common sense to come into the equation, and to prevent people from exploiting laws to their own personal advantage.</p>
Mike / July 25, 2007 at 09:25 am
great post!
moonw|re / July 25, 2007 at 09:51 am
<p>i do a fair amount of street shooting myself and i&#39;ve been in a few sticky situations recently.&nbsp; one of them involved me with a tiny XA2 (old school lomo-like P&amp;S film cam) snapping a pic of a street car at yonge &amp; queen. some guy jumped out of the woodwork and told me he&#39;d smash my camera if i had taken a picture of him. i hadn&#39;t even noticed him. when i got my pictures back, i didn&#39;t find him in any. must have had a bad day. </p><p>however, most of the time, i don&#39;t get any hassle even though i rarely ask for permission. i take pictures at &#39;tourist places&#39; and i don&#39;t hide what i&#39;m doing. i snap away quickly (usually without even stopping) and i use small cameras. don&#39;t spy on people with obnoxious tele lenses -- that&#39;s just wrong.</p><p>last but not least a word of advice from a fellow street shooter.... &#39;If you dont want to be photographed, you shouldnt go outside&#39;.<br />&nbsp; </p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p>
emo / July 25, 2007 at 10:06 am
<p>i nearly got in serious trouble for taking a photo of the american embassy in budapest. the whole are was barricaded off, which should have given me a clue, but i had no idea what the actual building was. it was also the middle of winter and my face was completely covered, which i only realised -after- dealing with the security guards. if i&#39;d uncovered my face it would have been much easier but i just didn&#39;t think..</p><p>&nbsp;my bad ;]</p><p>actually, the biggest trouble was i couldn&#39;t prove to the security that i&#39;d deleted the photo. they wanted to watch me delete it, but that&#39;s the first thing i did when they shouted at me in hungarian. </p>
Richelle / July 25, 2007 at 10:12 am
<p>I had a similar run-in at the TD Plaza, I was shooting my friend (dressed in a grizzly bear costume), we stopped by the steps of the plaza for a break, he was resting againt a planter on plaza property, I was on the the pulic sidewalk fiddlling with my camera. Security asked (yelled at) me to leave, said that i was not allowed to take photos there or of the building. I responded with a calm NO, and that i had a right to photograph anything i wanted on and from pulic property. In response the security guard then told ME, to tell my friend to leave. I told the security guard to tell him himself (he was standing next to my friend!), but he wouldn&#39;t! </p><p>That went on for a couple minutes until my friend was sufficiently ammused and walked down the steps of his volition.&nbsp;</p><p>Ironically enough, a few minutes later we saw other people on TD Plaza property taking photos and they weren&#39;t harrased. i think the security guard has an issue with bears.</p><p>A couple years ago I discoverd Bert P Krages attorney at law and his &lt;a href=&quot;;quot;&gt;photographers rights&lt;/a&gt;. It is American, but after a few hours of cross referencing online, it&#39;s not much different and equally important to know and carry (wallet sized version available for free download) if you travel to the USA. </p><p>I also wanted to mention if you&#39;re about to get booted from somewhere you want to be, and are asked to delete your media card comply and recover later. You can ALWAYS get the data back with FREE software available online and in the comfort of your own home. </p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p>
SH / July 25, 2007 at 10:38 am
<p>Pah!&nbsp; Had I been in your position Adam I would have been pissed off and caused a scene!&nbsp; Sounds to me like both the security guard and usher were on a power trip.&nbsp; I mean, it&#39;s the TD Tower, you could have walked across the street to another private property, zoomed in and continued taking pictures of it!</p><p>That said, I don&#39;t agree completely with what Ryan (without a C) said.&nbsp; Technically he&#39;s correct but the photographee has just as much rights as the photographer, and if someone demands to know what is being done with their photograph they are entitled to a straight answer.&nbsp; Imagine if his friend had been taking pictures of this german fellows young daughter, I&#39;m sure he would have been even less pleased about it... you know, what with perverts and the like (not calling you a perv, obviously!) </p><p>Police, however, should be photographed!!&nbsp; After all, they are technically employees of the public so we have a right to document and observe their work.&nbsp; Post 9/11 or not, we shouldn&#39;t take this kind of BS lying down... or else it&#39;s really us who make the post 9/11 world &#39;a different and scary place&#39;.&nbsp;</p>
moonw|re / July 25, 2007 at 12:07 pm
<p>nobody can force you to erase your memory card or hand over your film.</p><p>i&#39;m surprised about the hassle around the TD tower. i shoot there all the time, never had any problems. i&#39;ve also learnt not to argue with people.... the &#39;school project&#39; response goes a long way, so does acting like a tourist.</p><p>&nbsp;</p>
Adam / July 25, 2007 at 01:33 pm
I don&#39;t get why security is so anal at the TD towers either. It&#39;s not as if I can steal corporate secrets through windows with my telephoto lens shooting from the ground.
Miles / July 25, 2007 at 02:58 pm
A fellow photoblogger took a trip with a couple of friends to Hamilton and was photographing along the industrial strip there, from the sidewalk. A woman came out of one of the properties and told them they weren&#39;t allowed to photograph the factories/buildings and said she was going to call the police. The photog group moved on and rest of the day passed without incident. The next day the photoblogger was at home in Toronto and there was a knock on the door. Opening it he found two Hamilton policemen who had driven all that way to ask him what he has been doing taking photos of factories. They tracked him down because the woman gave them the photoblogger&#39;s car registration...
raj / July 25, 2007 at 03:08 pm
<p>While those laws are definitely true, try avoiding a police officer if they decide you&#39;re a threat. While I&#39;m looking forward to moving back to Toronto this year so that I can have lots of photography subjects (amongst other reasons), I keep wondering how much grief I&#39;m going to get from security types, given that I&#39;m a long-haired, brown-skinned single guy with a goatee that sometimes rivals bikers for length. I&#39;m absolutely serious when I say that I&#39;m considering hiring a cute blonde to accompany me in public when I decide to do photography sessions. It&#39;s those rent-a-cop types with a damaged ego that are the worst - almost as bad as US customs officer who wouldn&#39;t let me into the United States on Sep 9th (10th?) , 2000.</p><p>&nbsp;Anyone interested in being my photo escort, drop me a comment on my website (linked through my name). Not being chauvinistic, but somehow I think I&#39;ll be more successful if the escort is female and flirtatious. </p>
Geofrey Flores / July 25, 2007 at 05:09 pm
<p>This is also an issue that comes up with the Google&#39;s new feature, street view.&nbsp; There&#39;s been some <a href=";amp;from=rss">complaints</a> about privacy concerns of photos taken in public that borders voyeurism.&nbsp; There was also an interesting discussion about this on TWIT that it legally would depend on the amount of zoom that you&#39;d use taking pictures in public (hence, the public aversion for SLR-totin&#39; photographers). Although even that still merits some debate about whether what zoom is appropriate or not. Given that the law really is still playing catch-up on this one, it&#39;d be really better to play it safe for now. </p><p>Really excellent article, Adam!</p>
Adam / July 25, 2007 at 06:31 pm
<p>raj, I totally agree! Nearly every time I&#39;ve been scolded when taking photos has been by the rent-a-cops. I once had one at Harbourfront tell me I could take &quot;three more&quot; as if he was being so gracious. Please... everyone around me were taking photos. There definitely is a lot of stigma towards DSLR photographers when it comes to security.</p><p>Thanks, Geofrey! I heard that discussion on TWiT too, and I don&#39;t think any judge is going to go against Google with their photovan. </p><p>With all the new mapping and navigation services coming onto the market, the laws need to start adapting to the technology available, and not the other way around.</p><p>&nbsp;</p>
