The Right to Take Photographs

Police guidance on dealing with photographers...

Police guidance on dealing with photographers... click to download the full document.

ACPO – Guidance on Photography

Here is a copy of a letter from The Association of Chief Police Officers. It is a short letter to their members which constitutes advice on how to deal with photographers. There have been a number of high profile incidents over the last few years involving photographers. These have made the headlines and caused some concern. The above advice was issued in 2010 and has to a large extent settled the problems. This advice is important to photographers. You should be aware of your standing in relation to the police and any laws applicable where you are shooting. If you are questioned regarding any photographs you have taken, or are taking, you can refer to this advice. You will be able to make it clear you are aware of your rights.

Please do not assume that you are immune from prosecution. Certain activities are still considered questionable. Especially the photographing of places where national security may be involved. Armed forces installations and other official secret locations are of course examples. However, you are allowed to photograph the police themselves. Like any other citizen going about their business the police are important members of our society and they constitute legitimate targets for aspects of normal (non-business) photography and inclusion in photographic activities.

Needless to say, there are certain activities and rights that are protected under law. So you should at all times be clear on what your rights are in relation to particular photographs. Be careful to investigate in advance of a shot to make sure you are legally able to photograph your subject. You may require a ‘release’ to cover the business related use of some buildings, sites, objects and people. A release is a document that gives you permission to publish or sell your images of that location or person. You may need to have permission from owners and users of certain locations, equipment and activities before you can take some shots. You may need to have additional permissions to publish these online or to use them for business purposes.

Some places require special permits before you can shoot ‘on location’. So for example, you may actually be breaking bye-laws or wider laws if you take photos in these places. In practice simple tourist shots are unlikely to cause a problem. But if you turn up with a tripod and make a determined effort to have a ‘shoot’ you may find yourself being asked for a permit and possibly incurring fees. Again advance research can help to prevent unpleasant situations. Trafalgar Square, and parts of Parliament Square in London, UK, are places where location shoots require a permit. The local authority are within their rights to prevent you taking photographs there and to charge a fee for permitted shoots. As local bye-laws apply, the police may also take an interest in your photography and even make an arrest.

A recent article on this matter has been published on the website Strobist – How to Avoid Dealing With the Police When Shooting in Public. The article applies to the situation in the United States of America. However, the article provides good advice on how to ensure that the police are aware of your work and activities. It is a good thing to let people know that you are a working or committed (amateur) photographer. Then your intentions are less likely to be called into question.

Remember that attitudes and legal circumstances differ in different countries and even locally within countries. It is always best to be prepared in advance. Do a little research to make sure that you can do what you want in your chosen location. It is also best to talk to local people, and especially local photographers. They can provide invaluable legal advice and probably local information on your shoot too. Be prepared ahead of your arrival.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

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