Photographing on the streets and the law in the UK

Jul 11, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Photographing on the streets and the law in the UK

Jul 11, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Photographer rights are always a bit of a hot topic, and often brings out extreme points of view from all sides. There’s the law, there’s common sense & decency, and then there’s just outright stupidity.

The world over, the rights of photographers do seem to be becoming more common knowledge amongst non-photographers, but Tim Berry of Practical Photography Magazine wanted to see just what would happen while doing a little architectural photography out on the streets.

YouTube video

Tim also sought the advice of Inspector Malcolm Graham of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary, who also happens to be a keen photography enthusiast, to find out what the law actually says, as well as get some advice on how to deal with confrontation as a photographer.

The short version, as many of us have known for a while, is that from public property, you can photograph pretty much anything you want.  The Official Secrets Act does prevent photography of certain military establishments, but for the most part, shoot whatever you like.

inspector_malcolm_graham

Insp. Graham does suggest that while perfectly within your right to photograph certain subjects, that it can sometimes lead to unwanted, and undesirable confrontation.

Children are one prime example that he mentions, and it’s no surprise that parents will often be very protective of their children when cameras are around, regardless of what the law may have to say.  Also, following a person to continually photograph them could see you potentially falling foul of stalker laws.

The fact is, you can still take pictures of them, but you just have to be a little bit careful about upsetting and annoying other people. That’s the biggest risk to photographers, I think.

– Insp. Malcolm Graham

The use of flash, Graham says, is not an issue providing you’re not firing them into the face of oncoming traffic, or similar such circumstances.  Even tripods and light stands usually aren’t an problem unless you’re causing an obstruction on a busy and crowded pavement, in which case you may be approached and asked to move out of the way.

The police won’t have the right to stop you from photographing at all, unless you’re going to be arrested for an offence, associated or not associated with the taking of those pictures.

– Insp. Malcolm Graham

Security guards typically only have the power to ask you to leave and they have no rights to seize your equipment; nor do police unless you’re being arrested for a offence, even if it’s not related to photography. Nobody has the right to delete images or ask you to do so without a court order.

Section 44, thankfully is long since history and Section 43 of the Terrorism Act only allows the police to stop you and seize your equipment if they have reasonable grounds to do so (and the act of simply making photographs is not reasonable enough grounds). If you’re not actually a terrorist, you should have nothing to worry about.

There are more tips in the video, so please do watch the whole thing. The summary point made by both Inspector Graham and Tim is to be courteous and respectful, no matter how you’re confronted and to use some common sense.

Sometimes it’s a lot less hassle to simply try and diffuse the situation and move on or come back later, regardless of whose side the law is on.

And for our American readers, here’s a handy reference that we posted a while ago now.

Have you seen changing attitudes from the police and security guards when you’ve been out shooting street photography? Has it gotten better or worse over the last few years where you are? Let us know in the comments.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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7 responses to “Photographing on the streets and the law in the UK”

  1. Hemz Avatar
    Hemz

    A few friends and I were on a shoot in and around Canary Wharf when we were approached by 2/3 security guards. A few questions about why we were there and a check to see our images and they were on their way.

    Like the article states, common sense and courtesy prevails in most situations. Be vigilant and be safe folks.

    1. Andy (Hide Your Arms) Avatar
      Andy (Hide Your Arms)

      I assume this is fairly common knowledge to London-based photographers, but I was surprised to read that Canary Wharf is private property so those security guards could have asked you to leave if they wanted to. Don’t attempt to fly a drone there though! http://group.canarywharf.com/media/film-photography-permits/

      1. Hemz Avatar
        Hemz

        A drone? Good grief no! Still a lot of circumspection amongst fellow photographers as to what they can and can’t do in and around London. I have a simple rule, get to where you want to be, get shooting, get out! If you are acosted, be polite, make your excuses and leave :-)

    2. Claudiu Bc Avatar
      Claudiu Bc

      For Canary Wharf you need a permit as it is a private estate.

  2. pazzophoto Avatar
    pazzophoto

    As an American in London on vacation, the police stopped me from shooting Parliament at night with a tripod. They claim that shooting without a tripod was OK. Thank goodness I had already shot hundreds of shots and had gotten what I wanted but they were actually pretty blunt in the fact they said they could take my equipment and arrest me if I didn’t quit.

    1. Hemz Avatar
      Hemz

      I guess Parliament is somewhat sensitive but best shots are usually taken from across the river.

  3. Andrew Thomson Avatar
    Andrew Thomson

    Just had a male carrying a ladder in order to climb up above 10ft boarding to get a better view and take photos of our construction site, now I don’t mind photos being taken where it’s safe and practical but surely taking a ladder to a site where security are based 24/7 is going to cause issues especially if they don’t know the gentleman’s intentions, the person was asked to come down from his ladder mainly for safety and again believed intention was to gain entry to site but a response of I’m on the public side is all that was given. What’s your views on this?