Richelle / July 25, 2007 at 08:43 pm
there is a building you may not photograph! It&#39;s in more here <a href="";><;/a>
raj / July 26, 2007 at 01:50 pm
Adam, sorry. I forgot to say, &quot;Great article.&quot; I love seeing this sort of thing because i have arguments with non-photogs about such matters. Good work.
chephy / July 26, 2007 at 04:14 pm
Heh, I was once confronted by an angry scissor sharpener for taking pictures of his truck (not even if him, just the vehicle!).&nbsp; He saw me do that as he was going by, put the truck in reverse to come back to me and yelled at me, insisting that I had no right to take his pictures.&nbsp; This, of course, prompted me to snap a lot more shots of his truck than I originally intended, and made sure I got a picture of his face and his licence plate too. ;-)
mike_G / July 27, 2007 at 06:33 pm
<p>Re: TD Plaza tight-ness</p><p>I&#39;ve had a toy cop run-in in the cow-strewn TD Canada Trust Centre&#39;s pedestrian&nbsp;plaza as well. While shooting trees and office towers with the &lt;a href=<a href="";><;/a>&quot;&gt;best lens ever&lt;/a&gt;, I was told that &quot;professional photography&quot; is &lt;i&gt;verboten&lt;/i&gt;, as it were.</p><p>One needs a &quot;photo permit&quot;, he claimed, in order to take pictures here. I appealed, arguing that I should be allowed to shoot in the plaza, provided that I swap my lens with an &quot;amateur&quot; one. My appeal was struck down.</p><p>Which is a shame, since those iron (?) cows on the grass pastures&nbsp;at the TD Centre would make a great setting for a photoshoot [think wide angle jump portraits and strobes].</p>
dchan / July 30, 2007 at 01:50 am
<p>As a professional photographer, my experience with such situation is the intended use of the photograph (editorial vs stock). Many properties owner (large or small) are worry about their photo being used in ways that they do not want to - i.e. stock photos and they are not receiving any fees or subject them into some bad press. </p><p>Another reason, believe it or not, is insurance issue. If you shoot at, i.e. TD Towers, and somehow someone got hurt because of the shoot, the property is liable for all damages. By requiring a permit, the phtoographer or production company has to produce an insurance of $5 million liability coverage in most case to cover all damages and etc. </p>
jannx / July 31, 2007 at 11:54 am
<p>The whole issue of harassment is slowly gathering momentum. I admin a flickr group which tracks specific events and relates the circumstances. It additionally provides credible links to support and photographic rights sites. Feel free to use this resource. Some of my &quot;images&quot; with supporting stories&nbsp;are there as well as photographers from the US , Europe, Australia etc.</p><p>&nbsp;site&nbsp; <a href="";><a href="";><a href="";><;/a></a></a></p><p>resources&nbsp; and links <a href="";><a href="";><a href="";><;/a></a></a></p>
Cassandra / July 31, 2007 at 05:31 pm
<p>Great article and very interesting discussion. I don&#39;t usually have the guts to point a camera directly at a stranger, but I&#39;ve noticed other&nbsp;people taking my picture from time to time in a public space. Other than wondering if my chin looks weak I don&#39;t really mind being in their photos. I would bet most people would have the same reaction. </p>
uSkyscraper / July 31, 2007 at 07:35 pm
This is a hot topic in the States as well, for reasons you can imagine in a country that comes up with names like Homeland Security and Patriot Act.&nbsp; Many bank buildings here will send security after you if you try to take photos of their buildings, claiming that you are not allowed to under the Patriot Act, etc.&nbsp; The Port Authority of NY and NJ is positively paranoid about anyone shooting any photos of their various tunnels and bridges.&nbsp; It&#39;s really a lousy environment for photography.&nbsp; One bright note - the NYC subway tried to ban all photos but gave up under a storm of protest.
Stacey / August 3, 2007 at 03:14 pm
<p class="MsoNormal">What an excellent article! I wish I&rsquo;d had these tips when I embarked on my journalism career but sadly, I had to learn a few lessons the hard way. Here are a few more in case they help out.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">I&rsquo;ve been reprimanded for shooting in the TD concourse as well. They claim that terrorists and criminals can piece together the layouts of their buildings. I guess I can see their point but it&#39;s still a bit annoying. Getting photo permissions from the PATH (owned by the city) still doesn&rsquo;t cover you. You have to get permission from each individual building owner along the path.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">&nbsp;When photographing people in public, I try my best to avoid photographing children. If having children in shots is inevitable, I only publish shots where children are not clearly recognizable, or I ensure that I have asked the parent or guardian for permission (make sure it&rsquo;s signed) before shooting and/or definitely before publishing. There are a lot of rules around publishing photos of children because of unique safety issues such as custody battles, etc. </p> <p class="MsoNormal">Adults can get cranky sometimes but not often and if they&rsquo;re out in public, they&rsquo;re fair game! </p> <p class="MsoNormal">&nbsp;When it comes to shooting places (especially sensitive places like hospitals), sidewalks are your best friend. Sidewalks are like a long public strip of fair game space. They&rsquo;ve allowed me to get photos of hospitals, embassies, stores and even people who would be off limit on private property -- just make sure you have both feet on the sidewalk. </p>
John Ly / August 6, 2007 at 10:22 am
<p>You can take pictures of people in public spaces and publish without consent only if they are part of a group and not singled out or isolated.&nbsp; ie, if a beautiful girl is suntanning of the beach, you cannot zoom in only on her or crop out the scene so she is the main focus.&nbsp; Now if there are other people in the picture and even if she is in the center, this is ok because she is now PART of the whole picture and not THE picture.&nbsp; </p><p>As for private properties, you do need property realeases, especially for commercial usage.&nbsp; Most institutions like banks, airports... will only give permission if they get pay or if you have proper media credentials.&nbsp; It makes sense as they are just protecting themselves from people &quot;casing&quot; the building and scoping out cameras, security weaknesses.... for possible future act against the institution.&nbsp;</p>
ronnoco / August 9, 2007 at 04:27 pm
<p>Legally, you are not forbidden from taking photos anywhere with the exception of privacy areas such as a bathroom, the courts, and top secret documents and areas.&nbsp; </p><p>You do not violate any laws by taking photos in an area to which the general public has access, whether private property or not and you can use those photos as you see fit.</p><p>The only authority a security guard may have is to tell you to leave.&nbsp; You cannot be charged with trespass if you leave the property.&nbsp;&nbsp; The guard can also certainly not prevent you from leaving since that might constitute assault and false arrest.&nbsp; Even the police need a warrant to search your equipment.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p>
marina / August 27, 2007 at 04:27 pm
Know this is very, very late but I just saw this. I could have been that usher you talked about. It's not a power trip but doing my job. (I catch hell if I miss people taking photos.) In the theatre I work, the artwork adorning the theatre is actually under the copyright of the artist and cannot be photographed without his permission. Same thing with photographing anything on the stage, which falls under the copyright regulations of the set designer. As for asking to delete the photos, this is again to protect the copyright. Did you look into copyright issues when you looked at the legalities here?
Morgan / September 5, 2007 at 10:51 pm
Yes you do copyright!
Stephanie / September 12, 2007 at 07:10 pm
"As for asking to delete the photos, this is again to protect the copyright."

