Monaco: License to Shoot

Photo of the Monte Carlo Casino main entrance shot through red tulips

Photographers often say that France, with its particularly thorny privacy laws, is the trickiest place in the world for street photography. I suspect people who say that have never tried it in Monaco. While it has its showy side, Monaco is well-known as a safe haven for some of the world’s higher earners, and this is a reputation that the principality works hard to protect. Paparazzi photographers are about as unwelcome as a rabid stray dog at Crufts and, unfortunately, any roving photographer risks being tarred with the same brush. It’s not worth debating the rights and wrongs of photographers’ freedom here, or the irony that over 400 security cameras are constantly filming an area that covers less than a square mile. Monaco is Monaco. Photographers who want to shoot anywhere in the principality, for whatever purpose, need their License to Shoot.

A vintage sports car passes in front of the Monte Carlo Casino, Monaco

Casino Square: cars, cameras and coppers

Permit patience

I have fairly frequent assignments in Monaco. Whether as a press photographer for a choreographed event (see my post about photographing the Monaco royal wedding in 2011), going on commission to shoot a portrait like last month’s profile of überchef Joël Robuchon for the Sunday Telegraph’s Seven magazine, or on a travel or food photography assignment, I need to devote some quality time to arranging access beforehand. Right now I am planning a two day shoot for a forthcoming New York Times ‘36 Hours in Monaco‘ article and, at the end of the umpteenth telephone call and printing out my 4th authorisation certificate, I’m starting to lose the will to live. There is, alas, no such thing as a ‘cover-all’ photography permit.

Page layout from Delta Airline's Sky Magazine (May 2013) showing "My Favourite Street: L'Avenue de Monte Carlo"

A one-pager for Delta Airline’s in-flight magazine that took almost as long to arrange permissions for as it did to shoot

Well, there is a general ‘OK, you can take pictures in Monaco’ document that is issued by the Department of the Interior. To apply for this, you have to ask for The Appropriate Form to be sent to you and fill it out at least 15 days in advance of the shoot, stipulating the equipment you intend to use, the make of car you drive and the colour of your underpants (alright, not quite the last one). However the magic piece of paper you receive in return probably doesn’t cover what you really need to photograph, if the iconic sites of Monaco are part of the brief.

Exceptions galore

Photography in the square in front of the Royal Palace, for example, needs an extra special level of authorisation (the Department of the Interior’s press office sends your request to the Royal Palace’s press office to mull over). Want to shoot in Casino Square? For that, one needs to apply to a different office altogether, the omnipotent Société des Bains de Mer.

The Société des Bains de Mer (S.B.M.) is a company (incidentally mostly owned by the Prince’s family and the Government of Monaco) that makes a few euros from many of Monte Carlo’s famous sites, such as Casino Square and gardens, the Casino itself, Café de Paris, Hôtel de Paris, Hermitage Hotel, Monte Carlo Beach Hotel and the Sporting. Any requests to photograph the interiors – or indeed exteriors – of any of the above need to be presented to the S.B.M. press office (with a cheque, if the images are intended for advertising purposes). Clients who ask me to capture ambiance and ‘people going about their business’ here may be disappointed; it is simply not allowed. Delta Airlines, in their recent SKY magazine feature about L’Avenue de Monte Carlo, had to make do with a seemingly unpopular, entirely empty Louis XV restaurant, and, at the Monte Carlo Casino, roulette tables at 10 am with neither chips nor glamorous punters.

To be able to photograph other buildings in Monaco, like the cathedral or a museum for example, one must contact the venue’s management – and / or Monaco’s town hall – for a separate permit (yes, you guessed it; applications to be made in writing, in advance). Oh, and the principality’s coat of arms is trademarked too, so one mustn’t portray it for anything other than editorial purposes…

Glossing over the small-print

Once you finally get your hard-earned permit/s, you may or may not choose to read the conditions attached. Clauses like “The photographer will ensure that nothing in the photographs taken could directly or indirectly prejudice, morally, materially or politically, the S.B.M. or Monaco Principality, or Monaco’s international relations, especially those with France and Italy” or S.B.M.’s demand for the photographer to send them copies of all photographs taken, granting the company full reproduction rights for their own purposes may raise eyebrows. But pragmatism seems to me to be a compatible bedfellow with wordy legislation. Monaco press officers are mostly nothing less than charming and efficient in my experience, so who am I to complain? Even if I did, I wouldn’t get very far, and certainly not back into Monaco next time.

Is it all really necessary?

You might now be wondering, as my clients sometimes do, whether making the effort to get these permits is overkill. Wouldn’t it be OK just to mingle in amongst camera-wielding tourists and wing it?

Definitely not. Firstly, Monaco has more policemen per inhabitant than any other country in the world. You’d be lucky to walk through town and not bump into several on the way. And secondly, the Monegasque police have a discerning eye. Without the means to sip a 12€ cappuccino in between frames, balancing elegantly on a pair of Jimmy Choos as I shoot, I get spotted quickly. These policemen are well trained to tell the professionals from the scores of amateurs photographing supercars in Casino Square.

