Tips for Taking Photos at the Vatican (and Rules You Have to Follow)

For the most part, photos are allowed inside the Vatican but photography is not always encouraged. Even the Vatican Museums Official website states that to have the best possible experience you should put away your electronics or at least have any phones on silent. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring your camera or have your phone ready to snap away, but there are certain rules that you should know about taking pictures inside the Vatican.

Photography Rules at the Vatican

For starters, selfie sticks are forbidden and may be taken away by security. There is usually at least one security guard per room and all visitors have to pass through metal detectors before entering the museums. Keep in mind that any professional photography equipment, such as a tripod, is banned unless authorized by the director of the Vatican Museums. (Good luck with that one!)

You are permitted to take photos in most areas, but you must turn off your flash in any rooms that have fresco paintings as the exposure to harsh light can damage the painting. A fresco painting is any painting painted on plaster. The process of painting has to be very quick as it can only be painted while the plaster is still wet, hence the translation of fresco into English means fresh. This means that frescoes are particularly delicate and at risk, so don’t be surprised to see signs that say no flash – or you may even be warned by the guards.

Taking Photos in the Sistine Chapel

Where things get complicated is when it comes to taking photos inside the Sistine Chapel. First of all, the whole chapel is fresco painted so straight away: no flash. But it has also been completely forbidden to take any photos in the Sistine Chapel due to copyright reasons.

In 1980, the Vatican decided to do a huge restoration of the Sistine Chapel and the careful work took 24 painstaking years to complete. The Sistine Chapel remained open but sections of the Chapel were cornered off for work. It was a massive undertaking and the restoration was actually funded was by the Japanese company, Nippon, a TV company that would photograph and record the whole restoration work. In exchange for the donation of funds, Nippon requested copyright ownership of all Sistine Chapel images. This meant that photos by tourists inside the Sistine Chapel were prohibited because these images would violate Nippon’s copyright.

In my years as a tour guide, enforcing this rule about no photos in the Sistine Chapel got very messy. Guards would shout “no photo” at the top of their voice, and if you were the unlucky one caught next to a guard, you were made delete your photo from your device. Even worse, you could be escorted out of the Sistine Chapel. The overall effect of the yelling and policing also took away from the experience of truly enjoying the incredible artwork here. Plus, the chapel is a holy place so all visitors are expected to be quiet and respectful.

The copyright is said to be up already this year, 2019, but photographs in the Sistine Chapel (especially with a flash) are not advised. Guards still yell “no photo” and this seems to be in order to keep the crowd moving. Having thousands of people trying to get the same picture every day would lead to unmanageable bottlenecks.

Other Areas of Vatican City

All photography in St. Peter’s Basilica is absolutely fine but again there are no selfie sticks allowed or anything that may seem like professional equipment. If you have a good zoom – go ahead and take a photo of the Swiss Guards in their colorful uniforms. Those usually make for great shots.

Other places where photos are not allowed include in the security area and inside the Vatican post office. Otherwise, you should feel free to take pictures inside the Vatican but be sure to take the time to really soak up the experience while you are there in person, as well.

For more tips on having the best possible experience, learn more about when to visit the Vatican to avoid the crowds.