A young woman on the barstool next to me is suddenly screaming at me, stabbing her finger at my phone, slicing through my recent photos.

“You have NO RIGHT to take my picture!”

I’m deleting the last few shots as fast as I can. “I’m an artist. I take pictures!”

My meek defense has no effect. A big man on the other side of me is bellowing in my face, his cigarette-tainted breath close enough to taste.

The bar’s manager is right behind me now, tossing me out. “You’d better get outta here, man, before somebody really messes you up!”

I grab my cap and mutter that I need to pay for my drink, but he’s not interested. It’s quite clearly time to leave, and I’m absolutely freaking terrified. I retreat into the poorly-lit driveway next to the bar, and constantly looking over my shoulder, I head for a nearby Target store. I fake-shop for a few minutes, and then hoping like hell no one is following me, I hurry back through the darkness unscathed to the safety of my hotel.

You’d think nothing like this would’ve happened. At least, that’s what I thought.

I was in Florida to attend the memorial service for an old friend. On that hot Friday night, some 600 miles from home, I ventured out on foot in search of dinner. After I ate, I settled onto a stool at an outdoor bar adjacent to a public parking lot for a nightcap. Ten minutes before all hell broke loose, I asked the young woman next to me about her recent achievement. She was telling her friend about it and I thought I’d make conversation. Her reply was chilly, so I turned away and did what I often do to pass time: I slid my iPhone out of my pocket, checked social media and snapped a couple of photos.

I took one of a father and daughter down the bar and texted it to a friend with the caption “Father-daughter bar Pokémon players.” Both were glued, like me, to their devices. The recipient of my text and I are both fathers of daughters. I took another shot of a man on my left who was wearing a tee shirt from the local university sports team, and, loyal to the university miles away in my hometown, I texted the image to my friend with a comment about not wanting to make the dude mad.

Looking for another shot to take, I stood my phone on its long edge and switched on the rear-facing camera, planning a selfie. The young woman on my right appeared in the frame, and without another thought, I tapped the shutter. She glanced over at my phone just then, caught me in the act, and her fuse burned quickly.

To be clear, this is not a story about taking photos of people with their permission.

It’s not really about photojournalism (the practice of combining photos – often of people – with news stories). If there is a field that I am talking about, it’s “street photography,” or, as Wikipedia defines it, “photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places.” That’s pretty formal, but you get the idea.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Boy Carrying a Wine Bottle, (Rue Mouffetard, Paris, 1954)It can be said that Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908 – 2004) was one of the earliest street photographers. He is renowned for seeking the “decisive moment,” and you can see how he succeeded with his “Boy Carrying a Wine Bottle” (Rue Mouffetard, Paris, 1954). Cartier-Bresson said “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

Both with my Canon DSLR and my iPhone, I have sought that decisive moment, trying to capture something special, a story. That night in the bar, however, my photographic intent was much more ordinary.

As a casual or street photographer, the law is on your side.

According to many sources on the web, you have a lot of latitude when it comes to taking photos of people without their permission. Attorney Bert P. Krages II states in The Photographer’s Right – Your Rights and Remedies When Stopped or Confronted for Photography: “The general rule in the United States is that anyone may take photographs of whatever they want when they are in a public place or places where they have permission to take photographs. Absent a specific legal prohibition such as a statute or ordinance, you are legally entitled to take photographs. Examples of places that are traditionally considered public are streets, sidewalks, and public parks.

“Members of the public have a very limited scope of privacy rights when they are in public places. Basically, anyone can be photographed without their consent except when they have secluded themselves in places where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy such as dressing rooms, restrooms, medical facilities, and inside their homes