That might be the motivation, but you don't actually have a legal right to *make* someone do that. Even looking at them would require a warrant.
Sniderscion / September 16, 2007 at 11:13 am
Excellent article and references. Some very helpful comments as well. Having recently back into photography after a bit of a hiatus I've found many things have changed in the last 10 years. People are a lot more paranoid and aware of cameras and the opportunities for exploring not entirely public properties have evaporated. In the past you could pretty much get away with being almost anywhere as long as you had an air of belonging-I've shot in places like water treatment plants, factory grounds, train yards, etc without any challenges. These days people come up and ask me what I'm doing when I'm shooting a macro of a flower on the lawn of a factory outlet.
That being said, I still find Toronto is a relatively photographer-friendly city and as long as you look harmless you don't get too many challenges. I'm actually amazed at how many people will stop and wait for you to get your shot before crossing your path when you're shooting in the street.
Thanks for all the good info and the different perspectives on this issue.
scott Dobson / September 24, 2007 at 11:20 am
A lot of this comes down to hassle. Regardless of what is legal, do you really want to protest your rights or just say fine and go away. A lot of people and "enforcment" types know this and use it as a way of making people do what they want. I feel it important to challange these assumptions.

The simple rule is if you can see it from public property then you can shoot it. (In the red herring cases of a person in their home there is an exception as there may be as well in a car). The tricky part really is what you plan to do with the picture or footage after and thats where it gets complicated; and becomes a another whole thread of talk.