I don’t know what happens if you can’t produce the permit/s required on demand, and who would champion my rights as a photographer in that instance, but I hope not to have to write a blog post about that.

Comments (3):

  1. Mihai

    Oct 12, 2014 at 4:16 am

    I found this article after a google search for “Monaco photography permissions” so first of all, congratulations, your SEO strategy is healthy and working!

    I wish to post a comment for two reasons. The first being that I really enjoyed reading it and as a foreigner living in France for some time, I can surely relate to any mental suffering caused by French or francophone administrations with long acronyms one never remembers. Is it URSSAF, or URRSAF, and what the hell does it mean?? I just know that whenever a new letter arrives from them, my right eye starts twitching, much like Chief Inspector Dreyfus in the Pink Panther movies. Anyway…

    The second reason is that tonight was the first time I was told by someone that taking pictures in Monaco is forbidden and I need permissions. “From the Prince”, no less, the elderly gentleman told me. I had honestly no idea, and I thought the concept of “public space” was understood all over the world, except possibly the Vatican and North Korea. It was surprising also because I have taken photos in Monaco on a few occasions without a police officer or anyone else telling me it’s forbidden.

    I’m an amateur photographer, but it’s something I really enjoy doing and I have invested in some equipment, which lets say would make it easy for these well trained Monegasque police officers to spot me. I’ve spent in total about 6-7 hours photographing in Monaco on four separate occasions. On one occasion I shot a time lapse in Port Hercule for two hours, with tripod etc. The other occasions where all in the same place, standing near Quai Albert 1er, taking photos of people on scooters. I wanted to practice my skills at photographing a moving target, with the background nicely blurred. After looking at the photos I found some of them really funny – it’s something about the relaxed position people have on scooters, as opposed to motorcycles. As if they are sitting in their living room chair, wearing whatever they casually wear, getting a glimpse of their personality, but the context is them whizzing about at great speed. Plus what they carry on the scooters sometimes. Plants, groceries, you name it. Just something about that I really liked. So I thought it’s best if I make a series of this and so I went back to the same spot twice because there is a time of day there when my victims are nicely backlit, I can overexpose a bit so the background is very bright and not too busy. Plus people and their scooters in Monaco tend to be a bit more…let’s say extravagant. So I was there with a big zoom lens for two hours on each occasion, shooting traffic. Even shooting policemen on scooters. No one approached me. I know of course about the hundreds of cameras. I knew I was being watched, but having no idea that what I’m doing is actually forbidden, I simply thought: “As long as I don’t obviously focus on a particular person like some paparazzi….” Did I inadvertently wear a brilliant disguise on those occasions, looking too much like a tourist? Or are these policemen so well trained they immediately saw that I wasn’t a pro. I’m imagining them now, huddled over the CCTV screens: “Pffff, look at zees fool. E az not even turned on zee image stabilization on zee lens”.

    But well, it feels a bit disappointing anyway. Now that I have confirmation that what the elderly gentleman told me near the Casino tonight is true. Although….when spring arrives, I think I will risk it and take more pictures of Monegasques on scooters 🙂 Which makes me wonder… they have a jail in Monaco?……

    • Rebecca Marshall

      Oct 12, 2014 at 7:49 pm

      They certainly do, Mihai, but I have heard it is a fairly comfortable one as prisons go. Should you ever wind up there, I do hope you’ll report back to us afterwards 😉
      Since writing this post, I did an editorial assignment in Monaco which involved, among other things, an unexpected visit to the central surveillance centre of the Monaco police force. There is quite an impressive battery of screens in the main control room with constant changing feed from the security cameras across the state and a round-the-clock team of officers watching them. But they were in a friendly mood when I was there and I was led to believe that away from the Palace and the Casino Square area, it is rare that they raise the alert and send officers along just because they spot a big lens / tripod on a street. Although ‘police on the beat’ looking for something to do might just take the initiative to ask to see a photographer’s authorisation anywhere of course, seeing as there is a legal framework in place.

      Incidentally, this was an occasion where I had not arranged photography permissions in advance (given that the plan was for me to be mostly shooting inside private homes). However, I was working for Der Spiegel, in the company of two journalists, and our first appointment of the day had been with the Minister of the Interior. It was he who suggested that we visit the surveillance centre (being very pround of Monaco’s low crime rate) and a quick call from him was enough to ensure that a smile was all that was needed on my arrival…

      Thanks for your comment and good luck with the continuation of your scooter project!

  2. Carmen Blike

    Oct 27, 2014 at 9:58 am

    Dear Rebecca,
    Thanks for your informational post.

    Saw your post about 6 months ago and it has been laying dormant in the back of my head. I’ve officially photographed some charity events without being stopped but occasionally I have clients that want a Monaco ambience. They are usually last minute “oh I just got this idea” types. Thanks to your article I steer them away and suggest other venues.
    Unlike some, I’m not into raising my voice and being confrontational.
    Keep up the good work!

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