London School of Photography Blog

Your rights as a Photographer

Tags: , , , , , , , , , Cameras, Community, Law, London, Photography, Photojournalism, Portrait, Resources, Rights, Street No comments

If you’ve ever taken a photo on the street, chances are someone has already asked you what you are doing and why you are doing it, mainly by security guards in and outside buildings.

These people can be very intimidating, can at times be aggressive and even make up laws to dissuade you from taking photos. They can ask threaten you with lawsuits, and demand you delete the photos, or even give them your memory cards. This can be a very off-putting, traumatic and stressful experience for any budding photographer, so we thought we would we would, in a nutshell, clarify for you once and for all who, and what you can and cannot photograph in the UK. For a full version of UK Photographers Rights visit www.sirimo.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/ukphotographersrights-v2.pdf

Before we begin let us first of all clarify that this article is meant to be a guideline for photographers, and since laws are constantly changing, especially with the rise in terrorist activity in London, this is certainly not a free pass. So the best thing to do before you start shooting is to ask at your local police station. The officers there would be glad to offer any advice on your rights.

Right, so the most common question we get from students at LSP is, can I take photos of people or buildings? The answer to that is simple: If you are in a public place, you can pretty much photograph anything and anyone, but as always there are restrictions.

Starting with private property, no one can stop you taking photos of their property if you are standing in a public place such as a public highway, (except if that property is part of restricted area due to issues of national security).

You may also photograph on the property if you have been specifically granted permission to by the owner (in which case it wouldn’t hurt you to get that permission in writing.) Photography is forbidden in many museums and stately homes, as well as most concert venues.

You may not enter and photograph any property without permission, and you may not climb or attempt to photograph over a wall or fence of that property. Doing so is trespassing and you would be in trouble, so use common sense.

Bad news if you are planning to do a photo shoot at Trafalgar Square or Parliament Square for your next Vogue cover, I’m afraid. You cannot photograph commercially there without written permission from the Greater London Authority, at a hefty fee. If you are a tourist, or if you are just shooting for fun, you need no permission. Same applies for Royal Parks.

When photographing people again common sense is a given, and although you are allowed to photograph anyone on the street, you cannot do so while causing them alarm or distress. In other words, stealth is good, stalking is bad. If you take a photo of a person and they get upset, my advice to you is to not get confrontational, smile and explain what you are doing and that you have every right to photograph on public property. However, if you are stalking a person to take their photo, or continuously shoving your lens in their faces, chances are you will get in trouble. So, be sensitive, polite and do not be an aggressive photographer (like some paparazzi for instance). You may not point your lens inside anybody’s home as that would be an invasion of privacy. Please check the link above for the complete Harassment and privacy laws.

If you are going to use the photo commercially, it doesn’t hurt to get your subject to sign a model release, even though you don’t necessarily need one. Some news agencies and photo agencies require you to have model releases or property releases for them to purchase an image from you.

When it comes to photographing in public places, you should also make sure you are not obstructing free passage on highways, footways and cycle paths. In other words, make sure your tripod is not obstructing traffic. You could also get in trouble by obstructing a police officers in the execution of their duty. If you happen to be in an incident as a photographer, please respect police tapes and instructions, otherwise you could get yourself arrested.

Due to the recent attacks in London, we need to be understanding and cooperative if confronted by police while photographing subjects that we may think are not as sensitive, like bridges, power stations, refineries, dams and ports. As for prohibited places according to the Official Secrets Act 1911, you really should not be photographing any defense establishments, dockyards, mines, ships and aircraft belonging to the crown. You cannot photograph areas where munitions, any place belonging to the Civil Aviation Authority, or any telecommunications office owned by a public telecommunications operator.

Now, if you want to try your hand in wildlife photography, be aware that many wild animals, insects and birds are protected and, although there is no restriction on taking photos of them in their natural habitat, it is an offence to disturb some species when they are at or near their nesting place or shelter. To photograph protected species at or near their nests or places of shelter, you must have a licence from the relevant authority. Please check the website to find out more.

Finally, you may not photograph bank notes, take photos of courts and surrounding areas, court proceedings or publish any photos taken in a court as that could land you with a fine of up to £1,000.

It sounds like a lot of stuff to take in, and yes there is much more on the website we provided, but we hope this article has cleared some of your concerns. Happy clicking!

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