Other posters are correct that 9/11 created a whole paranoia about filming and picture taking (but Google Earth is Ok !) that has also been exploited by commercial interests to create rights that they do not have.

Importantly though, one area that I always use caution with is children. There are creepy types out there as well as a very large over reaction to the possibility of creepy types being out there. If somebody says stop shooting pictures of children, you should explian who you are, offer your card, and move on. You cant win this one and it can lead to a bad scene very fast. I was taking pictures on a public street once of trucks when a woman started yelling that I was a taking pictures of kids. (I didnt have single image of any body); despite offering my press card etc she could not be convinced (I actually started to become mildly scared of her). A crowd gathered and I could tell who they were going to believe so I put my rights away and retreated.
David Wood / October 6, 2007 at 02:28 pm
I had a similar run-in with a security guard at one of Toronto's bank buildings last Sunday. I was on the sidewalk and shooting upwards when, from about a half-block away, I heard someone shouting 'Sir, Sir - Stop taking pictures!'. Pretty typical exchange - I can shoot on public property - this is private property, stop immediately - a sidewalk is public property and I'm legally allowed to shoot - this is your first warning, leave now or I'll escalate the issue. I've written more about it at my site (

I won't name the building in question (yet), as I have contacted their building, property, and security managers via e-mail challenging my experience last week. Depending on the response I get (or don't get), I'll provide more details.

