STA How-To Series:

The Do's and Don'ts of Tour Photography

by Lacy Saye

Photography is an integral part of travel that is used to preserve memories and share adventures with loved ones. Keep these simple tips and rules in mind while taking photos on your class trip touring historical sites in Washington, DC or New York City.


While photography isn't limited to cell phones, it's become common practice to take photos with our smart devices. Because of this, it's good to follow these two unspoken rules:

  1. Do silence your phone
  2. Don't use flash photography


First, don't feel ashamed for taking selfies. There's no harm in wanting that prized shot with Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial or with Lady Liberty herself at the Statue of Liberty. While we encourage selfies, follow these guidelines to keep locals and officials happy.

  • Be safe! Never take a selfie that puts you or anyone else at risk.
  • Be respectful. On educational tours, places of reverence may not be an appropriate venue to practice the art of self-photography. While visiting Arlington National Cemetery or the Holocaust Museum, be mindful that there may be Veterans or Holocaust survivors near you and give them the respect they deserve.
  • Know your surroundings. Don't upset locals by stopping flow of traffic on a crowded New York street or subway. Play it smart: know where and when it's a good time to snap a pic. Don't block entrances or exits of buildings, driveways or lines.
  • Respect the privacy of others. Get permission of those that may unknowingly be in your shot. If you want to get a photo with a Veteran or New York City cop, be polite and ask first.

    Did you know? Selfie sticks are banned at all Smithsonian Museums.

The need-to-know list of where photography is and isn't allowed on tour (policies are subject to change):

  • 9/11 Museum - photography, videography, and audio recording is prohibited in the following Memorial Museum areas:
    • Security screening area (ground floor entrance inside the Museum Pavilion)
    • September 11, 2001 (the historical exhibition), except whereas otherwise posted
    • In Memoriam (the memorial exhibition)
    • Auditorium (second floor inside the Museum Pavilion)
    • Rebirth at Ground Zero (film presentation)
    • South Tower Gallery (interstitial space)
  • Broadway plays – photography is allowed before and after the performance. (May vary by theater)
  • MET Museum – flash photos and video cameras are prohibited. Still photography is permitted while certain areas may be designated "No Photography."
  • National Archives Museum - to preserve historical documents like the Declaration of Independence, photography of all kinds is not allowed. Cell phones are allowed in but must remain concealed.
  • Pentagon – photos are allowed within the memorial, but inside the pentagon is a strict no-photography zone.
  • Supreme Court – no photography or video inside the courtroom.
  • U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing – cameras are allowed but use is strictly prohibited in the tour gallery.
  • White House Tour – smartphones and compact cameras are allowed with lenses no longer than 3 inches. Still photography only. Phone calls, texting, flash photography, live streaming, and selfie sticks are prohibited.

Have you heard about the School Tours of America annual #MyTourView photo contest?

Entries are closed for the 2017/2018 tour season, but make sure to follow social media for the announcement of the 2018/2019 contest soon.



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