In the US, does a person photographing private property (houses, farms etc.) while standing on public ground (road, park etc.) commit any offence? If they do not, will they commit any offence by publishing the photos (think Streisand effect)? There are a couple of similar questions here (one, two) but those are for Australia.

Please also consider these variations:

  • The owner of the property (or security staff etc.) comes out and asks to stop (or even demands to delete the photos) — can the photographer legally ignore them?
  • Telephoto lens and tripod is used — potentially capable of zooming into details of what is inside the property. To avoid digging too deep into this let's assume that if something really private is caught on the camera (e.g. couple having sex), the photographer only keeps the pictures but never publishes them;
  • People are in the frame, e.g. a man mowing his lawn;
  • Special property (e.g. military base, power plant, railways etc.) is in the frame.

If the answer varies greatly from state to state, please focus on Tennessee, North/South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

  • I'm imagining the person taking photographs using a drone, are you contemplating a different scenario?
    – A.fm.
    Feb 20, 2018 at 7:57
  • @A.fm. no, let's say just camera/tripod. Drones would be a whole different story perhaps, especially if they fly over private property?
    – Greendrake
    Feb 20, 2018 at 8:00

2 Answers 2


In the US, does a person photographing private property (houses, farms etc.) while standing on public ground (road, park etc.) commit any offence?


In general, while standing on public land, it is legal for your eyes to glance onto everything around you. You cannot be arrested and imprisoned for allowing your gaze to pass over your neighbours lawn. It is legal for you to take out a tripod, canvas and paintbrushes and paint the general scene, even if it includes, for example, a tree standing on private land. Instead of a paintbrush, you may use a camera to create a picture of the scene.

There are a few exceptions

  • Some military installations
  • Some installations operated by the department of energy (e.g. some nuclear power stations)
  • You cannot photograph people where they have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" - Note that this is not dependant on how the people feel about it. You can photograph a couple kissing at a bus stop, you probably can't legally point a telephoto lens at their bedroom window through a broken privacy-fence.

will they commit any offence by publishing the photos

They may need copyright permission from the owners of any identifiable works of art included and may need model releases from identifiable people included.

There are specific exceptions allowing the publishing of photographs of sculptures and buildings that are visible from public spaces.


The Photographer's Right

  • Copyright in architecture does not extend to photographs/paintings of the physical building
    – Dale M
    Feb 20, 2018 at 20:40

So for your scenarios as given:

  1. Yes you can ignore them. Even if they ask you, even if they demand. There is some quibble over minor details of this, but a generic shot of a private building taken from a publicly accessible location is not illegal.

  2. Now we have entered the quibble. While the above is true, this situation violates reasonable expectations of privacy, if not explicitly spelt out in the law (Some states make the Bedroom, Bathroom, and Hotel Rooms explicit. Others do not.). This can be further quibbled by the definitions of normal photographic equipment (telephoto lenses count?) and if the photographer disabled measures to prevent snooping like this (if the blinds are open and the distance from the public area).

  3. This is legal. While still on private property, the man is in public view. If you are not on his private property, you take as many pictures as you wish without legal intervention.

  4. The general rule is that photography of these instillation is a bit more controlled and there might be some tricks to it as well. For all publicly accessible private property, the rule is you can take photographs unless it is explicitly stated that you cannot (so for your rail way, unless you see a sign or a railway worker tells you otherwise, snap away). For your power plants and military bases, you can take pictures from public areas, but be careful. These locations often have legal tricks that allow them to stop you from taking pictures, even when out side of the gates. Most military bases are built so the fence is set some distance into the property line. This means for some distance before you are barred entry onto the base, you are still "on the base" as far as the law is concerned. If the base authorities tell you to stop taking pictures, you are probably on the base already and just didn't know. Typically they have signs on the real line saying "you are about to enter the instillation and photography is prohibited". These are placed at the exact legal edge of the property. THE SIGN IS NOT LYING TO YOU. If you can read it, you have not yet entered the property. If you cannot, you are no longer ABOUT to enter the property because you either walking away from the property (your back is towards it) OR you have entered the property (in which case you are no longer "ABOUT TO" enter the property. You already have.). A famous example of this is the Area 51 complex, which is some distance into the desert away from the property lines. The closest a member of the public can get to the fence is also well into the property and the base security has a reputation for following anyone on the property at a distance (They drive white SUVs and are refereed to as "Cameo Men"). This allows the base some discretion with figuring out if they are just tourists (it does happen) or if they are a bit more of a threat... or both (it does happen) and address it properly. They may know you're taking pictures and they may even know you were told not to do so beyond a certain point... but they won't care because you aren't looking at what they do not want you looking at. In our Area 51 example, filming the Cameo Men is enough to get them to come down and tell you to stop because you are on the property. Unauthorized photography from an employee is a good way to get yourself fired in the happiest of cases.

TL;DR: Same rule apply to the government facilities and sensitive power plants and other instillation. They just tend to give you space enough to legally trespass before they try and stop you from taking pictures. They might even let you take them just cause... but if they tell you to stop, they know exactly where you are and ask you to leave before trespassing gets charged.

  • Well, but sometimes you aren't on the property and they ask you to stop. It happens.
    – D M
    Feb 21, 2018 at 1:40
  • Right. Sometimes they hope you're just that stupid about the law that you agree to their requests. Nothing in the play book says law enforcement cannot lie to you.
    – hszmv
    Feb 21, 2018 at 14:37

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