noob ettiquette question


TPF Noob!
Jun 3, 2013
Reaction score
Can others edit my Photos
Photos OK to edit
I am just starting back in to photography, mainly interested in travel and nature photography. I have one question, I would like to know how you all handle this.

While travelling I stopped to eat in an extremely quaint and picturesque cafe in a tiny town (less than 200 population). There were about 12 people there in three groups, two very elderly groups and one table of teens.

I really wanted to take some pictures, it could have been some great shots, but I was embarrassed and didn't know how to proceed. I didn't know whether to just start shooting and apologize if anyone objected, to ask the proprietors if it was ok, or to stand up and loudly announce "Hey, I just got a new camera and I would really like to take some pictures, does anybody mind?" .

While the last option is probably the best option I would be afraid that it would also spoil the "candid" setting.

What is the etiquette (or even law) in this setting and how would you all handle it. This is a serious question..
This applies to UK law, and was got from a second-year law student, not a qualified lawyer, so don't take it as professional legal advice!

To the best of my law student's knowledge, there's nothing in the law (remember, again, UK law) that can stop you taking all the photos you want in a public place like a cafe. If the owners objected, you should stop (Handy Law Student didn't specify if the proprietors could press charges if you didn't, but you seem the polite sort, so I'll guess you would have quit if asked).

Personally, if I was in that situation, I think I would have been as nervous as you, but if I'd managed to get a few photos and someone had asked me what I was doing, I think I'd have explained, engaged them in a conversation, shown them the photos and explained what I was going to do with them (put them on Flickr, show friends, etc), deleted any that showed that person if they weren't happy with them, and hopefully turned it into a good situation.

I'm not a pro photographer and my Handy Law Student isn't a qualified lawyer, so not sure if this helps - but it might help to know you're not the only one who would have felt awkward in that situation!
There are two issues, the legal and the ethical. The legal aspect of it is basically (I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on television, this is NOT legal advice) shoot until the owner or agent of the owner tells you to cease and desist. The ethical? I would approach the owner and explain what I wanted to do, and then, assuming he/she gave permission, ask each group of patrons if they would mind if I took a photograph of the restaurant with them at their table. If they objected? End of discussion, no picture.

Get over any embarrassment; you will miss a LOT of good shots otherwise. I remember wanting a particular shot when I was in Greece some years ago and the only spot was from the roof of a house, so I walked up to the door, knocked and using sign language and pointing (I spoke no Greek, the elderly home-owner spoke no English) eventually communicated what I wanted to do and he was more than happy for me to clamber up to his roof and take my pictures.
where is "NE ND" ?? Is that northeast north dakota?

Anyway, in the United States at least, you could legally take photos of anybody in a diner without permission by default, unless the people are in some situation where they would normally expect reasonable privacy from casual onlookers. This does NOT mean they just "feel" like not having their picture taken. It means, for example: huddling over some hidden object like a prescription bottle and trying to hide it from sight, or typing in their PIN at an ATM, or using the bathroom at the diner, etc.

If a customer merely tells you to stop and you don't, then you may be in danger of getting your ass kicked if you don't, or having your camera stolen or destroyed, but you are not breaking the law if you continue (and you could sue them for theft / vandalism / assault if they react illegally, though that may not be much comfort to you as you lie in traction at the hospital).

If a staff person tells you to stop or there is a no photography sign, then you should stop. But even then, I don't believe that it is TECHNICALLY illegal to continue shooting anyway, even as you're being escorted out of the building (you DO have to leave if asked, for sure). I never researched this in detail to confirm, because I have no reason to ever be that much of a douchebag. But some people do have a reason (investigative journalists, etc.), so it may be worth looking into more carefully, depending on your goals.

And regardless of whether you get kicked out or anything else, if it was a public business, nobody ever has any right to confiscate your camera or your card or delete its contents. If they do, you can press charges just the same as if some random dude had snatched your camera on the street. Police can't even do this, without a warrant/court order (although if they try, you should of course not physically stop them. Just dissent and assert your rights verbally and then press charges later).

As for etiquette, there are no right answers. You have to feel out the situation, and realize that nothing you do will ever guarantee that NOBODY will be offended. Just do whatever you feel is necessary to avoid feeling like a bad person, or gaining a bad reputation, or getting into a fight.
Do whatever it takes to get the shot... Haha j/k I would've probably been nervous and awkward too. I definitely wouldn't have asked the owner and the every table in the diner, though. That's a lot of time and effort for a candid.
Oh also, keep in mind that although it is legal to TAKE a photo of somebody in a diner, it may not be legal to SELL their image later, if that's what you plan to do.

To be sure that you won't run into any legal issues if you want to sell the shots, carry model release forms with you (google it to find some generic legal wording to copy), and ask people politely to sign them after you've taken the shot, if you want a candid. Depending on the situation, it may sometimes be appropriate to offer them something in exchange, like a few dollars or taking their email address to send them a print, or whatever. Other times, this may insult the person (maybe don't offer $3 to a guy in a tux hanging around outside the opera...)
Honestly this all depends on what you do with the photos. In my experience and experiences in taking photos in areas not allowed, someone will try to take your camera if it is really not ok. All other issues aside, this is the only problem I have been threatened with.

