Should You Do Lifestyle Product Photoshoots Without Permits or Permission

Years ago, a friend and I bought new cameras. As is the case when getting a new camera, we wanted to go out and photograph everything. We spent the day doing it and then night came, and we pulled out the tripods – and that’s when the problems started, just not with the cameras.

location lifestyle photographer los angeles
Locations in Lifestyle Photography Are Ideal for Setting a Mood or Helping Deliver on a Branding Concept

We setup to do a night shot of a certain financial building in the greater Los Angeles area. Now, this building was no more special than any other financial building. We just saw nice colors and contrast and wanted to shoot more things with the new cameras to test them out.

Just as we started into our first handful of shots, a couple of police cars pulled up. Long story short, they asked if we had a permit for photography. Of course not. They went on to explain how they could confiscate the equipment while we went on to explain we were just photographing for fun with our shiny new cameras.

The police officers further explained that our choice of a financial building was also not wise as it is common for burglars to take pictures before a robbery. It didn’t even occur to us that it was a bank – again, we just had in our minds, nice looking building to test out our cameras. When it was clear we were just trying to have fun and weren’t doing a photo shoot, nor casing the spot, they left us with our gear and a warning.

I often get asked to conduct photo shoots in public areas or on private-property where permits are usually required. The problem is I get asked to do the photo shoots without the client securing permits. The main reason is to save time and money. Vendors should understand that photographers risk a lot when this is asked of them.

Photo Shoot Without a Permit

Police can confiscate your gear – thousands of dollars of it. In addition to losing gear, photographers lose an ability to make an income since their gear is confiscated. So, the risk can be long-term. In addition, property owners can sue the photographer for using a photo with their property in it – because permission was not granted. So, now the vendor is also at risk.

In addition, it can backfire on the vendor. The photographer can try to make the case that the vendor didn’t provide permits as necessary. Thus, this can open the door to the vendor being sued by the photographer. If the photographs were using in marketing, now the property owner might also be able to make a case against the vendor.

Often, vendors want to take these risks for what most of the time are nominal extra costs. Permits and property rentals certainly add to costs of a shoot. It can range into a few hundreds of dollars. But it can also be less than $100 for some locations.

Risking a lawsuit can be so much more costly. And, who wants to deal with that. There are also ways to do photo shoots in permitted locations for as little as $100 or less. Some photographers might also have specific permits in place to use certain public locations. While such locations are certainly limited, at least it will be permitted, saving everyone from the worries that can come with shooting without permits.

Finding Locations for Photo Shoots

There are some city locations where it’s safe to do commercial shoots, within reason. If you’re going to setup props on a city street with a team of 10 people, you’re likely asking for a police officer to inquire with you. But if it’s a team of 2-3 people with no props and you’re not blocking the flow of foot or vehicular traffic, you’re risk of being stopped by a police officer will be less. This is by no means an approval or suggestion to do a commercial photo shoot without all legally required permissions.

If you’re a vendor looking to have a photographer do a location shoot for you, it’s also probably likely you’re incurring all the risks anyway. Most photographer-vendor contracts will mention that it is assumed the vendor has secured all necessary permissions to photograph property, the likeness of someone, etc. That if not, they agree to be responsible for any legal ramifications, remedies, etc., and that they provide copies of these permissions upon request.

Places requiring permits to shoot at are often this demanding because they’re worth it. For just a bit more in your budget, a lifestyle shoot can be completely transformed into photos for good marketing or sales campaigns. After all, remember the cliché, location is everything.

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