After reading the hilarious (as well as shocking) tale of Jose Antunes (‘Don’t shoot that frog’) I decided it’s time to write a few lines about the issue and provide a couple of useful links about the sometimes strained relation between photography and the law.
I am planning to give more in-depth information about the situation in the Balkan countries and Turkey in later articles, for now just a rough guide for Bulgaria, my country of residence.
The law about photography in this former communist country is still more restrictive than in countries of Central or Western Europe (let alone Scandinavia), but it is fairly easy to get along as a photographer (pro or amateur) if you tread lightly.
It is prohibited to take photographs of public buildings. That would not only include the parliament or the ministries but also airports, railway stations and municipal buildings and so forth. In reality I only got busted once while shooting at Sofia’s central railway station, where a railway employee pointed me out to a cop (cops are everywhere in Bulgaria) who then made me pack away my camera.
It is also common for security personnel to interfere with photography in front of banks, embassies, airports, touristic highlights, museums and even high street shops if professional-looking gear is used. Sometimes this is only to extract some money from the snapper, sometimes it is for misinterpreted security reasons. My advice for a photographer shooting in Bulgaria is to stay inconspicuous, use a small camera if possible and don’t ask for permission.
As a photojournalist I very rarely experience restrictions, even if I shoot in front of a ministry or take pictures of police, but it helps if there is an obvious reason for being there (like a demonstration).
My wife and I offer professional photo/video, translation and fixer services for media people, so give us a shout if you travel to Bulgaria on assignment and need advice or assistance.
And finally some interesting links:
Streetphotography and the law (http://everydayaperture.com/law/) – written by a lawyer, explains the situation in the U.S.
Photography Advice (http://www.met.police.uk/about/photography.htm) – published by the London Metropolitan Police
Photography Law (http://bluenoxid.co.uk/photolaw.html) – applies to the UK