The bottom line is, the law is on OUR side. Stand your ground (using a little common sense), and take the photos you want to (and are legally allowed to).
David Wood / October 26, 2007 at 10:14 pm
It's been almost 4 weeks since my run in with a security guard in Toronto.
In my October 6th post, I refrained from mentioning the Toronto building in question to give them a fair chance to respond to an e-mail inquiry I sent their general, building, and security managers. Well, I've given Scotia Plaza almost 4 weeks to reply, and so far they haven't. Feel free to read more about it at
So, if you're in Toronto with a camera handy, please take a moment to snap a shot or two of Scotia Plaza (just be sure to do it from public property).
Ryan / July 14, 2009 at 04:11 pm
I ran into some issues today with a security guard in a public park. It's a park owned by the city, and the security guard told me I need a permit to do a photoshoot on city property. It wasn't a commercial shoot, just a test shoot with a model friend, and I was under the impression that I don't need a permit to do non-commercial photography on city property. I didn't push it, since I didn't have any proof one way or the other... But all my research seems to indicate that yes, as long as it's non-commercial, I'm actually ok to shoot there. Of course, because of the city workers strike, I can't actually call the permits office to ask them. Anybody have any ideas?
Joel / September 2, 2009 at 10:34 am
I had a run-in with the TD security guard lately as well. I was using a monopod and his only complaint was that I was using it to take photos of the bank towers in the court yard. I expected this, but he had no problem with me taking photos hand-held 'tourist' photos, which I continued to do unheeded.
Sylwia / September 19, 2009 at 11:57 am
great article...big thanks
David / October 29, 2009 at 10:57 pm
I have a hard time believing that there isn't some legislation out there which clearly addresses this issue, because it seems pretty common. I had an encounter this afternoon with some security guards outside a meatpacking plant on Glen Scarlett Road. All I wanted was some photos documenting the various industrial buildings as seen from the street so as to record them for posterity (I'm guessing that in about ten years some of the processing plants might get turned into a housing development). The security guys actually insisted on looking at the photos in my camera to make sure I had deleted the ones I had taken.

Surely there must be something more official somewhere saying whether or not it's legal to take pictures of buildings from the street - I'd like to make sure that I'm in the right before I get too indignant.

Actually, if I had more energy, I'd like to organize a group of say, 100 photographers who'd converge on the site simultaneously.
allam / February 20, 2010 at 09:50 pm
As someone that works in the entertainment field i can tell you that you are leaving out a whole bunch of laws. Copyright laws prohibit you from taking ANY pictures anywhere around a live theatre (as the copyright for the production covers the whole facility) Live ent vs Marc Bouden. He took pictures of the national arts centre with the Phantom sign on the side and was charged for duplicating copyright material and basically lost his home in the lawsuit from live ent. There are also a slew of federal and provincial security laws that cover banks, because people tend to take pictures before robbing them. It is the same with police, military etc. These laws are covered under civil defence, Military law, etc. It is not cut and dry, but as a Lighting designer if anyone takes my picture, I am covered under ACTRA and IATSE and I can demand a release or any photographer is in a restriction of trade situation (I sued the star and they settle out of court). As far as a public space, the Ottawa Sun was charged and sued for having two woman pictured in the background of a photo of a PETA protest on the canal. Do your research on military and copyright laws, i am a photographer myself and have learned a great deal in the entertainment industry about the 'other' laws.
Al Bug Toronto Photographer / February 24, 2010 at 01:23 pm
I curious can I take pictures in a mall? I've been asked numerous of time not to take pictures in a mall by security guys.
Patrick / May 30, 2010 at 01:49 pm
David - in case you haven't seen it, Ambient Light's guide to photography laws is here: It's not at all uncommon for security guards to think that they are police officers (they aren't) or that they have the same level of authority (it's not even close). You should have told them to go stuff it. If they made any threats toward you, call the police.

Allam - Not to be rude, but you're full of shit. Here's why:

"Copyright laws prohibit you from taking ANY pictures anywhere around a live theatre (as the copyright for the production covers the whole facility)" - Nothing in the Copyright Act says that; in fact s.32.2 suggests otherwise.

"Live ent vs Marc Bouden. He took pictures of the national arts centre with the Phantom sign on the side and was charged for duplicating copyright material and basically lost his home in the lawsuit from live ent" - No reference to such a case on either Google or Canlii. By the way, it's Livent, not Live ent.

"There are also a slew of federal and provincial security laws that cover banks..." - such as?

"...because people tend to take pictures before robbing them." - Bullshit.

"It is the same with police, military etc. These laws are covered under civil defence, Military law, etc." - Huh?

"as a Lighting designer if anyone takes my picture, I am covered under ACTRA and IATSE" - ACTRA is a performers' organization - since when do lighting designers belong to them?

"and I can demand a release or any photographer is in a restriction of trade situation" - Precisely how does a photographer prevent you from doing business as a lighting designer? And by what right can you "demand a release"? Oh wait, it doesn't and you can't.

"(I sued the star and they settle out of court)." - Hear that? It's the sound of my bullshit detector going off again.

"As far as a public space, the Ottawa Sun was charged and sued for having two woman pictured in the background of a photo of a PETA protest on the canal." - There it goes again!

"Do your research on military and copyright laws" - I've done plenty of it, thanks. As have most people, it's not that difficult.
jennypenny / December 2, 2010 at 02:01 pm
Wondering. If I am hired to shoot a fashion model. I choose to shoot on the street. If I am not obstructing pedestrian traffic, do I need a permit? What type of permit and where issued?

