On Monday, I posted a list of relatively minor violations of D.C. law for which you risk arrest or a criminal citation. One set of offenses in particular generated a lot of comments, tweets and other questions: “Photographer Violations” and “Photographer - More than 5 minutes at location.”
Writes commenter journeyer58, “These seem like the most vague and innocuous laws I could ever imagine, because as a photographer I have sat in the same place for hours and taken 2 pictures. This law is an unimaginable infringement of the rights of the photographer under the law.”
Rest assured, amateur photographers and most professional photographers have nothing to fear. The operative restrictions here can be found in Chapter 24 of the D.C. Municipal Regulations, sections 521 through 523. Those rules provide for the licensing of persons or businesses that “engage in the business of taking photographs of any person or persons upon the streets, sidewalks, or other public spaces of the District of Columbia, for profit or gain.”
These rules, which date to before District home rule, appear to be aimed at a largely bygone corps of street photographers who mainly solicit tourists. There are a number of rules governing their conduct, including this: “While engaged in taking photographs, no person licensed under §521 or §522 of this chapter shall impede traffic as defined in the District of Columbia Traffic Acts; nor shall any photographer remain longer than five (5) minutes at any one (1) location on the streets, sidewalks, or other public spaces.” Hence the “More than 5 minutes at location” offense.
These days, very few outfits are licensed under these regulations — one or two, according to the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
”Our policy has been that the street photographer license would apply to persons who are stationed on public space to take photos of passersby,” said agency spokesman Helder Gil in an e-mail. Amateurs aren’t covered, he said, nor are “journalists, professional photographers who take pictures of buildings/scenery, or wedding photographers taking pics of happy couples on D.C. streets and sidewalks.”
So as long as you don’t make a living hustling tourists for snapshots, you can snap away without keeping an eye on your watch.
As Flickr user thisisbossi notes, the regulations might be broadly construed to ban all sorts of things. I am not aware of any evidence that this has in fact been the case. But if a cop hassles you and starts citing D.C. Municipal Regulations, do let me know about it.