Restricted Photo Gear

A few times a year we find ourselves at different locations around the country offering travel photography seminars and presentations.  We discuss many different things, what to take, how to pack, how to travel efficiently, travel photo tips, and images from past trips…but one topic that people always enjoy is “Restricted Photo Gear”.

Many photographers don’t realize that certain locations have restrictions on photography gear whether it be size, type or weight. The last thing you want, for example, is to show up to Machu Picchu for your photographic adventure of a lifetime only to be turned away at the entrance because you have 200+mm lenses. It is very important to “know before you go” and for that reason we would like to share a list of restrictions in a few areas. Take note this is not a complete list, and you should research each specific location you will be visiting.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (aka Ayers Rock) – Under Australian law, namely the EPBC Act of 1999 and EPBC Regs 2000, fines in the thousands of dollars can be imposed upon commercial photographers who take pictures in the national park without a permit or who take pictures of the ‘wrong’ parts of the national park. Some restrictions apply to amateur photography as well.

A person does not have the right to not be photographed in Australia; as Australia has no Bill of Rights in the sense that many other countries do, there is no guaranteed right to privacy. This does not however mean that it is a free-for-all. Be kind, courteous and aware of others. If you are on private property you must follow the rules dictated by the owner.

New Zealand 
Restrictions on photography come into play when it may be construed as “offensive” to a reasonable person.

The Sistine Chapel in Vatican City
– prohibits all still and video photography.

You can photograph anything in public but if you plan on publishing it the subject must give consent. Street photography has been essentially rendered illegal.

You are allowed to take photographs of private property from public property, but once upon private property, the owner has ultimate control over whether or whether not you are allowed to photograph, even if it is publicly accessible.

Locations such as Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square, or any of the Royal Parks allow recreational or artistic photographs. Commercial photography of these locations is prohibited.

The UK forbids any photography that may somehow prove of use to terrorists.

United States
US National Parks – Permit requirements vary by park for commercial photography. Non-commercial or amateur photographers are free to shoot in the parks. You may be questioned if you are using tripods or other “professional” equipment. There are exceptions for “educational” groups. 

Alaska – Bush planes restrict weight of all equipment and luggage.  Check with your tour operator or M&M.

Machu Picchu – Professional looking large tripods and lenses are restricted in the Machu Picchu complex. There have been many instances where photographers where charged upwards of $300 for every large tripod and lens larger than 200mm. A possible way around this is to use “Tele-zoom lenses”. They are great to use at Machu Picchu instead of the prime lenses.  

Authorities sometimes ask for “permit fees” for street photography of government buildings.
Police/Military do not like their pictures taken. Please contribute to making photographers reputations better by following their wishes.

While crossing the border sometimes authorities may restrict gear and/or demand a fee. 

In Islamic countries photographing women is forbidden.

Terra Cotta Warriors – No tripods of any size are permitted inside the buildings that house the Terra Cotta Warriors. If caught using one it will be confiscated without warning and will not be returned.

Authorities sometimes ask for “permit fees” for street photography of government buildings.

Chinese Police/Military do not like their pictures taken. Please contribute to making photographers reputations better by following their wishes.

Authorities do not allow pictures of military installations and many government buildings.

Anyone taking very expensive photographic gear into Egypt, particularly if they are professionals, should contact the Egyptian Press Office in their Egyptian consulate.  Equipment must often be registered, because the government does not want such equipment bought into Egypt and then sold without paying customs taxes.  They will check this gear upon arrival and check it upon departure.  CUSTOMS FORM 4457 is VITAL.

Photos cannot be taken INSIDE the pyramids, tombs and most museums in Egypt without a permit.  Your gear may be confiscated and you may be fined.

While crossing the border authorities may restrict gear and demand a fee.  Restrictions vary in Gaza areas depending on local activities.

Galapagos Islands 
Officials do not restrict any specific equipment but often limits the length of time you take to “set-up” your tripods and equipment according to wildlife, flora and access for others.  Common sense should rule the day.

Without a permit you are restricted to shooting during the mid-day hours. This is often solved by being with a tour group who has already acquired the appropriate permits.

Flights into Patagonia (Argentina or Chile) restrict weight of all equipment and luggage. Check with the airline or M&M.

Allowed gear: 1 camera with film rolls (up to 20 rolls), 1 video camera/camcorder with accessories as personal items.  M&M works with in country vendors to ensure we do not have any issues upon arrival.  FORM 4457!

May restrict any/all of our camera gear into the country.  The Ethiopian government has a reputation for locking up camera equipment and not giving it back until the owners leave the country.  The government fears any media that may make them out to be corrupt or irresponsible.  Our ground vendor takes care of our “permits” in advance so we do not have any issues. FORM 4457 is a must for Ethiopia as well.

Tripods are no longer allowed (signs are posted) at the following Temples/Shrines in Kyoto: 
Kiyomizu Temple
Ginkaku Shrine (Silver Pavillion)
Kinkaku Shrine (Golden Pavillion)

North Korea
Please be aware that tourists are under very strict regulations as to what they can and cannot do and this is not negotiable. For example, you are not free to wander around on your own, there are photographic restrictions and video cameras are generally prohibited. There have been serious problems in the past with journalists and therefore they are not welcome.

Generally you are only supposed to take pictures of what your appointed guides allow you to. The public is obliged to report all photography.

Your are restricted from taking photographs of: soldiers, check points, poverty, sneaked photos, while driven around and close ups of people.

Do not take your camera with you if you are alone and without a guide.

Any lens over 150mm is not allowed in the country.

Most Countries
You are almost guaranteed to find trouble if you photograph anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest — including bridges, airfields, military installations, government buildings or government vehicles. This could result in being detained and questioned, along with hefty fines and confiscation of the camera.

In Conclusion
The best option for anyone out there is to join a photo tour who has already obtained the proper permits, can provide you a list of restrictions and advise you while you are out shooting.

If you ever need any help you can always call M&M Photo Tours. We are ready and willing to help.  Also feel free to email us ( with any inquiries. To stay informed of changes ask to be signed up for our news letter.


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