Photography out-of-doors for commercial purposes. Legal? Potato chip advert photographed at corner of Yonge & Queen. Is it considered public property?

Sammy / January 20, 2011 at 02:59 pm
I was told off today by taking photos in my own condo swimming pool. The security guard said we required a permit because we were on private property. I live in the building! I know when you live in a condo the swimming pool is a shared amenity but it seems a bit ridiculous, doesn't it? It's where I live? What are your thoughts?
Elizabeth Salib Photography / March 29, 2011 at 04:18 am
This is a very helpful reminder, and I hope it encourages more people to go out and shoot in the street.
Khyron replying to a comment from Ryan C / March 29, 2011 at 09:10 am
That reminds me of the time when I was a kid back in the 1980s-I was walking home one Saturday afternoon, and I saw two girls lying in the garden of a home (it was a townhouse development, and I lived nearby.) I saw both girls lying flat on their tummies, barefooted, with their pretty pink soles showing to all passerby and their backs to everyone! Had I had a camera with me, I would have whipped it our, and taken their picture right there-but I didn't and I actually had to get home so that I could go to the movies later; one of the opportunities to catch a great picture forever lost.
Ralphie / March 29, 2011 at 10:13 am
"In the theatre, however, the usher had no right to force me to delete the photos, but had I not complied, I likely would have been asked to leave the building immediately and again, possibly been charged."

I don't think you could be charged for refusing to delete the pictures, as you said, you can't be forced to delete photos. That's like someone putting a gun to your head and saying you can do what you want, but if you do this, I'll shoot you. You don't have to delete the pics, that's your legal right, but if you don't I'll have you arrested, doesn't make much sense logically.
Btek / September 19, 2011 at 05:11 am
There is definately something that everyone keeps forgettng.... There is no such place as public property. Everything belongs to someone, from parks to buildings and so on. People mistake public property for public access. Everything is PRIVATE property but some places allow public access to that property. If the rules arent followed, you have no one to blame but yourself and if you dont know the rules...... Ask.
Emma / November 5, 2011 at 10:21 pm
I was at the Toronto Botanical Gardens, aka Edwards Gardens on Lawrence and Leslie. I was taking photos of my cousin and her family of 3 kids and her husband. Honestly it was just a personal shoot using my personal DSLR. We hadn't even got like 30 shots before a woman came up to us and asked if we had a permit. I told her we didn't and she said we needed one that would cost 275/hour. I told her this was a personal shoot and she said it doesnt matter. I then said, well the I remember the sign in the front of the park saying that only wedding photos needed a permit, she reiterated in a rather rude way that ALL photography needed a permit. I told her the sign wasn't even there anymore and she said well because they are under construction and this is on the website.

She was soooooooooooooo unbelievably rude, and I didn't know what to do at that point. I generally know my rights in Toronto and with the photos I take, and I was sure this law didn't make sense. She basically said any photo, any device you need a permit. I honestly just wanted to be very rude to her but I'm not like that... and then we decided to walk through the park anyway and saw a lot of other people taking photos, and as we left we saw people walking in with DSLR's ..

What do I do? I had a shoot coming up (again, for fun) that I wanted to use the garden for, but I am worried there is something I am missing?

I checked their website and it said that commercial photos need a permit and so do wedding photos, which I knew. Now what!~?
the lemur replying to a comment from Emma / November 5, 2011 at 11:08 pm
If it's not commercial, you don't need a permit. Maybe the camera made her think you were doing a commercial shoot. It's also not illegal to take non-commercial photos on the TTC, although some staff seem to think all photography is prohibited.
For your Info / May 23, 2012 at 03:05 pm
With regards to photography in the Toronto Botanical Garden - please note that it is private property and NOT part of the City of Toronto's park system like Edwards Gardens. Although the TBG shares the parking lot it does not share much else.
The Toronto Botanical Garden is a not for profit organization and is not in anyway linked to the City of Toronto.
There are strict photography rules that are now in place that prohibit photos taken without a permit.
This includes Wedding, Prom, Family portrait shots, group photos (including religious or celebratory - communion, bar/bah mitzvahs, confirmations, graduation etc).
Should you wish to take casual family photos with a regular non professional camera, there will not be a photo permit charge. However, if you are carrying a professional looking camera/equipment we ask that you take a moment and ask in the main building if you need a permit or not. Taking photos of the flowers, gardens or anything on the property to post and make money off of requires a permit and anyone violating this will be dealt with accordingly.
Photography information is on the website: and you can always call or email for further information.
Again, please note - the TBG is not paid for by Toronto Tax Payers! It is a not for profit and we use the revenue generated from this and other programs to keep the gardens beautiful.
Another reason that we now have permits is so that a photo coordinator can walk you through the areas where photos are permitted and where they are not. The TBG has had extensive damage done to their gardens by careless photographers taking "casual and formal shots" and trespass and damage plants, trees and shrubs.
Please respect the policies so that others can enjoy the gardens.

