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Photography and the Law

Before we begin please note that this article represents one persons opinions, beliefs and interpretations of current UK legislation regarding photography and does not constitute legal advice. If you have any genuine questions or legal problems we urge you to seek the counsel of a solicitor. The Photography Website cannot be held responsible for any loss or damage caused as a result of relying on or following the information in this article.

There have been many heated discussions about the current situation of the law with regards to photography in the UK and although many of us will have had no dealings with the police in our day to day photography it would appear that the numbers of photography enthusiasts falling foul of various new types of law is increasing on a daily basis. When you have finished reading this article I would urge you to investigate the laws and legislations relating to photography yourself, and if you are concerned speak with a trained solicitor about your rights and what you can and cannot do. By knowing your rights and understanding more about why this situation is occurring with increasing frequency you can avoid trouble and enjoy taking trouble free photographs.

The first myth that it is important to dispel is that there are no laws relating to the taking of photographs in the UK. This is just plain wrong, there have always been various laws relating to photography however increased media attention on the subject can often make the problem appear far worse than it actually is. The main area of contention relates to photography in public places and the laws that relate to this. There are laws that prohibit the taking of photography in various locations around the UK such as in Trafalgar Square or various Royal residences and suchlike. However these laws only prohibit the taking of photographs if they are to be used for commercial or business purposes, so tourist photographs are fine. Anywhere where photography is generally prohibited will signpost this fact clearly in the area, however if you are visiting a location and are not sure about the legalities of taking photographs then check and double check. A little bit of research will go a long way and will afford you peace of mind allowing you to get on with a days shooting uninterrupted.

When taking photographs of other people bear in mind that if they object to having their photograph taken then it would be generally polite to hold fire on the shutter release and respect the persons wishes. Although this does not constitute genuine harassment people are protected by harassment laws that allow them to complain if a photographer is generally being a nuisance and making people uncomfortable. Examples of genuine harassment would be following someone to take multiple photographs or invading their personal space repeatedly in order to snap pictures of them. Even if you are not harassing people please don't take their photo if they ask you not to, and if you have caught them in a shot and they ask you to delete the image do so without question. Your good behaviour will pay dividends and the general public will gradually gain a greater respect for photographers if we all act with good manners.

If you are taking photographs on private property ensure you get permission beforehand. The law protects landowners in this regard and they can stipulate everything from a blanket ban on photographs through to allowing one and all to take as many photographs as they like; you will often be informed about any restrictions on photography when you enter a museum, gallery or similar location. If the location you are visiting is off the beaten track and they have no rules in place regarding photography as has already been stated please seek permission before snapping away, doing so will place you in full compliance of the law but should you be asked to cease your activities do so immediately. Never trespass to take photographs no matter how harmless it may seem at the time.

One of the most contentious issues regarding the law and this subject is the photography of children. Basically children fall under the same harassment laws that protect adults, however it is their legal parent or guardian who must give consent, not the child themselves. Whilst it is not illegal to take photographs of children in public places, for example sometimes one cannot help but capture families when shooting near tourist attractions, however we would urge you to use common sense and if you are asked to cease your actions or delete some photographs you have taken please do so immediately. If you are attending an event that children are involved in you should check with event organisers before taking any photographs even if your children are participating in the event itself as many events now feature an outright ban on photography in order to comply with child protection laws and regulations.

Increased tension since the terrorist attacks of September 11th has led to the introduction of anti-terrorism laws, and many of these are proving a headache for photographers. Things that were previously safe to photograph are now viewed in a less innocent light and both police and members of the public are very diligent with regards to people acting out of the ordinary. Whilst the 1911 Official Secrets Act prohibited photography anywhere that "may be of use to an enemy" it has never really proved an issue for photographers. Anti-terrorism law (particularly the often quoted "Section 44" of the 2000 Terrorism Act) allows the police to stop and search anyone who they suspect may possibly be involved in terrorist activities or related to terrorism. Although the law technically only covers certain areas of the UK we recommend you be aware of it anywhere as some of the areas are very large and extend to seemingly unusual places.

When discussing photography and the law the most important thing to remember is to be polite and well mannered, and if you are stopped by the police do not act defensively or begin to quote your rights. They are fully aware of the law and if you have a genuine reason for taking photographs will quite probably allow you to continue. If you are asked to cease your activities by the police or a member of the public do so immediately and if you are asked to delete certain images please do so. Although you may not agree it is important that you act sensibly in order to safeguard photography in the UK for everyone and ensure that we can all continue to enjoy our hobby in the future.

Some useful links:

Metropolitan Police Photography Advice

Wikipedia : Photography And The Law

Photographers Rights Guide