Law in Photography


Generally, you do not need to ask for permission to take someone's picture in public, most of the time, unless the person says no, gives you an evil glare and asks you to delete the picture, you can take as many photos as you like without causing trouble.


There was a café in Cornwall and as I was going to the toilet, I saw an ice cream cone out in their storage room, collecting dust. The manager heard me take a photo, I was forced to delete it because I did not have permission to photograph anything on their grounds.


Although public property is used in a loose term. Public property across the UK is claimed or sold. These buyers open the ground to the public. The comparison of public access and private rights is that in a public space you do not need a permit to shoot. Yet you may still need to be cautious when stepping onto isolated land as private properties can be poorly labelled. If the owner asks you to leave and you do not obey this can result in a criminal offence because it is considered trespassing.


Shopping centres are bought ground but are public access. Unmarked private roads, the high street, and the pavement are public access too. Nature reserves are owned land but have strict public access.


Public transport provides presentational posters, promotions for products and co-operations. Airports, railway stations, property stands, docks, and buses all have the same promotional stand-point.


The difference between commercial and non-commercial photography is the reward or financial gain, to approve your commercial photographs you will need permission, consent and model release forms. Unless the owner of the property, product or materials permits you to not take any photographs, you are freely allowed to take as many photographs as you desire.


Some public areas have bylaws that prevent commercial photography. Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square, Royal Parks. However, if these photographs are not of commercial use or cause any obstruction, there is a chance of confirmation.


In caution to Transport for London (TFL), it is agreed that photographers, tourists, and train enthusiasts are allowed to take photographs without the use of flashes and tripods. If photographs are showing or are demonstrating the promotion of the underground, these photos must not be published without permission, ahead of time. This is on the same ground as people who are filming and people who take photographs for their purpose.


You can take photographs in train stations for personal otherwise you will need to apply for a permit. This is the same with any commercial use that requires permission from the operator or Network Rail.


Airports are private property, photos are made for personal use here. Most civil airports have viewing areas, where you can shoot aircraft. Military airfields or government belongings should be avoided if you do not have full or any permission to photograph them. Spoken by Tony McNulty, a former Home Officer, “There is no legal restriction on photography in public places and there is no presumption of privacy for individuals in a public place.”


What is being mentioned here is the non-limiting restriction of taking photographs in public areas. There is no conjecture of privacy for individuals, as a photograph is being taken. Although that individual can consider harassment if the photographer's actions cause alarm or distress.


Protection of the national security, trespassing and terrorism applies when crossing sensitive locations; governmental, airports, and airfields. Although these scenarios can be exceptionally rare and don’t necessarily cover photography there is no provision in law for the confiscation of equipment or the destruction of images, either digital or film.


A statement made by Andrew Trotter, a Chief Constable explained guidance for photographers, in the act of terrorism it would be wrong for the police to stop and search a member of the public without suspicion. There should be a constant reminder to officers that it is fine for people to take photographs in public areas. Police in the UK cannot stop people from taking photographs, the officer has permission to ask you to stop and search you if you are suspicious.


Andrew Trotter suggests cooperation with the media and amateur photographers, to help identify the real criminals. He acknowledges that citizen journalism is a large feature in modern life and police officers are photographed and recorded more than ever. However, once a photo or recording has been made the police have no power to delete the content without a court order.


Security guards have limited to no power to stop and search you because they are members of the public, they cannot obstruct you from capturing on public land. If this does happen, this is classed as assault. This can usually include; forcing you to take your camera, memory card or deleting any shots.

Law applying to photographing children is down to the parent's or guardians’ consent, as the child themselves do not have the legal capacity to, and the police cannot do anything until a vigilant act is raised.


Generally, there is no law on privacy when taking photographs in public and of people but photographers should consider the rights and respect the individual has. The main issue is whether the photo taken is one where a person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.


It is advisable to be cautious when taking photographs, even where the subject matter is in a public place, for it to be used for publishing. Copyright issues have a different judgement. You can photograph objects but under the acknowledgement of “that is someone’s”. This is similar to artwork, lithographs, cinematic performances., and theatrical performances.


Photographing a person with a branded t-shirt or photographing a merchandised stall, if you are not intending it to be for commercial use and you do not copy the design for your sale purposes, it isn't necessarily a cause for copyright issues.


In the case of photographic similarity, this would be taken into extreme decisions; to court. The judge would have to decide whether the photographer accidentally took a similar photo or if it was intentionally copied. This type of situation would not include shop signs, street scenes, signs, trademarks, buildings, or sculptures. The case would usually include staged photographs. An example used is; one model sitting in front of a monument on a blue chair. The copyrighted image would be of similarity to; one model sitting in front of the same monument on a pink chair.


And finally, it takes seventy years after the creator’s death, beginning on the first of January before a photograph or artwork falls into the public hands and may be used freely.


If you have any questions about laws within photography, comment below and I will answer them the best I can.