One last note - a separate permit for Edwards Gardens is necessary should you want to take photos there. Please look on the City of Toronto website for further information.
Dana / May 27, 2012 at 02:30 pm
Hey. I have a question.

I have been having a lot of issues with photogaphy permits like in parks. I am just 18, doing photography as my hobby and I like to dress up my models and do fun fashion shoots. I do not publish them anywhere I just post them on my website/ portfolio.
I was at Guildwood Park one day doing one of these photoshoots and one of the people who maintain the park came up to me and told me I need a permit. However while I was reading on the Toronto website about photography permits it says it is only for weddings and it said nothing about fashion photography... I have shot there many times before and this is the first time it actually happened to me. I mean it is just a park and there were many other people doing portrait shots with an SLR. They just did not have dressed up models like I did..
but it is still not fair...
Your Mom's Age / May 27, 2012 at 03:32 pm
Life's not fair.
Audreyg / July 15, 2012 at 12:56 pm
are we allowed to take pictures of a model in a cafe or sheridan nursery?
Brian Bray / May 1, 2013 at 11:25 pm
I realize this article is about legal issues, not ethical, but...
If you photograph someone in a public place and they ask you to stop and you don't because you feel legally entitled, sorry but that makes you a jerk.
RoryC / June 25, 2013 at 12:24 pm
Brian Bray - That would depend on the situation, I think.

I was in Ottawa a few years back on Canada Day shooting scenes around the downtown area in the afternoon. If you've never been to Parliament on Canada Day, let me tell you, it's a zoo.

At one point I was on Rideau St. amidst thousands of people, just snapping shots of the crowd and what not. I raised my camera one time and took a shot down Rideau. There must have been a couple of thousand people that ended up in that one shot.

Immediately after taking that shot, this one guy walks out of the crowd toward me with an angry look on his face, repeatedly yelling "Did you just take my picture?"

"I took a photo of the crowd. You're probably in it." I answered back. He then started into this angry ranting about how I needed his permission in order to photograph him and he could have me arrested. I politely and calmly informed him that, in fact, I didn't need his permission and I could not be arrested. He began cursing at me, calling me all sorts of names, and he threatened that if I took his picture again he'd take my camera and smash it on the street.

So, I raised my camera and took his picture. He called me another name, informed me again that I didn't have his permission to take his photo, and demanded that I erase the pictures I had taken or he'd "have me charged". I stayed quiet and took his picture again.

He called me another name, demanded that I stay where I was because he was going to get a cop, turned around and walked off back into the crowd. I went about my business as I had been doing and never saw him again.

I don't think it was me who was the "jerk" in that situation.
Simon replying to a comment from RoryC / June 25, 2013 at 01:59 pm
Actually, it was you who was the jerk in that situation. Quite a lot of people, quite reasonably, don't want their location known through the some stranger's blog. When I was in high school, I dated a girl who grew up in Slovakia whose mother was a survivor of domestic violence. Her father went to prison for attempted murder after he ambushed her on the street walking to work and stabbed her 7 times. While he was in prison, her father sent people over to harrass them. I mean ex-convicts pounding on the door of their apartment for hours, breaking into the place and vandalizing it, leaving threatening notes, and generally making it clear that as soon as he gets out of prison, he's going to finish the job and kill the rest of the family for good measure. When he was paroled the whole family up and fled to Canada. Every few months she'd get an email that would send her into a panic attack because *something* about it would convince her it was her father or someone who knew him. When this happened she would shut down all her social media accounts and hope like hell it was nothing big. It's not farfetched to believe that if her father or one of his dozens of ex-convict friends found out she and her mother were living in Toronto through some self-important asshat's photoblog her life would be in danger. Shit is real. If someone doesn't want you taking pictures of them, don't take pictures of them. Delete any existing pictures immediately. You're lucky it weren't me in that situation, because I've had strangers take pictures of me in public before, and when confronted, they deleted them and apologized, but had they acted like you would, I would've spiked their camera on the ground like a football. Taking someone's picture without their permission is an invasion of their privacy, and could potentially jeopardize their safety. Exercise a little decorum and be grateful that all your teeth are still inside of your mouth.
RoryC / June 25, 2013 at 02:47 pm
With apologies in advance for being crass Simon, that is one of the most absolutely ridiculous, idiotic and outright absurd things I've ever read.

