What is the law regarding photography on airports?
June 25, 2009 2:42 PM   Subscribe

Photography and travel. What is the law regarding photography on airports? Details inside.

I will be traveling from Toronto, Canada to South-east Asia with stops at London, England and Bahrain, Bahrain. ( only on the airports of those cities for few hours)

What is the law regarding photography or airports, specially in London and Bahrain? Am I allowed to take pictures at all? Could my camera be confiscated? If I am allowed, are there are limitations as to what I can photograph?

If it matters, I will be carrying a DSLR with a 18-55mm lens.

Is there anything else I need to know before taking pictures?
posted by Danniman to Law & Government (7 answers total)
You didn't say which London airport.

Heathrow requires permits, though I suspect that's just for commercial/large shoots; you can always simply ask a Heathrow employee when you get there.

I didn't find any information for Stansted or Gatwick.

I don't know if Bahrain has more than one airport but Bahrain International doesn't have anything on their website about photos.

I would just ask an employee at each airport.
posted by cooker girl at 3:45 PM on June 25, 2009

I'd be quite careful in Bahrain, especially with something as obvious as a DSLR. It's very easy to find yourself in trouble in places like that for doing something you'd think is quite normal.

In London, it should be clearly signposted whether you can take pictures or not and if there is any question you could easily ask one of the abundant guards.
posted by Man_in_staysis at 4:17 PM on June 25, 2009

AFAIK it's a bit of a pot-luck. I've taken pictures at airports before, both on an official escorted session during a video shoot, and as a regular passenger, and never had a problem. A small DSLR (Canon 400D or Nikon D40 size) and a small 18-55mm lens probably wouldn't attract much attention, especially if you're photographing your friends for obvious holiday snaps.

On the other hand, if you start getting architectural detail then all bets are off. I'd refrain from doing so unless it's necessary. In any case, I'd be prepared to be asked to stop, and I wouldn't use a memory card that had anything else valuable on it, just in case they got especially officious.

It's a pity, because airports are curious places. I wonder if contacting the airport's relevant authorities beforehand and inquiring about possibly getting some kind of photo-pass would help.
posted by Magnakai at 4:29 PM on June 25, 2009

No specific information about any of your locations. Airports are usually very sensitive about their security procedures, so pictures of the security checkpoints are likely right out (even when I've been with a minder from the airport's pr department, photographing the security line has been forbidden). I have photographed in Heathrow and Stanstead with no problem, and I've walked through many, many airports on 4 continents over the past few years with a camera dangling from my shoulder or neck, so that shouldn't be a problem either. I might be more worried about Bahrain than London, just because the rule of law in the Middle East seems more severe from an outside observer, but London police have a history of arbitrary harassment of photographers.

There are a few techniques for photographing in places where you aren't supposed to but my advice here is to look like you're a tourist, which you might well be. Airports are full of tourists, so you won't look out of place. Don't shoot high numbers of frames of the same scene. Periodically take a few pictures of the sculptures or whatever is on display in the airport, even if you don't want to. Don't spend your time just taking pictures; take a picture, browse the magazine stand, take a picture, buy a sandwich, take a picture, go to the bathroom, and so on. You are not a threat and this technique only reinforces that to someone observing you.
posted by msbrauer at 4:35 PM on June 25, 2009

Oh, the other thing to remember is that there are programs available that let you recover images from a formatted memory card. No help if the card is confiscated, but if the authorities format the card (illegal in the US, as is seizure without a court order), you can recover the pictures. Make sure not to use the card at all after the card is formatted before recovery.
posted by msbrauer at 4:37 PM on June 25, 2009

I was connecting though Heathrow in early May and was stopped by airport personnel for taking photos. They did not take my camera or require me to delete images; I just had to stop.

Of course, by that point, I had already taken several pretty good shots. (I'm not recommending that you just throw caution to the wind; the rules is the rules and other personnel, esp. in Bahrain, may not be so friendly.)

FWIW, this was with a pretty professional looking camera with a big zoom.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:49 PM on June 25, 2009

Having lived in Bahrain, I can tell you the country is plenty friendly. Your best bet since you are using a prosumer lens, is to be the obvious tourist you are. Socks and sandals are you friends. Act clueless and be friendly.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 8:25 PM on June 25, 2009

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