The Burj Khalifa at night

The Burj Khalifa at night

I love taking pictures of landscapes and buildings.  You probably do too.  Especially when you travel.  America is very lax when it comes to restrictions against photography (with obvious exceptions if you’re a creep).  This leads many Americans into a false sense of security when abroad.

Unfortunately, The Guardian reports the story of an American who was arrested in Abu Dhabi for taking pictures.  The prevailing theory is the man was in the diplomat area of Abu Dhabi and saw a sign that said No Photography.  He probably thought it’d be funny to get a picture of that sign (I would too, honestly), and snapped a picture.

He now faces five years in prison under the UAE’s strict photography laws.  The article gives a thorough overview of the facts, so I’ll let you head over there for details and see you when you get back.

Know the rules where you’re traveling!
Many countries have similar laws to Abu Dhabi, specifically around photographing the police or any government/military installations.  Many people choose to disregard these rules in order to get iconic pictures the world hasn’t been allowed to see.  I get that, I really do.  But just make sure you understand the laws and risks of where you’re going before you leave.  I’m not advocating that anyone should break any laws, but there are probably many photographers who have taken pictures of the same sign without being caught.

In the UAE, for example, if I take a picture with a lot of people in it (like below), the law states that any one of them can take me to court since I took their picture without their permission.

Dubal Fountain audience

Dubal Fountain audience

Now of course you can make the argument that they were in a major touristy place (watching the fountain show at the Dubai Mall), but I would’ve had to find a UAE lawyer and pay their exorbitant fees to plead my case.

So, in truth I struggle a bit on this one.  I definitely broke the UAE’s photography laws when I was there, simply due to how strict they are, and you probably broke them too if you’ve ever been.  Dubai is said to be more relaxed than the other emirates, but you never know I guess.

Some guidelines:

  • In just about every place, ask someone before you take a picture of them
  • If you’re in a Muslim country, be very careful taking pictures of women or children
  • If you’re in a Muslim country, be mindful of religious ceremonies and mosque guidelines about photographing mosques (moreso to be respectful than any sort of law)
  • It’s probably not ok to take pictures of military bases or installations, no matter the country.  Ask a nearby policeman to confirm before pulling out your camera!
  • Most countries prohibit taking pictures of police officers on duty.  Always double-check before taking a picture of them.
  • If you’re going to sneak candid pictures, have an exit strategy and don’t stay in one place for too long.

Let’s play it smart out there, and be very careful if you decide to sneak pictures of people in the streets, and maybe don’t tempt fate by taking a picture of a No Photography sign.  That said, here’s to the release and safe return of Dr. Black.

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