I will never experience the freedom of photo, or art; if I never did.
A restaurant most likely isn't public property (unless maybe if it's something like a cafeteria in a public building); you're in a business and on their private property. I've read that some restaurants are starting to prohibit camera usage because it's gotten so disruptive to other customers (people who are taking pictures of their food to post on their Facebook page, etc.).

It might be best to ask someone on the restaurant staff if it's OK to take pictures, then watch for an opportunity to ask customers eating at another table if it's OK to take their picture. Once you have their permission there may be an opportunity to take their picture after you've spoken to them and be able to get a candid shot. I think the etiquette is to do this in a respectful way, they may just want to eat their meal and not be disturbed.

There is a difference between being able to take pictures someplace and what you do with the photos. Businesses may want to protect their name, logo, etc. It could be fine to take pictures for your own use but if you intend to try to make money with the photos, get them published, etc. that's where you may get into needing releases (typically it wouldn't be needed for editorial use but would be for retail or commercial use). You can look at sites like ASMP to find more information. (edit - They have a pocket release form available I think that can be used to carry with you to use as needed.)
Last edited:
As serious an answer as I can muster:

If it were me, i would arise, take a few pics of the front, the side, the (empty) counter, anywhere that there were no people. All done without fanfare.

Then, camera at my side, I would (smiling) sit at the next table, and just try to engage the folks in some small talk. While the camera is sitting by itself, on the table, I might ask if I could take their picture. If they refused to talk or said "no" then I would simply thank them and pick up the camera and leave. All while still smiling. Leave a tip.
Thanks all! You guys are great and really confirmed my basic feelings. Pretty much it boils down to I have to be braver and polite and respectful and friendly. I will certainly look in to the model release and offer prints to those that want them up here. Offering money in this neighborhood would not go over well, but buying pie or beverages might be ok. Small town folks are different, I like em.

I really appreciate the advice, I like this place, I think i'll stick around.
A restaurant most likely isn't public property (unless maybe if it's something like a cafeteria in a public building); you're in a business and on their private property.
For tax purposes and torts and such, yes, it is a private property.

But in terms of photography law, it's "public" insofar as anybody from the public is invited to be there by default. The point is that anybody in the restaurant should EXPECT that any other random person in the public community might observe them doing whatever they are doing, since everyone is invited. That's what matters. Because if you are in a situation where you should reasonably expect people to see you with their eyes, then the law assumes that you should also reasonably expect people to see you with their cameras.

Perhaps "publicly accessible" is a better, less confusing term to use.

Photography of people who are visible from publicly accessible locations and who are not doing things to obviously attempt to create privacy for themselves (closing bathroom stall doors, huddling over something, typing in a PIN) is simply not illegal.

And like I suggested before, I don't think it is even illegal if they tell you not to do it, or post signs. Signs aren't laws. They're just signs. I can post a sign that says it is illegal to wear flip flops within 10 miles of my house. That doesn't make it actually a law. There isn't AFAIK, anything the business owners could press charges against you for in terms of simply taking photos in and of itself.

The only thing they should be able to actually press charges for is trespassing, and that will only stick if they explicitly ask you to leave AND then you DON'T actually subsequently leave.

Scenario: You walk into a publically accessible building like a museum or restaurant, with a huge no photography sign. You start snapping photos, and soon get asked to leave. You comply with the request, and start walking toward the door. You continue snapping photos as you leave. In this scenario, I'm not aware of any laws that you would have broken by the time you are back out on the street.
I'd start shooting and hope for the best, using smiles and jokes and being over-friendly about it if things started to get tense.

Be aware however, that ultimately it's private property, and they can certainly tell you photography is not allowed and put a stop to it. This subject comes up around here from time to time, specifically with regards to malls (especially around the holidays), where the same situation applies; While it seems like a public place because the public has been invited in to browse and shop and mall-cersize, it's actually private property and subject to the rules of the owners of that property. You have no rights there, so just be nice about it and you'll probably be okay.

Here's one I grabbed a few years ago.

it's actually private property and subject to the rules of the owners of that property.
To reiterate the counterpoint here: rules aren't laws, and nobody can force you to follow their private rules. The only thing they can make you to do that is legally enforceable is to physically leave their property.

If I have a rule in my house that guests must NEVER wear socks on their heads, I can't press charges against you for wearing a sock on your head. Not even if I posted a sign. Not even if your sock wearing is harming my reputation as a sock-hat-free house, or disturbing my other guests. My ONLY choices are to either let you get away with breaking my rule, try to convince you somehow to follow the rule (but no guarantee I'll succeed), or give up and ask you to leave my house, and then press charges for trespassing if you refuse to leave (although you are free to continue wearing your sock the entire way to the door).
Beautiful shot of the diner. Boy, that place would be near impossible to use a flash in, sort of like shooting in a house of mirrors..

Most reactions

New Topics