Photograph by Becky Harlan
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A visitor on a White House tour takes a selfie out the window of the Red Room. Today the 40-year ban was lifted on photography during White House tours.
Photograph by Becky Harlan

Going to the White House? Bring Your Camera!

For 40 years, visitors on White House tours were asked to leave their cameras at home.

That all changed today. First Lady Michelle Obama made the announcement on Instagram.

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Guests enjoy the newly granted freedom to take photographs in the East Wing of the White House while on tour on July 1, 2015. Photographs by Marie McGrory and Becky Harlan

On the White House website, Michelle Obama says, “This is really what the White House is all about. It’s the ‘People’s House.’ … And that’s why my husband and I have made it our mission to open up the house to as many people as we can.” By lifting the ban on photography, even more people will be able to virtually experience this aspect of government. First dogs and all.

Our headquarters at National Geographic are just up the street from the first family’s home base, so we sent a team on the first photo-friendly tours. Rooms that, for four decades, have been primarily pictured as official business will now be seen and shared via smartphones on a daily basis.

Here are some numbers: Since January of 2009, 2.6 million guests have passed through the White House on public tours. Imagine all the selfies, family photos, interiors (the carpets and chandelier, oh my!), and all the other quirky details that haven’t been captured. All those missed photo ops are about to become a part of our new visual vocabulary for this historic home. To kick things off, we took a few photos ourselves.

I asked a Secret Service agent in the Blue Room how he thought photography might change the White House tour experience. He says that agents stationed in the rooms end up fielding a lot of questions—they’re actually trained on the history of the house. He wonders if people will start taking more pictures and asking fewer questions. But maybe not. Maybe now, instead of just hearing that there are 28 working fireplaces in the White House, you can add visual evidence to the statistic and share it with your networks.

Of course, it’s impossible to say how a new stream of images will change the actual experience of taking a tour or even just admiring the swanky new curtains in the State Dining Room from your cousin’s girlfriend’s Instagram. But since Michelle Obama’s announcement this morning, over a thousand photos have been uploaded to the #WhiteHouseTour hashtag. So at least for today, it’s safe to say that the photography is flowing freely.

The White House may be pulling out a lot of the stops, but not all of them. You still can’t take video or use a flash. Lenses can’t be detachable or longer than three inches, so point-and-shoots and smartphones are your best bet. And you should probably leave your selfie stick at home.

Marie McGrory and Monica Corcoran from the National Geographic Your Shot team joined Michelle Obama in her declaration of a camera-ready White House. And joining them to the left? Official White House photographer Pete Souza.

To see more images from the public tours, check out the the hashtag #WhiteHouseTour. Want to take photos of your own at the White House? Visit to schedule a visit.

Follow editors Monica Corcoran, Marie McGrory, and Becky Harlan on Instagram.