Taking someone's photo in public IS NOT - in any way - an invasion of their privacy. You have no privacy to invade when you have, of your own free will, chosen to enter a public space where you're freely visible and freely able to be photographed by any Tom, Dick or Harry that may be in the area. If you don't want to encounter such possibilities, then, reasonably, the onus is on YOU to take steps to secure your privacy. It's not on me to restrict my perfectly legal and otherwise entirely harmless behavior because someone, maybe, perhaps, might, possibly have some sort of personal issue with it.

If your friend is truly in that much danger, she shouldn't be exposing herself to such conditions. Is she a moron, or something? It's not up to other people to restrict perfectly legal and entirely reasonable actions just because there's a one in a million chance that *maybe* some unfortunate consequences could possibly come of it.

You honestly think that it's perfectly reasonable to go to a place like Rideau street on the afternoon of Canada Day and expect not to have your photo taken??? And, to become angered if it is? Seriously? Does your brain actually function? If you've got that much of a problem with the possibility of winding up in someone's photograph, THEN YOU SHOULDN'T BE THERE. Or, you should at least be taking steps to obscure your identity.

And, let me tell you, if you did put your hands on my camera and damage it - the instrument I use to put food on my family's table - it wouldn't be me that would be picking their teeth up off the ground. I can absolutely assure you of that.
L / July 10, 2013 at 02:27 am
Hi everyone,

I was wondering if someone could answer a question I have regarding filming on the TTC.

I recently completed a very short video that features two scenes (one is 10 sec, the other is 20sec) of footage of the interior of a TTC subway car. In one of the shots, there is a person off to one side sleeping that I had not intended to capture and over whose face I created a greater shadow so he appears less identifiable, and in the other, there is my friend and another person that happened to be in the shot as well, whose face I also covered with a greater shadow. There are no other people in the shots, as the main focus is on the animation I have added in. This video was not made for commercial purposes at all. It was made for artistic purposes. I am submitting it to a festival however.

Have I broken any laws?

Any input would be greatly appreciated.

RoryC replying to a comment from L / September 2, 2013 at 02:38 pm
L: From what you describe, you have not broken any laws. If the people you filmed were freely viewable from a public space, and you were in that public space when you captured their images, then your taking of the images was not in any way illegal, and you're free to use the images those people appear in in the manner in which you describe.

That being said, however, if your usage of those images is used in promotion of a commercial product or service, your usage makes it in any war appear that the people in the images endorse a commercial product or service, or if your usage of the images, for some reason, causes the people appearing in them any sort of undue loss or damage, you could open yourself up to a civil action - i.e. you can be sued by those people in order to recoup their loss/damages.
Kevin Criuse / January 17, 2014 at 01:16 am
There are some cases where the public right must be respected. these incidence are also such case, where the public interest comes forth the private interest.
3d model / February 14, 2014 at 07:43 pm
When some one searches for his vital thing, thus he/she wishes
to be available that in detail, thus that thing is maintained over here.
Sandy / February 23, 2014 at 05:28 pm
Genuinely when someone doesn't know after that its up to other users that they will help,
so here it takes place.
Patrick R / July 7, 2014 at 12:52 pm
The other day I was standing on a sidewalk taking photos of streetcars going by. I was leaning against a brick fence while waiting for photo opps. Security for the nearby condo came out and questioned me. He told me that I was on private property by virtue of the fact that I was leaning on their fence. I stood up and said "There! Now I'm on public property." He told me that there were complaints - and he also insinuated that the sidewalk was the property of the condo. I essentially told him to get lost, which he did. I was pretty furious about this. Was I within my right to be standing there?
Nash / July 7, 2014 at 01:38 pm
If you need to look up the law and cannot use common sense, then you really need help.

My girlfriend were in big public park once having a nice quiet picnic in a quiet spot. Then this young couple shows up with a photographer, practically 2 feet from us (it is a really huge park btw with lots of spots) to take photos. I politely asked them for some space, and I got a reply that it is a public park and that legally it is a public space. Yes, I do realise that but there is common sense and have we become so dumbed down that we cannot think for ourselves anymore and need the laws to always guide us?
Arvo / May 29, 2015 at 07:36 pm
Delete the photos and then use recovery software when you get home. I no longer go to Tor Maple leaf games as the last time they took my equip away as my lens was longer than 70mm a supposed NHL rule, never before enforced till my last visit to the ACC and totally ruining my experience of taking the photos during the warm-up I return to my seat and because of the netting & do not take anymore photos but they would not budge. And this was opening night Tor Vs Mtl with all the pomp and ceremony. So they will never see me again at a live game
kwesi replying to a comment from Chester Pape / October 9, 2015 at 06:49 pm
I would imagine n the case of showing a work of street photography the case for a rights violation would depend on wether or not the resin as the subject of the photo or there incidentally.
kwesi replying to a comment from kwesi / October 9, 2015 at 06:50 pm
...the person was
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