Shoot First, Ask Questions Later?

Nowadays everyone can become a photographer. With a range of affordable DSLR camera, pockets, or even smartphones with gigantic megapixels. But did you know that some rules applied when you're taking pictures especially in public places? Ever wondered if it's okay to take pictures of strangers you saw on the street? Or children on a playground? Or maybe taking snapshots on a public transit? Some points below from BlogTO will explain more on that. But then again, since I live in Toronto, I can only speaks from Ontario bylaws perspective. You should read more about your local bylaws too!


Canada's law on photography kinda on grey areas and pretty lenient. Still, morally speaking (and common sense too) taking pictures especially on someone else's property is a no. You don't want to caught yourself with a law officers when the owner report ed on you. Some photographers even have this "rule of thumb" which is: shoot first, ask questions later. All I can think of is maybe the moment that you're trying to capture only available on that second. When it's gone, it's gone. Again, this is just some sort of undisclosed knowledge among photographer so don't take my word on it.



Public property

You're allowed to take photos anywhere in and from Toronto's public spaces (sidewalks, parks, streets, etc.) under the following conditions:

  • You can't be in the middle of doing something illegal while you photograph, like jaywalking , breaking and entering (we see you rooftoppers), or interfering with a crime scene.
  • You can't shoot commercially on City of Toronto property, meaning no paid wedding photography or photoshoots in the park unless you have a permit from the city. While law enforcement will rarely stop a commercial shoot from happening on the sidewalk, they might put an end to a paid photo gig in High Park.
  • Taking photos of private property from public spaces is allowed even if the owners forbid you from photographing their property; that only counts if you're shooting on their grounds.
  • If there's a sign that explicitly states that a law prohibits photography there, you can't shoot. And even if there is no sign, you still might be stopped from photographing – and that's allowed.
Photographing people in public spaces

According to our laws, photographers are basically allowed to take photos of whoever and whatever they want in public areas, including activities, police officers, and even children, without consent. Restrooms, dressing rooms, and medical facilities, however, are examples of places which carry a reasonable expectation of privacy. Taking photos of people here can get you charged with Criminal Voyeurism – not a great charge to have on your legal records. Same goes for the TTC: you're not breaking any city or transit laws by taking and even posting pictures of strangers on your public Instagram account (unless it's commercial, in which case you can submit a request for a permit). But that doesn't mean you get to throw common decency to the wind: if you want to post a picture of someone taking a nap on line 2 on your satirical Toronto transit IG page, don't be an ass – have the courtesy to ask first.

Photographing music festivals and events

If the event is public, you can photograph it, regardless if it's on private property or if there's paid admittance. However, event organizers can tell you to stop taking pictures, in which case you should comply unless you want to get booted out of the event. Things event organizers and private parties aren't allowed to do:

  • Force you to provide your identity or reason for photographing: only law enforcement can do that.
  • Confiscate your photography equipment.
  • Force you to delete your photos.
  • Unless they were witness to a serious crime that you committed, they cannot detain you against your will.
Photographing in malls or restaurants

Unlike regular private properties, these spaces are also open to the public. That means you're legally allowed to photograph until a security guard or manager approaches you to stop. Tip: Keep your DSLR discrete the minute you enter the building to prolong the grace period for as long as possible.


So, I hope you get the grasp on where, when and who you can take pictures on. Don't be afraid to practice your photography skills. Keep on learning and ask questions later! 😉