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In my travelling career, I have seen lots of no photography zones, but the reasoning behind it mostly made sense. It is related to national security (infrastructure, proximity of military bases) and museums (copyright issues and/or light-sensitive works).

However, I have seen also places where I could not justify it. For instance, recently I was in Jeita Grotto in Lebanon. They have a no photography policy that it is so strict that they require people to leave cameras and even mobile phones in a locker prior to entering. The cave is amazing, and it is a pity that I could not take any photos. And I still do not understand why, there is nothing sensitive inside. And it's not like I wouldn't go there if I had seen the photos. On the contrary, it would encourage me even more to go there after seeing the photos that other tourists took.

Why do some places have a strict no photo policy?

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xkcd.com/1314 –  Uooo May 6 at 12:14
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For anyone interested on our sister site: Do native English speakers use the word “touristic”? –  hippietrail May 6 at 13:42
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If you're taking photos in low-light situations (like a cave) then you're most likely using a flash, which is distracting and frustrating to other visitors (not to mention completely destroying everyone's low-light vision). Many such tourist sites will have specific days for photography - though often you may have to pay more to attend due to higher demand. Since everyone attending is there to take photos, it's not as much of an issue anymore. –  Doc May 6 at 16:57
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To make up for the loss - here are zillions of photos of Jeita grotto –  Russell McMahon May 7 at 1:53
    
I just saw the photos. I can think of 2 reasons there. I saw some people on a boat. I am not sure if you visit like that but if yes: people often move in strange ways/do sudden moves or lean over board to get the best angle or photograph friends. This may be a security measure to avoid destabilizing the boat. Another possibility may be some existing animal colonies that react to sudden flashes. –  nsn May 15 at 11:38

6 Answers 6

up vote 15 down vote accepted

In grand summary (and standing upon the shoulders of all the other contributors!), photography restrictions (with or without flash) are frequently enforced at locations for the following reasons and needs; (in no particular order)

  • Security

    • National – Military installations/Anti-Spying etc.
    • Local – High value exhibits on display.
  • Protective

    • Privacy – Areas may overlook private habitation.
    • Safety – Areas may overlook protected environments e.g. schools, hospitals
  • Local Taboo

    • Religion – Areas may be religiously unacceptable for photography.
    • Culture – Areas may be culturally unacceptable for photography.
  • Health and safety

    • Safety to visitors – Allowance might cause trip, escape or other safety hazards
    • Safety to performers/guides – Staff may distracted and put at risk of injury
  • Pragmatism

    • Experience – Allowance might cause other visitors a reduced experience
    • Traffic flow – Allowance might delay visitor travel in heavy transit areas
  • Revenue Impact

    • Onsite - Local memorabilia item sales may be affected by visitor photography.
    • Offsite – Visitor photography publishing might affect long-term ticket sales.
  • Exhibit Impact

    • Ecological – Photography allowance might disturb local wildlife
    • Preservation – Flash photography might damage exhibits or artefacts
  • Local choice

    The last being a reflection that there may not necessarily be a legal, pragmatic or guessable restriction. It may just be a preference from the venue management, owners or local government policy that photography (with or without flash) is not allowed.

    Whether that decision is legal, moral or pragmatic can be an interesting argument, but in most circumstances, it's a rather moot point.

    As a visitor, you are allowed visitation rights in accordance to the venue's biddings under applicable laws. You have no rights beyond that unless argued in court according to applicable legislation.

    Under those circumstances, there's no universal answer to, "Why do some Tourist attractions forbid tourists to take photographs?" It's more of a case of asking, "What attractions allow me to take photographs without impact?"

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It sounds pretty similar to museums. Copyright isn't actually an issue for old works and should not concern the museum in any case (if some work is copyrighted, that's your problem if you do publish a reproduction, the museum does not need to enforce it on behalf of others). This leaves several potential reasons:

  • Avoiding people standing in the way/slowing down visits/not paying attention to where they walk because they are taking pictures. Where that's a real concern, you sometimes see rules like “pictures allowed but no tripod”. This seems especially relevant in a dangerous environment like a cave.
  • Protecting a stream of income, namely the sale of pictures of the works on display or, in this case, of the site itself. Sometimes you can even buy a photo of yourself in the site. Recent photographs, including your own, are generally protected by copyright and if nobody else has access, you ensure that no free pictures are available. In fact, it's precisely because museums cannot forbid reproductions of items in their collection using copyright that they need to prevent access to photographers.

In other places, religious issues play a role (see Mark Mayo's answer). Flashes can be a problem too (either because they disturb other visitors or because they damage sensitive items) but of course it's also possible to explicitly forbid that and still authorize photography (note that I don't think one is easier to enforce than the other and even in museums that completely forbid taking pictures, I have actually never seen anybody checking visitors for smartphones so that sounds like a pretty radical measure).

Then of course, many people first think about forbidding anything that does not absolutely need to be allowed in case it could somehow be profitable, rather than assess if it's beneficial or not on balance.

