You do not need a license to take pictures, but you do need a license to own a business (to make money from your photography). In most areas, a licensed photographer simply has a business license. Go down to city hall and fill out a form, pay the fee (usually $25- $100) and your business will be licensed. You will be expected to use a recognized accounting system and pay taxes on all earnings.
In order to take pictures in certain places, you need special permission, such as a press pass, or a contract with the property owner of the property where you are photographing.
To cross yellow police lines to take a photograph, you need a press pass (journalist's pass) in some jurisdictions. Many unconventional journalists, such as "Joe Anybody" in Portland, have faced police persecution because they do not have mainstream press passes.
To take a photograph of a courthouse or federal building is risky, because different people have different interpretations of the law, some saying that it is illegal while others saying it is clearly legal. Photographers have been arrested taking photos of buildings on the suspicion that they are terrorists, or that they are violating some strange law against photographing certain buildings (which no-one, when you hold their feet to the fire, can really cite).
To take a photograph of a public performance, such as at a concert or sports stadium, or to take pictures at a retail establishment, such as at a shopping mall, may require specific permission from the property owner. Most performance outlets have vague polices against "professional" cameras (i.e. SLR cameras), while allowing "amateur" cameras (i.e. pocket cameras), without precisely defining the terms. What these policies really intend to do, is to prevent anyone from profiting from taking pictures that the property owners feel that they own. If you're able to capture the best play of the game with a good enough camera, then you're stealing from our profits!!!
As a last resort, check the Yellow Pages. If possible, however, try to find someone who has used a photographer and find out what they thought of his or her work. There are a lot of folks out there whose only claim to the "professional" title is that they have an expensive camera and know a little bit more than you do.
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