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Tips & Tricks

The First Amendment: What Photographers Need to Know (And What To Do If You Are Arrested)

By Hanssie on October 31st 2014

It’s becoming more and more common to hear cases where photographers are being harassed by law enforcement for documenting or filming, recently and most notably in Ferguson, Missouri this past August. It has become so much of an issue that the NYPD chief even issued an internal memo to remind his officers that “members of the public are legally allowed to record police interactions…


As a photographer, you may eventually (if you haven’t already) run into a situation where you are asked to stop recording by a law enforcement official and in that case, you need to know what to do and what your legal rights as a photojournalist are. In the following video, Mickey Osterreicher, General Counsel for The National Press Photographers Association discusses a few situations that you may find yourself in and what to do if you find yourself in a scenario where your first amendment rights are violated.


You should watch the brief 3 minute video a few times to catch all the nuggets of advice. I did find it very interesting that when a law enforcement agent asks you to see or delete an image, they are not only violating your first amendment right, but the 4th and 14th amendments as well, which is illegal search and seizure and “taking someone’s property without due process.” The video also gives you advice on what to do if you get arrested.

I hope you don’t ever find yourself in the situation where you will need to use the information given in this video, but if you do, remember to be respectful, keep calm and be rational less you exacerbate an already tense situation.

Watch A Photographer’s Guide To The First Amendment (And What To Do If You Get Arrested)

Have you ever encountered a situation where law enforcement violated your 1st amendment rights as a photographer/videographer? Comment below.

[Via DIY Photography]

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Basit Zargar

    great info

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  2. Aaron Cheney

    Great info!

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  3. Andy Van Patten

    This is so important anymore!

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  4. Steven Pellegrino

    I’ve been shooting on the street for a couple of years and have never had a problem. However in a very short time I have a lot of experience with this, especially as it relates to Ferguson, where I live. For the first couple of weeks after the Michael Brown shooting I was out there every day. I was never arrested or close to being arrested and I can tell you exactly why the few media people did get arrested. This is information that isn’t talked about in the news.

    Many of these protests got out of hand, and in fact they still do. The police let it go on for a while, but at some point, for everyone’s safety, it has to be stopped. The police give everyone, meaning protesters AND media, ample time to leave. They will warn everyone for 20 – 30 minutes. There were two journalists who were arrested at a McDonald’s. Why? The police were evacuating the building and they wanted everyone out. Unfortunately at that moment they were trying to file their stories. The police don’t care. They were given several warnings, which they ignored, trying to stall the police. One reporter even tried to get the cop to answer questions with impromptu interview. They spent the night in jail.

    A photographer from Getty Images was also arrested during a hectic protest because he failed to listen to the police and get out of there. The police don’t care who you are, what media company you are with. They have a job to do and you have a choice to make – stick around and try to get a shot no one else has and risk getting arrested or live to shoot another day. I chose to shoot another day.

    If you’ve never been here to experience these protests, what you don’t realize is the amount of “media” here. I state it as “media” because everyone with a camera and a fake press pass is calling themselves a photojournalist. Everyone is walking around with a camera and there’s no way to know who is with a legitimate organization and who is just running a blog.

    There has been dramatic changes over the past month. These protests have gotten increasingly violent and the First Amendment only applies if you’re on the side of the protesters. I haven’t been out there since the end of September because my car was broken in to and I was threatened by several “peaceful” protesters because they didn’t like the website I was shooting for. What do you do? Stand up for your rights and risk life and limb or live to shoot another day?

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    • Ben Perrin

      Probably the best comment I’ve seen on the matter. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. Adam T

    This is not the case State by State.
    In the state of Florida all persons on video need to be in agreement with permission to be video’d or on audio. It’s a felon in this state, you can not record on anyone without permission. But what strikes me as weird, how come the police and businesses can do it to us but we can’t to them

    Twelve states—California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington—require the consent of all parties for you to record a conversation

    I wish the ALCU would please come in and fix this mess

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  7. Daniel Thullen

    I would echo Brandon and Greg’s thoughts. Stay calm and respectful and know your rights.

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  8. Greg Avant

    Here is a link to the ACLU. Every photography needs to read this.

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  9. Brandon Dewey

    Great info and like he said, it’s very important to stay claim and be respectful.

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    • Ralph Hightower

      Yes, I saw one video where the photographer was confrontational. One doesn’t have to go “Robert Blake”, the Duracell battery guy, and challenge one to knock the battery off.

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    • Steven Pellegrino

      Ralph, I think you meant Robert Conrad. He did the Duracell commercials in the 70s and 80s. There are a lot of videos out there of people getting confrontational with the police regrading these issues. Unfortunately for the police there are people out there who make it their mission to go after the police with a video camera or put themselves in a situation they know police will ask them about what they’re doing. At that point they wont answer questions and they make what is an innocent situation into something that becomes a bigger issue.

      While these folks have the right to do what they’re doing, they can make it difficult for real photographers to do what they need to do.

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