Common sense is the best guide.
Staying clear of the law is pretty easy if you follow common sense rules. These follow from good principles of established manners and social skills. Here is a simple summary to help you out. There is also some links below that will guide you through the more legal approach…
Disclaimer… not so boring!
I cannot offer you hard and fast legal advice. There are too many legal systems world-wide. Also, I am not a lawyer. Nevertheless most people go through life with few brushes with the law. They have been bought up to be good citizens. It turns out that, in most of the Western world at least, that good citizenry applies to photographers. Behave sensibly and you will probably be OK! So, feel free, follow my advice. Just remember it is best to get proper legal advice before taking action!
Go for it! A generalised approach to street photography law.
- Always consider your personal safety first, then the safety of others.
- You can take a picture of any thing you want in a public place.
- You can freely take pictures of any person(s) in public.
- You can publish your work without permission.
- Take pictures of the police, armed forces, general officials and professionals.
- Freely take pictures of women, children and any other person or animal.
- You can follow people to get a shot (paparazzi do it frequently and legally).
- You can photograph buildings and structures.
- Traffic wardens, security guards and civilian police assistants cannot search you or order you to do something without a policeman present.
- If stopped by the police give a reasonable and calm account of yourself IF YOU WISH.
- You never have to surrender your camera or other equipment to any official without a court order (UK).
- You never have to delete your photos or modify any of them or your equipment (UK).
- You do not have to justify yourself or your photographic activities unless arrested (but see below).
- If you are arrested for any photographic activity tell the arresting officers “I have the right to remain silent until I have been advised by my legal representative on what are legal, fair and reasonable questions to answer”.
- Check with local authorities for special regulations relating to photography (eg. Trafalgar Square for commercial shots).
- If you have more equipment than a bag and camera then make sure you have appropriate insurance against third party liability (eg. tripod, free-standing lights etc).
- If you are working in a commercial capacity you must seek permission from local authorities and procure appropriate licences to carry out a complex shoot (lights, models, staff, equipment, vans etc).
- If working as a paid photographer you must carry third party insurance and you may need location insurance for certain shoots
- Be open and relaxed about your photography – you should not be harassed by officials if you are legitimate.
- Do know the appropriate laws for your country or the one where you are travelling.
- Don’t scare or intimidate people you are photographing (especially children or women). Following people for more than a short distance may be construed as intimidation.
- Don’t persistently stalk, harass, irritate or torment people or follow anyone around (especially vulnerable people, women and children) for your picture-taking.
- Do not take pictures if there may be a reasonable expectation of privacy (homes, toilets, through windows, private property, gardens or other private areas, serious personal injury situations, hospitals, changing rooms, etc.).
- Do not block access ways, pedestrian paths, roads, doorways or fire escapes, or prevent official works or access with your equipment (tripods, lights, general photographic paraphernalia).
- Do not stay anywhere if you are feeling threatened by anything or anyone.
- You CANNOT profit from your street photography work without written permission of the depicted person(s) (eg, stock photography sales, advertising, selling posters etc.).
- Do not publish pictures of personal, private or government buildings for profit without a property release, even if taken from a public space.
- In publications do not provide identifying information about people you photograph unless you have written permission to do so.
- Do not deliberately set up people you photograph to misrepresent them or actions they may take.
- Do NOT get angry or violent or threatening if stopped by police or officials.
- DO NOT make statements or justify yourself or discuss your photographic activities without a lawyer being present if arrested.
- Do not take pictures of secure buildings with Government associations of secrecy.
- Do not hide your camera or appear surreptitious near secure buildings with Government associations of secrecy.
- Don’t lurk or hide yourself near secure buildings/land with Government associations of secrecy.
- Don’t behave in a suspicious manner or a manner likely to incite scrutiny.
The minute you step off the public land you are subject to very different laws…
- On private or Government land none of the above “Do’s” apply!
- You do not have a right to do anything without the owners permission on private property.
- In public buildings, and privately-owned buildings open to the public, rules often apply that photographers must obey. Check with the management – you should know about those before you go snapping.
- Beware the Official Secrets Act (UK). Basically this applies in any Government secure area. Don’t go there! Warning – there are extensive powers of search and arrest, but there must also be reasonable grounds for suspicion.
- Beware the Terrorism Act 2000 (UK) – this applies in any Government secure area, certain designated areas (not published) and anywhere that a policeman will have reasonable suspicion that you are carrying out a terrorist act or collecting information for such an act. Don’t make yourself look like a terrorist! Again, be warned, there are extensive powers of search and arrest, but there must also be reasonable grounds for suspicion.
- If you collect a lot of information about the same individuals you may need to be “Registered” under the Data Protection Act (UK). In certain circumstances (eg. where identity is clear) pictures count as “Data”.
- If people ask you not to photograph them it is polite and courteous to comply. Happy subjects make great subjects. Upset people might pop you a punch on the jaw! So think carefully before upsetting someone.
- Don’t deliberately portray people in a bad light, a defamatory way or depict them in a way that may misrepresent their intentions or lead people to draw inappropriate conclusions. Such actions MAY lead to court action against you.
- If you are observed frequently or persistently photographing in places where one person, children or vulnerable people may be found, ensure you have a legitimate, officially agreed and written reason to be doing that. Regular behaviour of that sort is deemed suspicious and grounds for a police investigation.
I hope that this list is helpful. You should feel free to take pictures in public streets. However, you should remember it is better to know the law than to fall foul of it! Prepare yourself properly with the right local legal information before doing anything controversial, or new-to-you.
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Find out more…
Photokonnexion Photographic Glossary – Definitions and articles.
The Right to Take Photographs
Search Google for “Street Photography Law”
Expectation of privacy (Wikipedia.org)
What are the laws on street photography in the UK?