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The latter is what I always assume. –  dlanod May 6 at 10:21
    
For a while, you couldn't take a picture of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. It seems they have relaxed that rule. –  staticx May 6 at 13:01
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There can be another reason for places that are not primarily touristic (or at least would like to be that way), often churches or mosques. The logic there is that photography is disturbing for those who are using the site as a place of worship. –  DJClayworth May 6 at 13:36
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I'd have thought the "pictures allowed but no tripod" would be primarily be an example of reason #2 (so as to allow only "amateur" photos, no professional photography). That said, I suspect that reason #2 is the explanation in the vast majority of cases. –  O. R. Mapper May 6 at 15:09
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Anecdote: My brother visited a Native American place and was asked to stop photographing for the reason that it is sacred ground. After coming back he looked for postcards in the tourist shop at the site to sent them home and what did he found ? The exact picture he wanted to photograph from the same location available as postcard ! –  Thorsten S. May 6 at 21:30

Sometimes it is due to delays, we did some tours of old buildings in Turkey, due to the weak floors they would only allow a limited number of people in at a time. The next tour could not go in until all the people from the current tour had left.

The tour guild made it clear that no photos should be taken, as it slows down the tour too much. Even so, some very rude people still blocked doorways etc by taking photos.

There was free photos of each room on the website that anyone could download, so they were not trying to protect income.

Another common reason is the flashes going off affect other visitors and just asking people not to use flashes doesn’t work, as so many people ignore the instruction or don’t know how to turn off their flash.

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Your last paragraph seems the most relevant to this particular case. It's a cave, so it would be very hard to take a picture without a flash. But dozens of flashes going off in a dark cave would be incredibly annoying to other visitors. –  Nate Eldredge May 6 at 14:10
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"There was free photos of each room on the website that anyone could download, so they were not trying to protect income." - how "free"? Free for you to look at/download to your own computer? Unless they are explicitly placed under the public domain or a "free" license, you would still not be allowed to reproduce those photos publicly. Hence, the website owners remain in control over the photos; they can remove them from the website at any point and switch to the sold-photos-only model. The explanation about slowing down the tour may have been just a pretext. –  O. R. Mapper May 6 at 15:15
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@O.R.Mapper Given the options of (a) they banned photos because the floors are weak and they slow down tours too much and (b) they banned photos because, although they currently have photos online which anyone could download and abuse, they want to reserve the right to remove those photos after the horse has bolted, hope that nobody kept copies, and start charging, I know which one I'd choose. So does William of Ockham. –  David Richerby May 6 at 17:00
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@DavidRicherby: Floors that are "weak", but still strong enough to support hordes of trampling tourists that do not just pass by, but stop every few meters for the next explanations by a guide, sound like a rather far-fetched explanation for not taking photos to me, as does a ban on taking photos while the group is standing at one location because the guide is explaining some facts about the place. Keeping control over who takes and possibly owns photos appears like the more obvious explanation, given that sold photos could just as well be "abused", just like (currently) free online photos. –  O. R. Mapper May 6 at 17:24
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@DavidRicherby: Tours are not delayed at all if people take photos while the group is standing in one location because the guide is explaining something. And, in contrast to your explanation, it matters almost always that tours do not take longer - to prevent groups from "colliding" and mixing, to ensure a higher throughput, because the guide has a certain time limit ... independently of that, sometimes, photos are allowed, and sometimes - and my personal impression is, that is especially when a limited set of "official" photos is available, free or not - taking photos is not allowed. –  O. R. Mapper May 6 at 17:53

Besides the already stated reasons there may be another one. Some types of light are highly harmful to paintings, photos, wood etc. For instance, the type of light Museums use in their rooms and in particular over art pieces is one of their concerns.

The reasons may vary from place to place. Flash light can be aggressive: If thousands of persons take pictures of a painting, for example, this piece is exposed all day long to this aggression and will suffer over time. In places with life/wild life like zoo's the same happens to avoid disturbing the animals. In churches and other religious spaces besides protecting the sacred art photos may be disallowed to avoid disturbing the ones that are there for religious purposes.

Of course you can say they could allow photos without flash. This happens sometimes, but it's hard to control. Often people just ignore it or can't even turn the flash off.

Note: Regarding art pieces degradation, although modern flash emits a lot less light in the UV range visible light is still harmful (http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/6264/does-camera-flash-destroy-art)

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Unlike flashes in use 30-50-100 years ago, modern photographic flashes do not emit UV light and are perfectly harmless to even ancient and fragile works of art. –  Michael Clark May 7 at 22:51
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@MichaelClark please look at this answer: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/6264/… –  nsn May 8 at 7:19

There are several possible reasons at many locations, as some have mentioned:

  • protecting a revenue stream
  • dark room / cave + flash = painful on people's eyes
  • secrets / security reasons
  • religious / sacred sites (eg certain places at Uluru - there are rules about who is allowed to see the sites with their own eyes, so can't risk having their own society accidentally seeing the images online!)

but in this case, as with tombs in Egypt and many other cave systems, it's to protect the cave itself. There's often mention of it affecting the animals in the cave systems (flash lights) - eg bats, and certainly in tombs, it affects the ink/paint used for many of the temple wall drawings.

I've heard argument that you should still be allowed to take non-flash photos, as that couldn't damage anything, but I guess if you've ever seen people in a football stadium - flashes going off everywhere, you can bet that if they allowed non-flash photos, people who don't know how to use their camera would still trigger flashes constantly, so instead a blanket ban is enforced.

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"...certainly in tombs, it affects the ink/paint used for many of the temple wall drawings." No it doesn't, at least not modern flash units that do not emit UV light. –  Michael Clark May 7 at 22:53

I'm not familiar with the Jeita Grotto in Lebanon, but assuming it is a cave (and that caves are dark) one potential reason is that peoples' eyes adjust to the light inside the cave. With flashes going off, it may both destroy the ambiance in the cave but also be a hazard if people are temporarily 'blinded'.

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