The ban on photography, according to White House historians, was put in place to due to a range of concerns. Those entrusted with maintaining the White House's historic artifacts, artwork and the White House itself were concerned with the damaging effects of flash photography at the time. Others were concerned that visitors constantly stopping to take photographs would disrupt White House tours and could allow some visitors to become separated from their tour group and stray from the tour route itself.
Today, for the first time since the Ford Administration, the Obama Administration lifted the photography ban with an announcement from First Lady Michelle Obama via a message on Instagram. It was decided that with the changes in cameras today, the ban on using flash photography with the photography ban lifted, and good supervision on the tours could overcome the problems which caused the ban to be implemented four decades ago.
Despite the ban being lifted, there are still strict rules on photography during public tours of the White House.
The White House states,
“As of July 1, 2015, Smartphones and compact cameras with a lens no longer than 3 inches (stills only) are permitted on the public tour route as long as their use does not interfere with other guests’ enjoyment of the tour.
Video cameras including any action camcorders, cameras with detachable lenses, tablets, tripods, monopods and camera sticks are not permitted.
Flash photography or live stream as well as talking or texting on cellular phones is not permitted while on the tour.”The long time ban on handbags, book bags, backpacks or purses remains in force. In addition it's important to understand that there are no storage facilities at the White House for visitors, nor near the White House complex. Visitors who arrive with prohibited items will not be permitted to enter the White House.
There are other restriction on what you can bring with you on the tour. See the White House Tours & Events page for additional information.
The Museum of Natural History and The Museum of American History have storage lockers for a small fee, but they are only for Museum patrons. If you're not going to visit the Museum don't leave your personal items there. Guards watch what you're doing and if you're not visiting the Museum at all, they consider using the lockers a security risk.
I use the storage lockers at Union Station and take a cab between there and the White House. The lockers are run by Tiburon Lockers and a large locker costs just $6/hour. To me, it's worth it. Tiburon also has a concierge bag check solution at Union Station. You can call them in advance for more information.
Public self-guided tours of the White House are available from 7:30 am to 11:30 am Tuesday through Thursday and 7:30 am to 1:30 pm Fridays and Saturdays (excluding federal holidays or unless otherwise noted), but don't think you can just walk up and get a ticket to the White House tour.
Public tour requests must be submitted through one's Member of Congress. Tours are scheduled on a first come, first served basis. Requests can be submitted up to six months in advance but not less than 21 days in advance. The White House encourages everyone to submit their request as early as possible as a very limited number of spaces are available. All White House tours are free of charge. By the way, it's important to understand that White House tours are subject to last minute cancellation.
One final note. All tour visitors who are 18 years of age or older will be required to present a valid, government issued photo ID to gain entrance to the White House. Foreign nationals must present a valid passport. Valid government-issued US identification cards (e.g. drivers license, military ID, etc.) or a valid US or other official government-issued passport are the only forms of photo ID which the US Secret Service will accept from tour visitors to the White House.
Your photo ID must exactly match your name, address, date of birth, etc., which you submitted to your member of Congress to be scheduled for a tour. Any discrepancy will disqualify you from your tour.