Its Worth Knowing When Not To Take That Holiday Snap

Everyone wants that perfect holiday snap so you can bore your friends silly when you get home (or if you can't wait the pictures will be splashed over whatever social media you are hooked into). It could be a case of showing off how amazing the new duty free toy is (the camera), whilst in some cases it will be "look at how good I am at taking photos", thinking you are the next Helmut Newton.

I am not talking about photography laws for the paparazzi or news photography in this diatribe, it is merely a snippet of a guideline on "what or where" you should not point your camera while you are traipsing around the world, some of it from personal experience.


Where Not To Point Your Camera - The Wise TravellerEvery country has different laws in relation to what or who can be photographed and for what end use the photographs are intended.  Remember, photography is no longer an expression of free speech in many countries.

Cultures vary (think: should I take a photo of that monk picking his nose or the Muslim woman who lifted her veil because she sneezed); it is wise to do a bit of homework on where you are planning to travel.

Before you click...are you invading someone's privacy without the person's permission, or can you see a sign declaring that no photography is allowed and inviting that angry security guard to yell at you?

What to do if you are halted mid click by security or police or military?  Above all stay calm and stop your knees from shaking, but hang on to your camera with a gorilla grip.  Be cooperative, especially if you are alone in a strange country (where you don't speak the lingo) and demur to their upper hand. Discretely try to extricate yourself from the situation even if you have to crawl, bow and scrape to get away.  Hold your camera facing down, so it is obvious that you have got the not so gentle hint that you are not welcome to take photographs.

Countries and Restrictions

The more developed the country, the more restrictions to taking that photograph you so want.  In some countries you will find that you are a celebrity, with locals lining up to have their photograph taken.  For some of these gentle souls it will be the first time they have seen their own image whilst others will make it a commercial proposition wanting money in exchange for a photo.

The more devious scoundrels when looking at the playback of their image, which you will graciously shown them, will grab your camera and run off with it. Apart from random crowd shots, sadly for many cities, the war on terrorism is in the process of crippling street photography where buildings are concerned.

A snapshot of some countries and what travelers are saying:


Following the footsteps as usual of the United States with numerous government buildings and installations off limits and don't even think for a moment to flash a camera randomly in a playground or at the beach where children that don't belong to you are in the view finder.


Whilst snapping away in Beijing is fine, once outside of the city domain the locals will love you but the police will more likely be snarling.


Where photography is considered to be an art form whether you are a Helmut Newton or one in the making, there are no real off limit opportunities.


Go for it unless you are in Tehran, then it is a big "no no" regarding government or embassy buildings and never photograph a woman unless you have her express permission.


North and South, be very careful of where you are aiming that camera lens if you want to leave the country with your camera in tow.


Females with a camera will get away with a lot more than a man aiming his lens.


The biggest "no no" is to photograph the women (some believe it is taking their soul), whilst others will smile for the camera if you agree to pay them, especially in the countryside villages.  It all depends on the circumstances and how you approach the intended target for your image.


The locals will love you especially in the countryside, but be wary around borders or remote areas where military can be found.


There are no restrictions, unless you are in Kathmandu and contemplating that perfect photo of The American Club.  The gung ho security guards have issues with anyone pointing a camera at the brown walled building.


You will be met with local beaming smiles, vying for their photo to be taken.
India, Philippines, Thailand, Fiji - Basically laissez faire countries for the camera totting tourist, just be on the look out for any buildings that have "no photography" signs or an overzealous security guard and be respectful of their culture.

Poland & Romania

If you want to take a photo inside a ticketed tourist attraction, you will be paying extra to get that shot.

Saudi Arabia

A country with a super strict cybercrime law (yes you can get thrown into jail) if you intend on carrying out a bit of street photography whilst on holidays. You actually need to obtain a permit from the country's Ministry of Culture and Information to take happy snaps in the streets.

Apparently it is considered the ultimate heinous action to share a photo of someone online, without their permission to do so.  This is a tricky one to get around.

Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Italy, France

No real dramas as tourist hordes invade with clicking cameras pointed anywhere and everywhere, just beware of any buildings with no photography signs.


Many of the locals believe they are celebrities and bleat "$1 for photo", so it is up to you and your stance on this issue, as to how you handle the situation.  Steer clear of taking pictures of anything remotely military.

United Kingdom

New laws have been passed which prohibit the taking of photographs of public buildings that has created some awkward moments for photography buffs.  Be really careful where you aim your lens in a city in the UK, as photographing a building means you are a terrorist and if you are in the park taking some photographs of children, it must mean that you have pervert tendencies.

United States

9/11 changed the street photography scene forever, especially in New York City.  Most public buildings (government or private), government installations, bridges and theatres are totally off-limits, as well as the kids in the park, unless you want to end up on the sex offenders list.

I have come unstuck taking photographs in the far north of Myanmar and "shamed" by noisy kids when I attempted to take a photograph of the back of an elderly man in Morocco. I have numerous photographs of different border crossings on Thailand's borders - it is almost a right of passage for tourists to click away - but I would never attempt to do so in some other countries.

Taking travel photos is all about what I call "reading the moment", sometimes being a bit overly enthusiastic for that shot I have to have, or simply taking the chance that I will get away with it, if I know I shouldn't be taking that picture.

For those that travel on tours, your guide will tell you what you can and can't photograph.  But for those like me that travel solo, it is a matter of being aware and occasionally suffering the indignity of getting a rap over the knuckles and hope that will be the only punishment in the offering.

Gail Palethorpe, a self proclaimed Australian gypsy, is a freelance writer, photographer and eternal traveller. Check out her website Gail Palethorpe Photography and her Shutterstock profile.