Photographers Rights in Public Places – Know the Law
Many Photographers are on the back foot when it comes to knowing Photographers Rights whilst shooting in public places. As a former police Sergeant, Photographers Rights are something that I’ve naturally been drawn towards and it’s a subject that I’m asked about repeatedly by either clients, members of public or other photographers. It isn’t as complicated as you might think. The laws regarding street photography can sometimes seem nonsensical, but there are a set of basic Photographers Rights guidelines that will arm you with sufficient information to challenge incorrect perceptions or stand your ground when shooting photography in public places. The guidance contained in this article relates only to Photographers Rights shooting in public streets only the UK. It’s important to remember that Law changes and we don’t take any responsibility should legislation be made in the future that make this information incorrect or obsolete. There are also considerations surrounding The Nations Security and threat levels that could very well mean that certain locations become inaccessible due to terrorism or other threats.
There are locations currently where special permissions are needed before you are allowed to shoot even in a public area, however, you are unlikely to find huge problems most places across the UK.
Where Can I Legally Shoot in Public Places?
Realistically, you have the right to photograph anywhere that falls in the categories below;
Public Rights of Way
Most beaches between high and low tide
One of the biggest things to remember about Photographers Rights is that if you’re on a Public right of way such as a public pavement, footpath or public highway, you DON”T need permission to take photographs. It really doesn’t matter if it’s recreational or for commercial purpose, you are allowed to take photographs providing you are not causing an obstruction to anybody or as mentioned above, breaching any UK Laws surrounding National Security or Terrorism. The legal terminology of obstructing the hIghway is deemed to be unreasonably impeding the primary right of the public to pass and re-pass, as set in a the test case of DPP -v- Jones (1999)
The Court recognised that the public may enjoy a public highway for any reasonable purpose, provided it does not amount to public or private nuisance or obstruct the highway “by unreasonably impeding the primary right of the public to pass and re-pass: within these qualifications there is a public right of peaceful assembly on the highway.”
Taking photographs in public places takes places literally hundreds of thousand of times a day. Advances in Mobile Phone technology and increased camera quality mean that most members of public have access to a camera, so it always surpeises me that a photographer using a camera on a street will receive strange looks, are regularly challenged about their presence at locations and are accountable for their actions, yet mobile phone cameras will take the same photographs of the same subject and are likely to be distributed to far a far larger audience through social media platforms.
Photographing People on the Street – Photographers Rights
Photographers Rights mean that there is nothing stopping you taking pictures of people in public places within reason. It does boil down to an element of common sense. If you ‘re shooting inappropriately or standing in somebody’s personal space photographing them without having had the forethought to ask, then there’s a chance you might find a confrontational situation unfold or possibly run the risk of a meeting with the local police. It’s a fne line between giving photographers a bad named and putting your reputation on the line, particularly if you are a professional business shooting Street Photography for an assignment.
Harassment is defined as a ‘course of conduct’ (so it has to happen at least twice) that causes another person ‘alarm or distress’, but we have to say that the bullying and aggressive antics of the paparazzi would suggest that prosecutions are few and far between.
Photographers are free to use their photographs of people taken in public places as they wish – including for commercial gain.
Note: Professional photography is banned in London’s Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square as well as the Royal Parks.
UK laws are fairly vague when it comes to defining what constitutes an invasion of privacy, but while street shots should cause no problem, you might get in hot water if you’re strapping on colossal telephoto lens and zooming in on folks stripping off in their bathrooms – even if you are snapping from a public place.
The key seems to be whether the subject would have a reasonable expectation of privacy – a statement that seems vague enough to keep a team of lawyers gainfully employed for some time.
With some countries having stronger privacy laws, UK snappers looking to commercially exploit images of recognisable people snapped without their consent may find international clients unenthusiastic unless a model release has been obtained.
There’s also a remote chance that photographs of people in public places may be subject to the Data Protection Act, but that’s pretty unlikely if there’s no other identifying information accompanying the image.
Photographers Rights When Photographing Children
Once again, there are no specific laws against taking photos of children, but this is potentially the most dangerous area for a photographer to shoot from a perspective of public photography. Someone taking an unhealthy interest “WILL’ attract hostility and anger from parents or carers of children, members of public are rightfully in tune to the dangers of strangers photographing children and you are highly likely to be challenged by Police or authorities quickly. It’s actually advisable NOT to photograph children in public unless you have some kind of dedicated brief, accompanied by a Model release Form and full contact details of the client who has requested the brief be undertaken. If you’re asked you to stop take pictures of them, the stopping is likely to be the healthiest option for you and your equipment. Children cannot legally give their permission to be photographed, so you need to seek permission from a parent or legal guardian. Be prepared to explain yourself.
If you are standing on public property you can legally photograph private property, but you can’t infringe personal privacy. Photographers, in particular Paparazzi & Press Photographers, have on occasion pushed the boundaries and the limits of Photographers Rights with long lenses and shooting positions that may very well compromise legal rights that land themselves in Court (See – Prince William demands €1.5m payout for topless Kate photos saying ordeal reminds him of Diana ‘harassment
Most people will question your motives and Photographers Rights out of sheer curiosity or fear. If someone suggests that you are breaking the law (and you know otherwise), then by all mean ask for clarification but try and afford confrontation as it will inevitably cause unnecessary bad feeling. However, if you’re in the right, there’s nothing wrong on standing your ground.
I’ve personally dealt with situations with security personnel who identified my presence through CCTV, approached me and requested that I leave an area where I was only 12 inches inside a boundary of a private location. I was asked not to photograph the exterior of a Public Shopping Mall that was open to public. Having moved my tripod literally one foot back, I was then shooting from a public place and legally photographing the building. Security ‘demanded’ that I stopped photographing and refused to provide an explanation as to why? I was advised that security were not happy about my presence and that Police would be called. I politely challenged the security staff who were not fully aware of Photographers Rights and shortly left the area having done nothing other than move my tripod by twelve inches. This is an all too frequent event that often results in wasting the time of Police Officers who arrive and speak with photographers before leave without any action beinmgtaken as the photographer is photographing completely legally.
In all honestly, this very subject is likely to become more and more relevant in light of the increasing terrorist and security threats that our country and many others are experiencing. We hope this article was informative and of some use.
About Lee Blanchflower Limited
Situated in the centre of Norwich and covering assignments throughout the UK, the Lee Blanchflower Ltd creative team deliver high quality commercial photographs, corporate film production & licensed drone footage to a really diverse range of businesses. After seven years of hard work in the industry trading as Blanc Creative, we thought it was about time that we made things a little more transparent across our business and as a result, Lee Blanchflower Ltd was born. We have to say that our attention to detail and epic customer service hasn’t changed, nor has our client base. We work solely in the commercial sector with sole traders, start-ups, established businesses, Advertising Agencies & International Press covering everything from PR, Editorial work, Film Production and Licensed Drone operations. What you won’t find, are wedding photographs, pet photography or family portraits. We seriously pride ourselves as being “people’ people and our unique selling point is transparency. Our favourable pricing structures are visible for every one of our services, so you won’t find any nasty surprises once you’ve decided to book an assignment.