One great thing about street photography is its effectiveness in capturing life’s unguarded moments, including rare displays of emotion by the most stoic or shy people. As Mark mentioned before, candid shots are best for camera-shy folks, and sometimes taking candid shots is the only way to get a good street photograph. If, for example, you see an interesting scene of a man sleeping soundly on a park bench, waiting for him to wake up—or worse, waking him up—so that you can ask for his permission to take a picture isn’t quite the logical thing to do. But is it legal for street photographers to shoot people who don’t know that they’re being shot? In many countries, the answer is yes. What the photographers do with the pictures afterward is a totally different story, though. In the United States, Canada, etc., street photographers are free to take pictures of whomever they want. This is because street photographers take pictures of people in public places—places where people have no reasonable expectation of privacy. In some countries, however, stricter rules doapply. (Please note that the list of countries in the Wikipedia article is not a comprehensive one.) Just to be clear, any place that any person can freely go to is a public place. Most outdoor locations (e.g., parks, streets) are considered public places, but outdoor locations that are privately owned (e.g., sports facilities, private gardens) may or may not be considered public places. And public places don’t always have to be outdoors: any indoor location that’s open to the public is, of course, a public place. This means street photographers can freely take pictures of people inside private buildings whose owners or whose owners’ representatives do not expressly prohibit the act. Interestingly, shooting people in places that are not open to the public is technically okay if the photographer stays in a public place, but this way of taking photographs is very risky and usually frowned upon.

Like any other right, the right to practice street photography has its limitations. Street photography cannot be used as an excuse to break the law, so always be aware of your actions. And if you have no plans of harassing or endangering others through your pictures or photographing people in government-restricted areas or places where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, keep these things in mind: You are free to take photographs provided that you are in a public place or any place where you have permission to take photographs—but use your common sense. Put yourself in other people’s shoes and be honest with yourself. Would you want a photographer taking pictures of you in the exact same way?